Rezko Is Talking With Prosecutors, Blagojevich Complaint Confirms
Thursday, December 11, 2008
A footnote to the 76-page criminal complaint and affidavit charging Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) with soliciting bribes confirms what has long been rumored -- that a former longtime friend and fundraiser for President-elect Barack Obama is talking to federal prosecutors in hopes of a reduced sentence.
Antoin "Tony" Rezko's offer to provide authorities with evidence of others' wrongdoing is "not complete," and prosecutors are working to corroborate the claims he has made so far, the footnote said.
Rezko, a 53-year-old developer, was convicted in June of 16 criminal counts, including fraud, money laundering and abetting bribery. He is in custody awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutors depicted Rezko at trial as a fixer for Blagojevich and the man to see to secure a high-level appointment with the governor's administration. Rezko had been a longtime fundraiser for Blagojevich and other Illinois politicians, including Obama.
Obama was not implicated in the months-long trial, and he has said that Rezko sought no favors from him. At a news conference on Tuesday, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, went out of his way to dampen speculation about Obama.
"I should make clear, the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever," Fitzgerald said. "We make no allegations that he's aware of anything, and that's as simply as I can put it. . . .
"There's no reference in the complaint to any conversations involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it. And that's all I can say."
Legal experts said it was unusual for a prosecutor to make such a blanket statement while an investigation was continuing.
"That carries a great deal of weight," said Jan Witold Baran, a Washington lawyer who represents politicians on ethical complaints and campaign finance matters. "It is really unusual for a U.S. attorney to say someone is not implicated.
"Could evidence pop up in the future to the contrary? Sure, it's possible. Is it likely? I think that, based on what he said yesterday, the answer is no," Baran added.
The ongoing investigation is sure to present political complications for the Obama Justice Department, because advisers close to the president-elect are referenced in the criminal complaint and will be interviewed by federal prosecutors, legal analysts said. A lawyer for the Obama transition team did not return calls or e-mails yesterday.
Fitzgerald was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush, but he is a political independent. Obama could retain Fitzgerald, lending an element of continuity to the Blagojevich case and insulating himself somewhat from accusations that he is seeking to remove a dogged prosecutor from a case targeting Illinois Democrats.