Prosecutor: 'Lincoln Would Roll Over In His Grave'

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/98046297/98046258" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave." Blagojevich was arrested Monday on charges he tried to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. In Illinois today, an astounding news conference with stunning allegations of corruption.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (U.S. Attorney, Northern Illinois): Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low.

NORRIS: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced charges against Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich for a litany of alleged abuses of power.

SIEGEL: This was the most brazen.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama.

SIEGEL: The FBI arrested Blagojevich this morning as well as his chief of staff, John Harris. Blagojevich appeared wearing sweatpants before a federal judge and was released on his own recognizance.

NORRIS: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said wire taps of Blagojevich's campaign offices and home phone revealed the governor's determination to profit from the privilege of naming President-elect Obama's replacement.

Mr. FITZGERALD: The governor's own words describing the Senate seat, quote, "it's a bleeping valuable thing. "You just don't give it away for nothing," close quote. Another quote, "I've got this thing, and it's bleeping golden. I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing."

NORRIS: And Fitzgerald alleged the governor had very specific ideas about how he might benefit.

Mr. FITZGERALD: The tapes reveal that the Governor Blagojevich wanted a number of things in exchange for making the appointment to the Senate seat, an appointment to secretary of health and human services or an ambassadorship, an appointment for private foundation, a higher paying job for his wife, or campaign contributions.

At one point, he proposed a three-way deal that a cushy union job will be given to him at a higher rate of pay where he could make money. In exchange, he thought that the union might get benefits from the president-elect, and therefore, the president-elect might get the candidate of his choice.

I should make clear, the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever, his conduct. This part of the scheme lost steam when the person that the governor thought was the president-elect's choice of senator took herself out of the running. But after the deal never happened, this is the governor's reaction, quote, "they're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them," close quote. And again, the bleep is a read action.

NORRIS: And as you can tell, there were a lot of bleeps at today's news conference.

SIEGEL: The demand for money and power in return for naming Senator Obama's successor is the charge with the most national reach, but it is just one in a long list. The U.S. attorney's office has been investigating the governor for years on allegations of pay to play conduct.

NORRIS: And just one example of that, Fitzgerald said Blagojevich had been caught on tape talking about pulling state funding for a children's hospital. That was after the hospital's chief executive failed to contribute $50,000 to the governor's campaign.

SIEGEL: Another charge, an attempt that extortion against the Tribune company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. If the company wanted to sell Wriggly Field Ballpark, it must fire newspaper editors who had given the governor unfavorable coverage.

NORRIS: Robert Grant, the FBI special agent in charge, said agents were thoroughly disgusted by what they heard in the wire taps.

Mr. ROBERT GRANT (FBI Special Agent): I don't have 49 other states to compare it with, but I can tell you one thing, if it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Illinois Governor Arrested On Corruption Charges

  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/97998307/98047941" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

About Gov. Blagojevich

Rod Blagojevich was born Dec. 10, 1956, in Chicago. His father, Rade, originally came to the city from Yugoslavia following World War II and worked in a steel mill.

 

Rod Blagojevich grew up in the city's northwest side and attended public schools before enrolling in Northwestern University. He obtained his law degree from Pepperdine University in 1983.

 

His father-in-law is Richard Mell, a longtime alderman of Chicago's 33rd Ward and a force in Illinois state politics.

 

Political Career

 

Blagojevich began his career in public service as a lawyer in the state's attorney office, where he gained a reputation for prosecuting drunk driving and domestic abuse cases.

 

He entered politics in 1991 when he ran for a seat in the Illinois legislature and served for four years. In 1996, he was elected to the U.S. Congress.

 

Blagojevich became Illinois governor in 2003. He beat the Republican incumbent Gov. George Ryan, who is serving a six-year prison sentence after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges for selling driver's licenses in exchange for bribes. Blagojevich was re-elected in 2006.

 

From NPR staff reports and the Associated Press

Who Is Patrick Fitzgerald?

The arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges is the latest in a long list of high-profile cases for Patrick Fitzgerald. As the U.S. attorney from Chicago — and son of an Irish doorman — Fitzgerald has taken the lead on cases involving terrorism, organized crime and the Bush administration officials.

He helped prosecute cases involving the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania during his 13 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan.

He investigated the question of who leaked of identity of CIA official Valerie Plame to a Chicago newspaper columnist. (In connection to that case, he prosecuted Dick Cheney's former chief-of-staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who later was convicted of lying to the FBI and to a federal grand jury about the matter).

Ironically, Fitzgerald also prosecuted Blagojevich's predecessor as Illinois governor: Republican George Ryan. Ryan is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for racketeering.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his top aide were arrested Tuesday on corruption charges following a federal investigation of the 51-year-old Democrat's administration.

Among the allegations: Blagojevich conspired to benefit financially from his role in appointing a U.S. senator to fill the vacancy left by Barack Obama's election as president.

In a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, Blagojevich and Chief of Staff John Harris, 46, were accused of conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud and influence-peddling in a deal involving the Chicago Tribune.

After a brief court appearance Tuesday afternoon, the governor was released on bail. Blagojevich, who has been under investigation since 2003, has denied wrongdoing.

'Sad Day' For Government

Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant said he woke the governor about 6 a.m. to tell him that two agents were at the door with a warrant for this arrest.

"This is a sad day for government," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at a news conference.

The complaint against Blagojevich and Harris alleges the two conspired to defraud the state of Illinois through the mail and telephone communications.

The pair also allegedly pressured the Tribune Co. to fire several members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board in exchange for state assistance in the purchase of Wrigley Field. The Tribune Co. owns Wrigley Field and was attempting to negotiate the sale of the historic Chicago ballpark to the Illinois Finance Authority.

Chicago Tribune editor Gerould Kern said Tuesday he was never pressured by Blagojevich or anyone from the Tribune Co. over any editorials, according to the newspaper.

"I never got a complaint. I never got any contact whatsoever from Blagojevich, no complaint — nothing from inside Tribune Co.," Kern is quoted as saying.

According to an FBI affidavit, agents intercepted a number of phone calls outlining illegal behavior when they tapped the telephones at Blagojevich's home and campaign office for 30 days beginning Oct. 22. Court documents state that Blagojevich and Harris engaged in numerous "pay-to-play" schemes involving millions of dollars.

A Senator's Job 'For Sale'?

"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," Fitzgerald said. "They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."

The FBI began investigating allegations of corruption in the Blagojevich administration in 2003, according to the affidavit used to obtain the criminal complaint and search warrants. The affidavit by the FBI agent Daniel Cain said Blagojevich began conspiring to profit from his office in 2002 and that the conspiracy continued through recent weeks.

It outlines numerous outrageous conversations involving Blagojevich — including that the governor conspired to sell or trade President-elect Obama's Senate seat for financial and personal benefits for Blagojevich and his wife.

Also included in the affidavit are allegations that:

— Blagojevich and Harris conspired with convicted political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, businessmen Stuart Levine and Ali Ata, and others to obtain financial benefits for himself and his family.

— Blagojevich discussed getting a salary from a non-profit organization or a labor union affiliate; putting his wife in paid positions on corporate boards for as much as $150,000 a year; campaign contributions; and an ambassadorship for himself.

— Blagojevich discussed using his authority to get an appointment to be the secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration.

Previous Governor In Prison

Blagojevich replaced former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who is currently serving a 6 1/2-year prison sentence. Ryan, who was governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted of corruption in 2006 for steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was Illinois secretary of state and governor.

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna called on Blagojevich to resign immediately.

McKenna said Blagojevich also must not appoint a U.S. senator "under this cloud of extremely serious allegations." The governor has the power to appoint Obama's replacement in the Senate.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the state's voters should decide who fills Obama's vacant Senate seat. "I think the Illinois general assembly should enact a law as quickly as possible calling for a special election to fill the Senate vacancy of Barack Obama," Durbin said. "No appointment by this governor under these circumstances could produce a credible replacement."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.