Ill. Gov. Arrested In Probe Over Obama Successor
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The governor of Illinois is under arrest on federal charges. Governor Rod Blagojevich was taken into custody this morning at his Chicago home. His chief of staff is also under arrest. Charges against the governor include conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and solicitation of bribery. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is announcing the charges, and the two men are expected in federal court later today in Chicago. NPR's David Schaper joins us now to talk about this news. And David, the charges appear to include the governor's attempt to benefit financially from his position as governor to appoint a replacement for Barack Obama's Senate seat.
DAVID SCHAPER: That's right. The U.S. attorney in his statement already says the breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is just staggering. Now, Governor Blagojevich and his administration has been under investigation for quite some time. What's so shocking about that is that just within the last month, since Barack Obama was elected to the presidency, he's been apparently soliciting bribes, according to these charges laid out by the federal government today, for, you know, the people he might appoint to replace him in the U.S. Senate.
While this investigation is going on into other aspects of potential corruption, since he has the sole authority to appoint the person, the indictment suggests he was not just looking for cash, possibly, but appointments to boards, maybe a nonprofit or a union board or something like that, appointments for his wife to corporate boards, so that they would have some security, some income, should he be indicted or forced out of office or should he just not be re-elected in two years.
MONTAGNE: Well, isn't it sort of startling, especially from the outside, at sort of the boldness of it? Because even during this campaign that he now has some control over - you know, the results have affected him - it was known he was under investigation.
SCHAPER: And people in Illinois politics, and certainly President-elect Obama among them, have been trying to keep just way more than an arm's length away from the governor. They've been steering clear of him at public events, at charity functions, at political functions. So the fact that...
MONTAGNE: Well, tell us about the past charges that he was already looking at.
SCHAPER: Well, what's most notable is, I guess, Tony Resco, who was a member of his inner circle and also somebody who raised money for Barack Obama in some of his earlier campaigns, was convicted earlier this year of trading appointments to state boards and commissions and other key administration positions for campaign cash. And it was also part of this pay-to-play politics scheme that they've alleged - the federal government has alleged that the Blagojevich administration would be squeezing companies that wanted to do business with the state for big kickbacks, most notably those wanting the business of the state investment boards, like the state pension funds.
And the governor controlled the appointments to those boards and used Tony Resco and others within his inner circle to trade campaign contributions for appointments to those boards. And then they sought to get campaign contributions of those who would do business with those boards. But not just that, but cash for themselves as well.
MONTAGNE: Now, just briefly, I just said, you know, boldness. Well, of course, it's just alleged. These are charges. Nothing's been proved. But any sense yet of what these allegations mean for the appointment of a replacement to President-elect Obama's former Senate seat?
SCHAPER: It certainly casts a long, long shadow over whomever he appoints because apparently, he and members of his staff were reaching out to those he might appoint to see what they might get in return.
MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.
SCHAPER: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: NPR's David Schaper speaking to us about charges being brought, federal charges, today against the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.