Ill. Senators Hear FBI Tapes Of Blagojevich

Even though Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was not at his impeachment trial Tuesday in the state Senate, his voice was heard. Prosecutors played FBI wiretaps of conversations in which the governor seems to demand campaign contributions in exchange for signing legislation.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is boycotting his impeachment trial, choosing instead to defend himself in national media interviews. But his voice still echoed through the Illinois State Senate chamber yesterday. That's where the prosecutor played tapes of the governor's conversations that were secretly recorded by FBI wiretaps. NPR's David Schaper has this report.

(Soundbite of recorded telephone conversation)

Mr. ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: Hey.

Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): Hey. How you doing?

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: Good.

DAVID SCHAPER: Chances are, many phone conversations between Governor Rod Blagojevich and his brother Rob started this way. But federal prosecutors say this call was all about money. Brother Rob is chairman of Blagojevich's campaign fund. And prosecutors allege Rob is telling the governor about the status of a hefty campaign contribution they want from the owner of a couple of Illinois horse racing tracks.

(Soundbite of recorded telephone conversation)

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: He's going to give you, you know, he didn't get it, but he's, you know - I'm good for it, I got to just decide what - what accounts to get it out of, and Lon's going to talk to you about some sensitivities legislatively tonight when he sees you, with regard to timing of all of this.

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: Right, before the end of the year though, right?

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, yeah, yeah.

SCHAPER: This call was record in mid-November. Prosecutors contend Governor Blagojevich was in a rush to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaign fund before new campaign finance restrictions went into affect January 1st. It's a point they say Blagojevich emphasizes again in the call.

(Soundbite of recorded telephone conversation)

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: So, but clearly before the end of the year, right?

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah, yeah.

SCHAPER: The criminal charges against the governor allege he was extorting this campaign contribution by refusing to sign legislation that would benefit the horse racing industry until he received the donation from the race track owner. In conversations with a lobbyist identified as Lon Monk, Blagojevich's former chief of staff, Monk calls Blagojevich to tell him he just met with the race track owner to remind him of his commitment to the governor. The next day, Blagojevich is asking whether he should give the race track owner a call. Monk responds, quote, "It might be better if you do, from a pressure point of view."

(Soundbite of recorded telephone conversation)

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: I'll call him and say, yeah, and we want to do an event downstate. We want to do it, and we hope to do this so we can get together start picking some things to do to get the bill signed.

SCHAPER: Moments later, the lobbyist adds this.

(Soundbite of recorded telephone conversation)

Mr. LON MONK (Former Chief of Staff, Governor Blagojevich, Illinois): I'm telling you he's going to be good for it. I got the state.

SCHAPER: Blagojevich responds, "Good." Prior to the tapes being played, FBI agent Daniel Cain, who oversaw the wiretapping of Governor Blagojevich, testified the voice and the words are that of Blagojevich. Cain also testified that other comments attributed to Blagojevich are accurate, too. Such as when he allegedly called the Senate seat vacated by President Obama "a bleeping valuable thing." In continuing his blitz of media interviews, Blagojevich doesn't deny making these comments, but he says the excerpts are being taken out of context. The recordings did seem to make an impression on the jury for his impeachment trial, Illinois state senators.

Unidentified Illinois State Senator: I think it kind of grabs you when you hear the voice, you know. The live tape. You know, clearly, if nothing else, led to better theatre here today.

SCHAPER: But Republicans Dave Luechtefeld and Kirk Dillard and other senators say they won't offer a judgment until after they've heard all the evidence in the impeachment trial which continues today. David Schaper, NPR News in Springfield, Illinois.

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Illinois Senate Hears Blagojevich Tapes

Illinois state senators heard from Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich himself during the second day of his impeachment trial. But the governor wasn't there in person.

While Blagojevich continued to plead his case in national media interviews, his voice could be heard in the state Senate's proceedings, thanks to audiotapes secretly recorded by the FBI as part of its corruption investigation.

FBI Agent Testifies

Special prosecutor David Ellis called to the witness stand FBI agent Daniel Cain, who oversaw the wiretapping of the governor.

Ellis read from the 76-page criminal complaint against Blagojevich, quoting from conversations the governor allegedly had with aides and associates. He then asked Cain to verify that they were true and accurate.

He recited many of Blagojevich's infamous quotes related to the governor's efforts to allegedly try to cash in on the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

"Later, Rod Blagojevich stated that the Senate seat 'is a effing valuable thing; you don't just give it away for nothing,' " Ellis said. "Agent Cain, was that paragraph true and accurate ... at the time you executed this affidavit?"

"Yes," Cain said. "It was."

Pay-To-Play Allegations

Ellis also reviewed charges outlined in the criminal complaint that allege Blagojevich solicited hefty campaign contributions for his official acts, such as signing legislation.

The prosecutor played audio recorded from FBI wiretaps — excerpts of conversations in which prosecutors say Blagojevich is trying to extract a big campaign contribution from a lobbyist for the horse racing industry before the governor would sign a bill benefiting the industry.

On the tape, Blagojevich can be heard talking with his brother, Rob, who chairs the governor's campaign fund. In the phone call, Blagojevich appears agitated that it is taking so long to get the contribution.

Federal prosecutors and the Illinois House in its impeachment charges allege Blagojevich was in a rush to collect as much campaign cash as he could before Jan. 1, when a new law took effect, drastically restricting campaign contributions.

In a later conversation with a lobbyist acting as an intermediary, and still no contribution in hand, Blagojevich is heard asking whether he should talk with the horse racing lobbyist.

Blagojevich On Media Blitz

After the last tape, Ellis, the prosecutor, wrapped up his questioning of FBI agent Cain by asking him again to verify that what is heard on the tapes is accurate and that the voice is that of Blagojevich.

There was no cross-examination of the witness, because Blagojevich and his attorneys continue to boycott his impeachment trial. As he pleads his case in the national media, Blagojevich maintains that he has done nothing wrong and that excerpts of a few conversations don't tell the whole story.

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