FBI Caught Blagojevich on Tape Trying to Sell Obama’s Senate Seat, Affidavits Say
December 9, 2008Tuesday's arrests of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief-of-staff on corruption charges stem from an FBI investigation of the governor's administration that has been on-going since he took office in 2002.
But the allegations that he was trying to “sell” the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama came only in the last few weeks.
According to the 76-page FBI affidavit released Tuesday by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, Blagojevich was allegedly caught on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month “conspiring to sell or trade Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife.”
There are no allegations that Obama knew of, or had anything to do with Blagojevich’s alleged scheme.
But the affidavit says that “at various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment,” Blagojevich discussed obtaining “a substantial salary for himself at either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions”; “placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year”; or “promises of campaign funds” – including cash up front, and a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
Just last Thursday, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might “get some (money) up front, maybe” from a Senate candidate (referred to in the affidavit as “Senate Candidate 5”) if he named the candidate to fill Obama’s former Senate seat, to insure that the candidate “kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election.”
Then, in a recorded conversation on Oct. 31, Blagojevich allegedly claimed he was approached by an associate of the Senate candidate as follows: “We were approached ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate candidate 5) a senator.”
On Nov. 7, while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with his chief-of-staff, John Harris, and an advisor, Blagojevich allegedly said he needed to consider his family and that he is “financially” hurting, the affidavit states. The governor reportedly even considered appointing himself to the post.
When Harris allegedly said that they should consider what would help the “financial security” of the Blagojevich family and what would keep Blagojevich “politically viable,” the governor allegedly said, “I want to make money” – adding later that he was interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 a year, the complaint alleges.
On Nov. 10, in a lengthy telephone call with numerous advisors, Blagojevich allegedly discussed obtaining a lucrative job with a union-affiliated organization in exchange for appointing “a particular Senate candidate whom he believed was favored by the President-elect.”
The governor and his advisors also allegedly described in detail various ways he could “monetize” the relationships he has made as governor to make money after leaving office.
In addition to trying to sell-off the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Obama, Blagojevich was also charged with scheming with others – including real estate developer Tony Rezko – to obtain and attempt "to obtain financial benefits for himself, his family and third parties," including his campaign committee, Friends of Blagojevich “in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state employment, state contracts and access to state funds.”
FBI agents reportedly learned that Blagojevich was seeking approximately $2.5 million in campaign contributions by the end of the year, from individuals who had received state contacts or appointments – and were identified on a list maintained by Friends of Blagojevich.
The charges allege that in October, Blagojevich and the chairman of his campaign, Friends of Blagojevich, were trying to accumulate as much money as possible this year before a new state ethics law would severely curtail their ability to raise money from individuals and entities that have existing contracts worth more than $50,000 with the State of Illinois.
Blagojevich is also charged with trying to get some Chicago Tribune writers fired in exchange for state help with improvements to Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs.
Even the FBI seemed flabbergasted about the extent of the alleged corruption.
“Many, including myself, thought that the recent conviction of a former governor would usher in a new era of honesty and reform in Illinois politics,” said Robert Grant, special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Chicago office.
“Clearly, the charges announced today reveal that the office of the Governor has become nothing more than a vehicle for self-enrichment, unrestricted by party affiliation and taking Illinois politics to a new low.”
The investigation, which was spearheaded by the FBI, was announced by Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.