Blago Lesson: It’s Okay to Sell a Senate Seat, So Long as You Don’t Lie about It

All you Californians ought to be getting awfully nervous about Senate-Select Carly Fiorina about now. Because the lesson I take from the Rod Blagojevich verdict–he was found guilty of just one charge of lying to the FBI, while the jury remained deadlocked on 23 other charges–is that it’s okay to sell a Senate seat, so long as you don’t lie about it.

A federal jury today convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of only one count against him: lying to the FBI. Jurors said they were deadlocked on the other 23 counts against the former governor, and all four counts against his brother Robert.

Mind you, prosecutors immediately told the judge they’d be back to retry the remaining counts.

But in spite of the fact that Blago appears to be headed for jail, this is not a big victory against corruption.

Blago Goes Quietly Into The Night

Remember when Rod Blagojevich was making all kinds of noise about calling Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Durbin and Reid, Valerie Jarrett and taking the witness grand stand himself to tell his side of the story in his defense to the criminal prosecution by Pat Fitzgerald and his NDIL team of prosecutors?

Well all the Blago fireworks were duds, most precluded by a strict trial judge, James Zagel, through granting prosecution motions to preclude. And then, a little over a week ago, came the crushing blow that even Hot Rod himself would not take the stand in his own defense.

Standing before a crush of reporters, cameras and microphones, Rod Blagojevich said he wanted to take the stand in his defense but instead took the advice of his attorney Sam Adam Sr., who convinced him the prosecution hadn’t proved its corruption case.

“I felt all along and believed all along that I was going to testify,” he said in the lobby of the federal courthouse.

The former governor said the government’s case wasn’t as they presented it, noting prosecutors didn’t call witnesses Antoin “Tony” Rezko and Stuart Levine, both convicted in the federal probe.

With Adam disagreeing with his son Sam Adam Jr. over his testimony, Blagojevich said he picked the elder attorney’s advice.

“Sam Junior still at this moment wanted me to testify and, frankly, so did I,” Blagojevich said.

He said the decision was discussed late into Monday night.

“Sam Adam Sr.’s most compelling argument — and ultimately the one that swayed me — was that the government in their case proved my innocence,” he said. “They proved I did nothing illegal and that there was nothing further for us to add.

The anticipated Blago fireworks fizzled so badly that the media have taken to calling it a “victory” for Democrats just in order to find something – anything – to talk about for their coverage:

“They dodged a bullet because it would have been weeks of dragging in these high-level people and talking about the schemes and all that,” Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady said.

Blagojevich’s attorneys had plastered Washington and Illinois with subpoenas. Besides Emanuel, Reid and Giannoulias, his lawyers also initially wanted Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett and Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin to appear. They even wanted to subpoena Obama, but weren’t allowed to by a judge.

That none of them ended up testifying doesn’t mean Republicans will let voters forget that Blagojevich is a Democrat as they try to pry loose the party’s grip on the Senate seat and Illinois state government.

And other issues, like Illinois’ $13 billion deficit, help mitigate the damage of the Blagojevich trial, said DePaul University political science professor Michael Mezey.

“It’s going to be yesterday’s news by the time election season starts Labor Day,” he said.

I am not sure this is any big “victory” for Democrats, but there is some merit Read more

Anthrax and Blago for Breakfast

I forgot to mention this yesterday. But I’m going fishing this weekend, and you’re going to be blessed with the fine hospitality of bmaz and the likker cabinet until sometime Monday.

But while I’m sneaking my last Toobz fix in before Mr. EW wakes up and makes me put away the computer for the weekend, I wanted to point to two things.

First, Glenn links to two articles on the testimony of Henry Heine’s testimony before the scientific review of the Amerithrax case. I’m hoping Jim White will have a post up talking about the scientific side of these articles (the short version: Heine raised the same points that Jim has been raising for some time). But I wanted to point to this, from the second article.

After the committee left, Heine expressed frustration that he had already told the FBI everything he just presented, but that no one had listened to him. FBI agents he dealt with were professional, he said, but some officials at the Department of Justice were extremely arrogant.

He said the whole investigation was filled with lies. Officials told different USAMRIID researchers their co-workers accused them of committing the attacks, just to see their reaction. They searched his vacation house and car without warrants.

They misled him about the questions they would ask him in front of a grand jury. And they tried to get him to seek a restraining order against Ivins, only days before he committed suicide, by saying Ivins had threatened to kill Heine during a group therapy session.

Heine is not the only one who does not believe Ivins was the real killer.

“At least among my closest colleagues, nobody believes Bruce did this,” he said. He thinks the FBI went after Ivins because “personality-wise, he was the weakest link.”

Remember how one piece of evidence the FBI used to argue that Bruce Ivins was a killer was the purported death threat he made? Eventually, they got his therapist to report on it. But it turns out the purported death threat was against Heine–and the Government asked him, but he refused, to get a restraining order against Ivins. That, plus Heine’s comment about the FBI believing Ivins was “the weakest link,” suggests that Heine really believes they pushed Ivins at a time when he was losing it psychologically.

In any case, the guy they wanted to use to buttress their case that Ivins was dangerous is now out there arguing that he could not be the killer.

Read more

Blago Begins His Rahm Play

I’ve been noting for months that Rod Blagojevich would make a big deal out of the conversations his people had with Rahm about gaming the election for Rahm’s former seat. If for no other reason than Blago claims Rahm gave him the idea behind one of the charges, Blago has every incentive to embarrass Rahm thoroughly over the course of his trial.

And, not surprisingly, Blago has made the first move in that play.

Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers want the FBI to give up details of interviews conducted last year of President Obama, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and others as part of the investigation into the former governor.

In a Friday filing, Blagojevich attorneys also asked for information regarding first lady Michelle Obama. However, a source said late Friday that the FBI never interviewed the first lady.

Prosecutors may well delay (that’s certainly what Fitz did in the CIA Leak case, where he turned over materials on prosecution witnesses just weeks before the trial started).

But I can imagine that Obama would prefer to put off this little side show until health care gets done–if it does get done. And I imagine Blago knows that well.

Rahm’s Placeholder, Forrest Claypool?

Remember how, in December and January, there were hints that Rahm Emanuel had been trying (in November) to get Rod Blagojevich to help set up a placeholder in his seat, so he could serve as Chief of Staff for two years and then return to the House and run for Speaker?

Well, Blago has repeated and elaborated on that story in a book and the Sun-Times has investigated Blago’s claims in a fascinating article. The Sun-Times reports that Blago claims Rahm asked Blago to appoint Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool to his seat; Blago further claims that Rahm told Claypool he could have a Cabinet appointment when he stepped aside to reopen Rahm’s seat for him after two or four years.

I’m interested in this story partly for the way it would fill out the timeline of Rahm’s and Blago’s contacts. Here’s the chronology the Sun-Times describes.

According to Blagojevich’s recently released book, The Governor, Blagojevich and Emanuel spoke Nov. 7 and 8. They discussed Blagojevich appointing a "placeholder," for the congressional seat, according to the book.


Claypool’s announcement that he would not seek Emanuel’s seat came Nov. 12, just days after the discussion between Emanuel and Blagojevich.

On the same day as Claypool’s announcement, Jarrett publicly pulled herself out of contention for the Senate seat. She is now a top adviser to the president.

And here’s how that makes the timeline look (I’ve underlined the new information):

November 6: Rahm Emanuel accepts Chief of Staff position; Blago gives a leak to Michael Sneed designed "to send a message to the [Obama] people" that Madigan might get the Senate seat over Jarrett

November 6-8: Louanner Peters called Eric Whitaker to ask who spoke for Obama regarding his preferences for his replacement; Obama told Whitaker no one had that authority, which Whitaker "relayed" this to Peters

November 6-8: Rahm has "one or two" conversations with Blago, about his own seat, as well as Senate seat [note, Blago says one happened on November 7 and one happened on November 8]; Rahm has four conversations with John Harris about the Senate seat

November 7: Rahm and Blago talk about the Senate seat and about appointing a placeholder; Blago tells Advisor A he’s willing to "trade" the Senate seat for Secretary of HHS; Blago discusses HHS with Harris and Advisor B and talks about 3-way deal with SEIU; Read more

Is Rahm Congressman A?

The Blago indictment describes a previously unreported failed extortion attempt of Congressman A. Congressman A seems to be Rahm Emanuel. If that’s true, then it means Rahm will be dragged into the trial (and discovery) of this case. But it also shows that he resisted Blago’s advances even before it became clear Blago was under suspicion for corruption.

Extorting Congressman A

The indictment describes this extortion attempt in 2006.

22. It was further part of the scheme that in or about 2006, after United States Congressman A inquired about the status of a $2 million grant for the benefit of a publicly-supported school, defendant ROD BLAGOJEVICH instructed defendant HARRIS not to release the grant until further direction from ROD BLAGOJEVICH, even though ROD BLAGOJEVICH previously had agreed to support the grant and funding for the grant had been included in the state’s budget.

23. It was further part of the scheme that, in response to inquiries by a high-ranking state official as to whether the grant money could be released, defendant ROD BLAGOJEVICH informed the official that ROD BLAGOJEVICH wanted it communicated to United States Congressman A that United States Congressman A’s brother needed to have a fundraiser for ROD BLAGOJEVICH.

24. It was further part of the scheme that defendant ROD BLAGOJEVICH told Lobbyist A that ROD BLAGOJEVICH was giving a $2 million grant to a school in United States Congressman A’s district and instructed Lobbyist A to approach United States Congressman A for a fundraiser.

25. It was further part of the scheme that after defendant ROD BLAGOJEVICH learned from defendant HARRIS that the school had started to incur expenses that were to be paid with the grant funds, ROD BLAGOJEVICH initially resisted the release of the grant money, and then ultimately agreed to the release of certain of the grant funds to cover incurred expenses, but only on a delayed basis, even though no fundraiser had been held.

Note, it’s clear from the last paragraph that Congressman A did not hold a fundraiser for Blago, and that at least some funds were provided to the school in any case. So Congressman A definitely blew off Blago’s attempt at extortion.

Jesse Jackson Jr is Senate Candidate A

Congressman A does not appear to be Jesse Jackson Jr, another of the male Congressmen who got pitched during the Senate sale this year.  We know JJJ had worked with Fitzgerald to expose two earlier attempted corruption schemes from Blago–a $25,000 scheme involving JJJ"s wife, and an attempt to open a third airport in Peotone, IL. But if JJJ had been a target of this third extortion attempt, why wouldn’t it have come out earlier when he revealed the earlier contacts?

Also, JJJ is mentioned elsewhere as Senate Candidate A.

It was further part of the scheme that on or about December 4, 2008, defendant ROD BLAGOJEVICH instructed defendant ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH to contact a representative of Senate Candidate A, and advise the representative that if Senate Candidate A was going to be chosen to fill the Senate seat, some of the promised fundraising had to occur before the appointment.

It’s unlikely they would refer to  JJJ as both Senate Candidate A and Congressman A.

Congressman A matches details on Rahm in the complaint

In addition to the attempted extortion in 2006, Congressman A is also described in context of the attempt to sell the Senate seat last year, specifically in regards to a demand to set up a 401(c)4 in exchange for the appointment of a Senate candidate.

On or about November 13, 2008, at Chicago, in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and elsewhere,


defendant herein, for the purpose of executing the above-described scheme, did knowingly cause to be transmitted by means of wire and radio communication in interstate commerce signals and sounds, namely a phone call between ROD BLAGOJEVICH in Chicago, Illinois, and Advisor B in Michigan (Session 624), in which they discussed presenting to United States Congressman A a proposal by ROD BLAGOJEVICH that a not-for-profit organization be set up and that the connection between setting up this organization and the awarding of the U.S. Senate seat would be "unsaid”;


Read more

Blagojevich Indicted

Big surprise … not. Rod Blagojevich indicted for corruption, including trying to sell the Senate seat.

Here is the indictment.

In addition to Blago and Harris (who were arrested in December), RobBlago, Lon Monk, Christopher Kelly, and William Cellini were indicted. I’m looking for the document now, will update later. 

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, his brother Rob and Christopher Kelly, a former top fundraiser for Blagojevich, were all indicted today on corruption charges, the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago announced.

Also charged in the indictment were Lon Monk, a lobbyist and former Blagojevich chief of staff; John Harris, also a former chief of staff to Blagojevich; and William Cellini, a Springfield insider for decades.

From the press release:

Since 2002, even before he was first elected governor that November, and continuing until he was arrested on Dec. 9, 2008, former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and a circle of his closest aides and advisors allegedly engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to deprive the people of Illinois of honest government, according to a 19-count indictment returned today by a federal grand jury. Blagojevich, 52, of Chicago, was charged with 16 felony counts, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. He allegedly used his office in numerous matters involving state appointments, business, legislation and pension fund investments to seek or obtain such financial benefits as money, campaign contributions, and employment for himself and others, in exchange for official actions, including trying to leverage his authority to appoint a United States Senator, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Also charged as co-defendants in the same indictment are:

John Harris, 47, of Chicago, Blagojevich’s chief of staff from late 2005 until last December after he was arrested along with Blagojevich. Through his attorney, Harris, disclose that he has agreed to cooperate with the United States Attorney’s Office in the prosecution of this case;

Alonzo Monk, 50, of Park Ridge, a lobbyist doing business as AM3 Consulting, Ltd., and a long-time Blagojevich associate who served as his general counsel when Blagojevich represented Illinois’ Fifth Congressional District, and later managed his 2002 and 2006 gubernatorial campaigns, was his first gubernatorial chief of staff from 2003 through 2005, and later chairman of his campaign fund;

Robert Blagojevich, 53, of Nashville, Tenn., Blagojevich’s brother, who became chairman of his campaign fund in August 2008;

Read more

Sam Zell Chats with Fitz

I’m not so much surprised by the news, from yesterday, that the consultant brokering a deal between the Tribune Company and Rod Blagojevich spoke with Blago’s Chief of Staff John Harris the day before the FBI arrested Blago to stop a "political corruption crime spree."

[Consultant Marc] Ganis also noted the Cubs were not part of the firm’s bankruptcy filing and said, "Nils [Larsen] is going to call you and Sam [Zell] is going to call the Gov."

Nor am I surprised by the news that Sam Zell chatted with Fitz and friends under subpoena, or that he spoke with Blago the day before he was arrested.

Tribune Co. Chairman Sam Zell hired well-known defense lawyer Anton Valukas and was interviewed in January by federal prosecutors as a "potential witness" in the criminal investigation of former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, the company acknowledged Wednesday.


In their subpoena to Tribune Co., federal authorities sought information about potential staff cuts or changes to the newspaper’s editorial board. The company has said Tribune Co. executives did nothing inappropriate.

Tribune Co. also acknowledged state records, recently obtained by the Chicago Tribune, that show Zell making a phone call and giving a gift to Blagojevich.

According to records of Blagojevich’s telephone logs, Zell placed a call to the governor Dec. 8, the day before the arrest. Zell placed "courtesy calls" to several elected officials, including Mayor Richard M. Daley, that day to notify them that the company had just filed for bankruptcy protection, according to the statement from Liebentritt. "Mr. Zell’s call to Mr. Blagojevich was not returned," the statement said.

Records also show that Zell gave Blagojevich a gift during 2008. The Liebentritt statement described the gift as a music box "or other specially created work of art."

The statement noted that for more than 30 years Zell has given such gifts to "local, national and world leaders . . . designed to share Mr. Zell’s vision for the coming year for the investment climate and the economy."

I’m most intrigued by the timing of it.

Zell spoke to proscutors in January. But we’re just learning about it now, in mid-March. And we’re learning about it from official sources at the Trib, not via less official sources.

You see, Fitz got a 90-day extension to the time when he needs to indict Blago, from January 7 to April 7. Which means anyone who wants to pre-empt news appearing in the indictment has Read more

Burris’ Partner Fred Lebed Spoke of Favors for Blagojevich

When Roland Burris was asked by the legislative committee whether his partner, Fred Lebed, had had any influence over the September 2008 hiring of Patti Blago at a non-profit on whose board he served, Burris claimed he would have no idea about Lebed’s actions.

Perhaps that’s true. But on the day when Blago appointed Burris (which was three months after Blago’s wife had gotten hired), Lebed sure knew he’d have some favors to return to the Governor.

On the same December day then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich named Roland Burris to fill President Obama’s U.S. Senate vacancy, Burris’ right-hand political man, Fred Lebed, phoned an associate and told him, "We’ll have to do some things for the governor."

That’s the recollection of the associate, a health-care and political consultant named John Ruff, who went on to become one of Burris’ co-plaintiffs on a January lawsuit that sought to help Burris claim his Senate seat.

Besides raising new questions about a possible quid pro quo between Blagojevich and Burris, Ruff also recalled Lebed telling him he’d had discussions about Burris’ interest in the seat with Blagojevich representatives as far back as October. That claim by Ruff contradicts what Burris said in a Jan. 5 sworn statement that is now part of a state perjury investigation.


Ruff is adamant that if prosecutors want to get to the bottom of whether Burris perjured himself, Lebed could be a key.

"There is more to be discovered," Ruff said. "I know the key to finding the information out is through Fred. That’s the main point I wish to get across."


One of the calls between Lebed and Ruff came Dec. 30, before Blagojevich made the stunning announcement later in the day he was appointing Burris to the vacant Senate seat.

"He called me at 9:04 a.m," Ruff said of Lebed. "We talked for 12 minutes. He called to tell me that Gov. Blagojevich was appointing Roland as senator. I congratulated him and asked him how he managed to pull that one off. And that’s when he made some flippant remark about ‘We’ll have to do some things for the governor.’ "

If Lebed was talking about Burris angling for the seat back in October, it puts it very close to the time when Patti got appointed to the charity. From which she has since been fired. 

I’d say Ruff is correct in suggesting that Lebed might have more to say about this topic. 

Roland Burris, the Sequel

So Roland Burris has a son, Roland II. A son who–at a time when Burris I was already leveraging to get Obama’s seat in the Senate–got hired by a state agency to do stuff that he was probably not the best candidate to do.

The son of embattled Sen. Roland Burris is a federal tax deadbeat who landed a $75,000-a-year state job under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich five months ago, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Blagojevich’s administration hired Roland W. Burris II as a senior counsel for the state’s housing authority Sept. 10 — about six weeks after the Internal Revenue Service slapped a $34,163 tax lien on Burris II and three weeks after a mortgage company filed a foreclosure suit on his South Side house.


Burris II had resolved two federal tax liens in 2005 before being hit with the $34,163 lien in July. That lien against his property seeks unpaid taxes for 2004, 2005 and 2007.

A month after the IRS filed the lien, Burris II’s lender filed its foreclosure suit. Since Burris II and his wife got the $372,000 mortgage on July 18, 2006, they’ve paid less than $3,000 on it, the suit alleges. The balance due is $406,685, including interest and penalties.

I’m particularly interested in the foreclosure problems Roland II had on his house, given the fact that he only paid Mayor Daley a dollar for the land he built the house on.

Burris II built his home in the booming Bronzeville neighborhood on land he bought from the City of Chicago in 2000. City records show he paid $1 for the lot as part of an effort to clean up his once-blighted block.

I still have a gut feel that Burris II got a job in exchange for the job that Patti Blago got from the charity that Burris I’s partner sits on the board of which was making development scams possible for Mayor Daley. But I also suspect we won’t get to that part of the story until Burris Blago, Part 10.