Obama Calls For Blagojevich To Resign

President-elect Barack Obama was among those calling for the resignation of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a day after the governor was arrested on federal corruption charges. Blagojevich is accused of seeking money or other favors to influence his choice in picking Obama's replacement to the U.S. Senate.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. President-elect Barack Obama is joining the chorus of Illinois politicians who are calling for Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich to resign. Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich yesterday. He faces a wide range of federal corruption charges. They include trying to sell Mr. Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. Now, it appears some of those interested in the job may have been willing to pay up. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports on the latest developments in the Blagojevich investigation.

DAVID SCHAPER: As birthdays go, this can't be a good one. Governor Rod Blagojevich turns 52 today, and I'm standing outside of his North Side Chicago home, where there's a whole slew of reporters camped outside. A couple of news helicopters hover overhead as the people of Illinois wait to see what he'll do next.

Mr. JAY STEWART (Executive Director, Better Government Association): The governor should resign. And if he doesn't resign, the General Assembly should impeach him as fast as possible.

SCHAPER: Jay Stewart is executive director of the Better Government Association.

Mr. STEWART: He is unfit to lead the state of Illinois. He is incapable of governing.

SCHAPER: And it's not just good government types suggesting Blagojevich step down. Everyone from neighbors who say they feel betrayed all the way up to the president-elect of the United States, Barack Obama, whose spokesman said today, quote, that under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois.

Illinois state legislative leaders agree. They've called for a special session to begin Monday to consider impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich if he doesn't resign. Lawmakers will also begin moving a bill to strip the governor of his authority to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama. Steve Brown is a spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Mr. STEVE BROWN (Spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan): I don't think Illinois can afford to let the Senate seat remain vacant and will move quickly. Hopefully, the governor will recognize this dilemma, and if the legislature passes the special election bill that he'd sign it. But we have no guarantees.

SCHAPER: In fact, Governor Blagojevich has been wildly unpredictable in his dealings with the legislature in recent years, most often clashing with members of his own party. And if the governor doesn't act on such legislation, it could be months before a new legislature is sworn in and can set a special election for the Senate seat. The impeachment process could take many months, too, meaning Blagojevich still has the power to appoint Illinois' next U.S. senator. But on Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic leaders warned Blagojevich in a letter that under no circumstances should he attempt to name a successor for Obama, suggesting that they would not allow that appointee to be seated. And the Republican National Committee is calling on President-elect Obama to fully disclose all contacts between his transition team and the governor's office regarding the Senate seat. There have been inconsistencies between the comments of Mr. Obama and his chief strategist, David Axelrod, over communication with the governor about filling the open seat.

In the meantime, there's more information today about the identies of the candidates for the Senate seat that Blagojevich is allegedly caught on tape talking about. The criminal complaint alleges the governor allegedly told an adviser he might get some money upfront from someone identified as Candidate Five. Blagojevich says, quote, that he'd raise 500 grand, and the other guy would raise a million, end quote, if he made Candidate Five a senator. Attorneys for Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. confirmed that he is Candidate Number Five. But Jackson denies he offered Blagojevich anything for the seat.

Representative JESSE JACKSON, Jr. (Democrat, 2nd Congressional District of Illinois): I did not initiate or authorize anyone, at any time, to promise anything to Governor Blagojevich on my behalf. I never sent a message or an emissary to the govenror to make an offer, to plead my case, or to propose a deal about a U.S. Senate seat. Period.

SCHAPER: And Jackson went on to give the strong impression that regardless of all that has happened, he still wants to be, and will campaign to be, Illinois' next U.S. senator. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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Jackson Denies Wrongdoing In Blagojevich Case

Analysis From The 'Political Junkie' Blog

A lawyer for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. confirmed Wednesday that the Illinois Democrat is the "Candidate 5" referred to in court documents underpinning the public corruption charges against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for President-elect Barack Obama called on Blagojevich to resign, even as the embattled governor went to work a day after being named in the federal complaint.

Jackson and his attorney, James D. Montgomery Sr., denied that Jackson — son of the famed civil rights leader — was involved in anything untoward. Montgomery specifically said Jackson was not involved in a scheme to pay Blagojevich in exchange for an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by Obama.

"I reject and denounce 'pay to play' politics and have no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing," said Jackson at a news conference in Washington, D.C. "I thought, mistakenly, that I had a chance and was being considered because I had earned it."

Jackson said he never sent a message or emissary to Blagojevich indicating that he would be willing to pay for the post, saying he met with the governor this week for the first time in four years. Jackson has not been charged with a crime, and he maintained he is not a target of the investigation.

"Candidate 5" was mentioned in an affidavit by FBI agent Daniel Cain that supported the government's request for a search warrant application. In it, Cain recounted conversations intercepted in government wiretaps in which Blagojevich said associates of the Senate hopeful were willing to raise $1 million in exchange for the post.

Cain stated in the affidavit, "In a recorded conversation on Oct. 31, 2008, Rod Blagojevich described an earlier approach by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: 'we were approached pay to play. That, you know, he'd raise me $500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise $1 million, if I made him (senate Candidate 5) a senator.'"

Obama Presses Blagojevich To Quit

On Wednesday, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president-elect believes it would be difficult for Blagojevich to continue as the state's chief executive amid allegations that the governor tried to use his position for financial gain.

"The president-elect agrees with Lt. Gov. [Pat] Quinn and many others that under the current circumstances it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois," Gibbs said.

Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday for what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called a "political corruption crime spree." Fitzgerald said the governor participated in a number of pay-to-play schemes, including efforts to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama for cash, campaign contributions, a Cabinet post or an ambassadorship.

Illinois law allows the governor to fill Obama's seat, but Senate Democrats warned Blagojevich not to name a replacement.

"No appointment by this governor, under these circumstances, could produce a credible replacement," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said Tuesday after the governor, a second-term Democrat, was arrested on charges of conspiring to commit fraud and soliciting bribery.

Blagojevich has denied charges of wrongdoing and left his Chicago home for work early Wednesday. The governor's attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, said Tuesday he knew of no plans for Blagojevich to resign.

Blagojevich aide John Harris was also named in the federal complaint. Harris was accused of being part of the governor's schemes.

The two are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. They are also charged with pressuring 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.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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