Behind the Blago Bust
Wednesday, December 10, 2008; 8:01 AM
As an old Justice Department reporter, I've covered lots of indictments with lots of sleazy details about all manner of illegality.
But I've never seen a wilder batch of allegations than in yesterday's criminal complaint against Rod Blagojevich.
Trying to (allegedly) sell Obama's Senate seat! Trying to (allegedly) squeeze money from a children's hospital! Trying to (allegedly) get Chicago Tribune staffers fired by threatening to derail a deal by its bankrupt parent company to sell the Chicago Cubs! (Who says newspapers don't matter any more?)
You can't make this stuff up. No Hollywood studio would buy the script.
Not many states can boast that two straight governors got into legal trouble, but Illinois is a special case. George Ryan is still behind bars. A governor from the 1970s, Dan Walker, also went to prison.
It's hard to see how Blago, with his 13 percent approval rating, hangs on. Even if he manages to beat the rap, quotes from the wiretapped conversations--a Senate seat "is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing"--are just devastating. As the state's federal prosecutor put it, quoting Blago: "I've got this thing and it's bleeping golden. I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing."
The more immediate question is who gets named to the Senate (presumably for free). Blagojevich is still governor and can still name Obama's replacement. Or, under existing law, he could step down, handing the hot potato to Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn (D). Late yesterday, the president of the Illinois State Senate said he will call a special session to pass legislation that would mandate holding a special election to fill Obama's seat.
At a presser with Al Gore yesterday, Obama said he was saddened and tried to cut the thing off without questions. The reporters weren't having it and kept shouting. The president-elect relented and took one question, saying he hadn't discussed the issue of his successor with Blago.
Although ABC's Jake Tapper notes that David Axelrod said last month, referring to his boss: "I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them." (Axelrod later issued a statement saying he was mistaken in that interview.)
Here's my report on the Tribune angle:
On Sept. 29, a Chicago Tribune editorial ripped Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for his "notorious pay-to-play politics" and said the legislature should investigate whether to impeach him.
Five weeks later, Blagojevich told a deputy governor that they should target some of the paper's editorial page editors by telling Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell to "get rid of those people . . . Fire those [expletives]."