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

Did Tribune Employees Tip Zell about the Wiretaps?

In addition to attempting to put Obama’s senate seat on e-bay, Governor Blagojovich has also allegedly been trying to leverage assistance for the sale of the Chicago Cubs for better coverage in the Chicago Tribune.

Sam Zell was trying to stave off putting the Tribune Company in bankruptcy by selling Wrigley Field. Zell wanted the help of the Illinois Finance Authority; Blago attempted to trade that help for more favorable coverage in the Trib.

Fitz’s team apparently picked up this attempt in the taps they placed to track Blago’s other schemes, including the selling of the senate seat. The chronology started on November 3, when Blago was discussing whether or not the Trib will be the one leading the call for impeachment. While listening to a discussion about that, Blago’s wife Patricia suggested that Blago “hold up that fucking Cubs shit. . . fuck them," later saying that Zell could just fire the Trib editorial board. Blago followed up by putting a stack of negative Trib articles together, and suggested that John Harris (the Chief of Staff who was also arrested today) take those articles to Zell and say, “We’ve got some decisions to make now … get rid of those people …. maybe we can’t do this now. Fire those fuckers.”

Two days later, Blago instructed Harris to inform Zell and his team that “everything is lined up, but before we go to the next level we need to have a discussion about what you guys are going to do about that newspaper” (the argument being that to get the IFA help, Blago would have to go around the legislature, precisely the same kind of thing the Trib was calling for impeachment over. Blago spoke specifically in terms of the value of IFA support for the Tribune Company: $100 million. 

On November 11, according to John Harris’s version picked up by the wiretaps, the Tribune Company talked about, “certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming … before the end of the month." Harris took that to mean the Trib would go after anti-Blago editors during the reorganization: "reading between the lines, he’s going after that section." On November 21, Blago and Harris specifically talked about Trib Deputy Editorial Page Editor John McCormick "getting bounced." Read more