Rod Blagojevich has had better days

The complaint against the Illinois governor is explosive, damning and far-reaching -- even his wife is caught up in it.

Published December 9, 2008 5:15PM (EST)

If even half of what federal prosecutors allege in their complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is true, then he'll have a long time to sit and wonder how he could have been so incautious, so unguarded and so unsubtle in what he said on the phone.

The complaint, which can be downloaded in full here, is wide-reaching, and consistently damning. It's tied to the investigation into notorious businessman Tony Rezko, to the bankruptcy of the Tribune Co., even to the Senate vacancy left by Barack Obama's election to the presidency. And the investigation most likely won't affect only Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, both of whom were arrested on Tuesday morning. Blagojevich's wife was also caught on the wiretap, and some of the information in the complaint could seriously affect the political future of at least one of the contenders for Obama's Senate seat.

One person it most likely won't affect is Obama himself, who appears to have been inadvertently cleared by Blagojevich. The Democrat was allegedly captured on a wiretap in multiple conversations in which he discussed an Obama advisor he believed the president-elect wanted appointed. But Blagojevich said he wasn't willing to do that without some benefit for himself.

"I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for fuckin’ nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there,” Blagojevich said in one conversation, according to the complaint. Elsewhere, the complaint reads:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to “suck it up” for two years and do nothing and give this “motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH states that he will put “[Senate Candidate 4]” in the Senate “before I just give fucking [Senate Candidate 1] a fucking Senate seat and I don’t get anything.”

The next day, according to the complaint, Blagojevich allegedly said, "he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat but 'they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them.'"

A transition aide declined comment.

Unsurprisingly, since this investigation is in U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's district, and since he's known for this sort of thing, multiple contenders for Obama's seat are named as "Senate Candidate 1," "Senate Candidate 2" and so on. It's hard to say for sure who any of these candidates are, but as with any good blind item, there are plenty of hints. Senate Candidate 1, for instance, appears to be Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett. And based on the complaint's discussion of a deliberate leak from the Blagojevich administration to a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, it appears that Senate Candidate 2 is Lisa Madigan, the state's attorney general.

It's Senate Candidate 5, though, who might end up being the most interesting contender, because of this passage from this complaint:

In a recorded conversation on October 31, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH described an earlier approach by an associate of Senate Candidate Five 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 a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator."

Another passage gives a hint as to the identify of Senate Candidate 5: 

ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated he was “elevating” Senate Candidate 5 on the list of candidates for the open Senate seat. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated he might be able to cut a deal with Senate Candidate 5 that provided ROD BLAGOJEVICH with something “tangible up front.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH noted he was going to meet with Senate Candidate 5 in the next few days.

One intriguing possibility? Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who met with Blagojevich about the job just yesterday.

Federal investigators say this wasn't the only scheme in which the governor was engaged. They allege that he was working to get unfriendly members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board fired, using a threat involving state money to do so. The complaint reads, "[I]t appears that the Tribune Company, in connection with its efforts to sell the Cubs, has explored the possibility of obtaining financial assistance from the Illinois Finance Authority (“IFA”) relating to the financing or sale of Wrigley Field. During the course of this investigation, agents have intercepted a series of communications regarding the efforts of ROD BLAGOJEVICH and JOHN HARRIS to corruptly use the power and influence of the Office of the Governor to cause the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members as a condition of State of Illinois financial assistance in connection with Wrigley Field."

One of the people allegedly involved in this was Blagojevich's wife, who has not been charged. The complaint describes one phone call this way: 

During the call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s wife can be heard in the background telling ROD BLAGOJEVICH to tell Deputy Governor A “to hold up that fucking Cubs shit. . . fuck them.” ... Later, ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s wife got on the phone and, during the continuing discussion of the critical Tribune editorials, stated that Tribune Owner can “just fire” the writers because Tribune Owner owns the Tribune. ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s wife stated that if Tribune Owner’s papers were hurting his business, Tribune Owner would do something about the editorial board.

This type of plan, investigators charge, was put into action. And from what the complaint says, the governor and his chief of staff believed the Tribune -- and its majority owner, Sam Zell -- had understood what they were being told: 

HARRIS suggested to ROD BLAGOJEVICH that HARRIS explained to Tribune Financial Advisor that the Tribune’s editorials discussing impeachment “could jeopardize our efforts to do good things for people as well as the other thing (helping the Cubs sale at the IFA).” ROD BLAGOJEVICH responded, “there ya go. He got the message?” HARRIS replied, “yeah.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated “good.”

At least one specific target of this campaign has not been fired, however. A Chicago Tribune staffer commented to Salon, "I'm amazed he [Zell] didn't do it."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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