Feds: Governor Tried to 'Auction' Obama's Seat

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Feds: Governor Tried to 'Auction' Obama's Seat

Blagojevich is accused of 'corruption crime spree' over Senate appointment

by
NBC News and news services

CHICAGO - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich
embarked on "political corruption crime spree" and tried to benefit
from his ability to appoint President-elect Barack Obama's replacement
in the U.S. Senate, federal officials said Tuesday.

At
a news conference in Chicago on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick
Fitzgerald called it a sad day for the citizens of Illinois and alleged
that the governor tried to "auction off" the Senate seat "to the
highest bidder".

 

 

He said the alleged behavior "would make (Abe) Lincoln roll over in his grave".

Blagojevich had been arrested hours earlier.

A
76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democrat was intercepted on
court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or
trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his
wife, Patti.

Fitzgerald said federal investigators bugged Blagojevich's campaign offices and placed a tap on his home phone.

In
Illinois, the governor selects a successor when there is a mid-term
Senate vacancy. Obama resigned from the Senate soon after winning the
Nov. 4 presidential election.

'Truly a new low'

Fitzgerald
accused Blagojevich of "appalling conduct" and said the governor "has
taken us to a truly new low". He alleged that the governor wanted
"tangible and up front" cash in return for appointing Obama's successor.

"He wasn't against a corrupt deal, he was against being stiffed in a corrupt deal," Fitzgerald added.

Federal
prosecutors have investigated Blagojevich's administration for at least
three years. The governor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Robert Grant, special agent-in-charge of
the Chicago office of the FBI, said colleagues had been left "disgusted
and revolted" by the case.

Fitzgerald said federal officials were making "no allegations" that Obama was "aware of anything" in connection with the case.

'Hard bargain'

The affidavit contends Blagojevich
discussed getting a substantial salary for himself at a non-profit
foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions. It also
says Blagojevich talked about getting his wife placed on corporate
boards where she might get $150,000 a year in director's fees.

The affidavit also quotes Blagojevich as saying "I want to make money" in one conversation.

Blagojevich and John Harris, the
governor's chief of staff, were each charged with conspiracy to commit
mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.

The
FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich also sought promises of campaign
cash, as well as a cabinet post or ambassadorship in exchange for his
Senate choice.

Blagojevich is accused of
saying on November 3 that if he is not going to get anything of value
for the open seat, then he would appoint himself to the post.

"I'm
going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know,
and therefore I can drive a hard bargain," the affidavit quotes the
governor as saying.

Senate seat is a 'valuable thing'

He noted becoming a U.S. senator might remake his image for a possible presidential run in 2016, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit quotes Blagojevich telling
an adviser later that day that a Senate seat "is a [expletive] valuable
thing, you just don't give it away for nothing."

In
a conversation with Harris on November 4, the day of the election,
Blagojevich is alleged to have compared his situation to that of a
sports agent shopping a potential free agent to the highest bidder.

On
November 5, Blagojevich allegedly told an adviser, "I've got this thing
and it's [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for
[expletive] nothing. I'm not gonna do it."

On
November 7, while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with
Harris and an adviser, Blagojevich said he needed to consider his
family and that he is "financially" hurting, the affidavit states.

Harris allegedly said that they were considering what would help the "financial security" of the Blagojevich family.

The complaint alleges that the governor
stated, "I want to make money," adding later that he is interested in
making $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

The charges also state that in a
conversation with Harris on November 11, Blagojevich said he knew that
President-elect Obama wanted a specific candidate for the open Senate
seat but added "they're not willing to give me anything except
appreciation. [Expletive] them."

Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney, said the
charges "allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of
a United States Senator."

Among those being considered for the post include U.S. Reps. Danny Davis and Jesse Jackson Jr.

Operation Board Games

According
to a federal criminal complaint, Blagojevich also was charged with
illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the
owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field. In return
for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the
paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.

Corruption
in the Blagojevich administration has been the focus of a federal
Operation Board Games involving an alleged $7 million scheme aimed at
squeezing kickbacks out of companies seeking business from the state.
Federal prosecutors have acknowledged they're also investigating
"serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" under Blagojevich.

Political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko,
who raised money for the campaigns of both Blagojevich and Obama, is
awaiting sentencing after being convicted of fraud and other charges.

Blagojevich's
chief fundraiser, Christopher G. Kelly, is due to stand trial early
next year on charges of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service.

According
to Tuesday's complaint, Blagojevich schemed with Rezko,
millionaire-fundraiser turned federal witness Stuart Levine and others
to get financial benefits for himself and his campaign committee.

Federal
prosecutors said Blagojevich and the chairman of his campaign committee
have been speeding up corrupt fundraising activities in the last month
to get as much money as possible before the end of the year when a new
law would curtail his ability to raise contributions from companies
with state contracts worth more than $50,000.

According
to the affidavit, agents learned Blagojevich was seeking $2.5 million
in campaign contributions by the end of the year, with a large part
allegedly to come from companies and individuals who have gotten state
contracts or appointments.

Blagojevich,
in his second term, is the latest in a string of Illinois governors to
run afoul of the law. His immediate predecessor, George Ryan, is in
jail following a federal corruption conviction.

Would-be reformer

Blagojevich took the chief executive's office in 2003 as a reformer promising to clean up Ryan's mess.

Ryan, a Republican, is serving a 6-year prison sentence
after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges. A decade-long
investigation began with the sale of driver's licenses for bribes and
led to the conviction of dozens of people who worked for Ryan when he
was secretary of state and governor.

FBI
spokesman Frank Bochte said federal agents arrested the governor and
Harris simultaneously at their homes at 6:15 a.m. and took them to the
Chicago FBI headquarters.

Bochte said he
did not know if either man was handcuffed or if the governor's family
was at their North Side home at the time of his arrest. He did say
Blagojevich and Harris both were given time to get dressed before being
taken to the headquarters.

He also did not have any details about Blagojevich's arrest, only that he was cooperative with federal agents.

"It was a very calm setting," he said.

The governor was to appear later Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan to answer the charges.

NBC
News reported that Illinois statutes give only the governor the power
to replace a resigning senator. There is no provision for the governor
to pass on that power.

However, if the governor resigns, he
would be replaced by the state's lieutenant governor, who could then
name a senate replacement.

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