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Sunday, September 20, 2009
The Blago Code
By Andrew Walden @ 1:43 AM :: 9746 Views :: National News, Ethics

September 20, 2009

By Andrew Walden 

Rod Blagojevich has a message to his former political cronies: "If I'm going down, I'm taking all of you with me."  And given his close, 14-year relationship with Barack Obama and Tony Rezko, this can only be bad news for the White House.  

Unlike many criminal defendants who keep a low profile prior to trial, the impeached former Illinois governor has his own website.  "Blago" and his wife Patti--the daughter of powerful Chicago Alderman Richard Mell--have made numerous media appearances.  And now a book.

"The Governor", released September by Phoenix Books hasn't been treated very seriously by reviewers -- perhaps a sign of their fear.  The New York Times wrote, "Blagojevich v. Elvis: You Be the Judge."  The Chicago Tribune picked up on the musical theme: "Ex-governor croons to suspicious minds."  Time Magazine focused on Blago's megalomaniacal self-comparison to Teddy Roosevelt.

But wrapped in 264 pages of pabulum, Blago names names and identifying wiretapped conversations in a way which is sure to send a message to the politicians whose voices are allegedly recorded on the other end of the line.

The Washington Post review, "Blago Says Emanuel Came to Him for Help" hinted at some of this:

"Ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich says in a new book that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel wanted his help in arranging to leave the Obama administration after two years to reclaim his seat in Congress."

But Blago's bizarre and possibly coded reference to a conversation with Emanuel is just the tip of the iceberg (p183).  If Blago goes to trial, thousands of federal wiretaps will be played in court and dozens of national, state, and local Democrat officeholders may go down with him.  Given the amount that came out on the four tapes played at Blago's Illinois State Senate impeachment trial last January, there is every reason to believe that Blago is not bluffing.

What does Blago want?  The inside cover of his book describes "The Governor" as "a mandate for healthcare reform, which the governor feels is the civil rights issue of our lifetime."  But Blago's references to healthcare come tangled with the long series of shady, sketchily outlined, political deals which make up the interesting parts of the book.  So what does "The Governor" have to do with healthcare reform?  If Obama doesn't fire Chicago Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, pardon Blago, or find another way out of this, his administration and his chance at healthcare reform are toast.  That's the message. 

One of Blago's very few health-related references reads like this:

"I'm convinced that both Mike (Speaker of the Illinois State House) and Lisa Madigan (Illinois Attorney General) decided to work against my healthcare initiatives after I turned them down when they asked me for nearly $400,000 in campaign contributions.  At a meeting in my campaign office at 2PM on January 14, 2006...

In a rambling book, Blago suddenly becomes exquisitely lucid -- remembering even the time of day a meeting was held over three-and-a-half years ago.  But there's more:

...also present at the meeting was Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, the president of the Illinois state Senate Emil Jones, and some staff members....

Nearly a Year before, she had subpoenaed campaign fundraising records from the very office she was now sitting in.  For her to attend a meeting at that very office, working with her father who is asking me for two and a half percent of those very campaign funds she was investigating, was both blatantly hypocritical and grossly unethical....

Their message was easily interpreted.  If I didn't fork over two and a half percent of my campaign fund, which at the time was exactly $396,491.25, then they were both going to make trouble for me....And it made me feel like I was being shaken down." (p129-130)

There are several mentions of Tony Rezko, Obama, and several of his key insiders (parenthesis added):

...(F)or example, when I appointed Dr. Eric Whitaker (a key Obama kitchen cabinet insider) as my Director for Public Health, I was told he was recommended by then state Senator Barack Obama, who asked Tony Rezko to present his name for consideration. (p166)

Some time after the financial collapse in September 2008, when it started to become clear that Barack Obama was likely to be elected president, my Chief of Staff called me to tell me about a lunch he had with a woman by the name of Marilyn Katz (SDS 'security chief' at 1968 Chicago riots, developer of an anti-personnel weapon known as 'guerilla nails').  She's a political activist, and I believe she has a communications or consulting business in Chicago.  John Harris told me that the purpose of the lunch was that Marilyn Katz had raised the issue of having me appoint Valerie Jarrett (another key Obama kitchen cabinet insider tagged as 'The Next Van Jones' by some), a Chicago lawyer and businesswoman, to the United States Senate to succeed Barack Obama.  Marilyn Katz is close to Obama's political consultant David Axelrod.  John told me that she brought up the subject of my reelection for governor.  She indicated that if I appointed Valerie Jarrett to the US Senate, the Obama people would help me raise money from their network of contributors across the country.  And that the new senator and the Obama political operatives would help to make it happen.  (p179)

Blago coyly continues:

I didn't give much thought to it.  I remember mocking it to John Harris.  I may have even bemusedly asked the question, isn't that pay to play? 

Blago's home telephone was tapped just before the 2008 election.  News of the wiretap came out in the December 5, 2008 Chicago Tribune.  Anybody who contacted Blago in that month may be on the tapes.  In one of the most pointed sentences, Blago writes:

I spoke to Rahm Emanuel about it on the Saturday after the election.  We talked about it over the telephone.  I called him from home that morning to return one of his telephone calls....But the real purpose of his call was to see whether or not I would be willing to work with him and appoint a successor to his congressional seat who he would have designated to be a placeholder and hold the seat for him when he sought to return to Congress in two years. (p183)

As Blago points out, Governors do not have the authority to appoint Congressmen to vacant seats.  It is not credible to suggest that Emanuel would not know that.  Perhaps this was really a conversation about the Senate seat -- and Blago re-wrote it to send a message to Emanuel while pointing out the conversation occurred on the tapped phone line.  Then Blago drops this tidbit for good measure:

"After chiding him for not acknowledging the help I gave his brother Ari in the past to help one of his clients bring the sport of Ultimate Fighting to Illinois....  I told him I would talk to my legal counsel and see if there was a way where this perhaps might work.  But if I did, I teased him that this time he should consider it a favor." (p184)

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed December 16, 2008 wrote:

Sneed hears rumbles President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is reportedly on 21 different taped conversations by the feds -- dealing with his boss' vacant Senate seat!

A lot of chit-chat?

Hot air?

Or trouble?

To date: Rahm's been mum. Stay tuned.

Blago claims he was trying to assemble a complex political deal to name Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to Obama's vacated Senate seat in exchange for a legislative package including state-level healthcare reform.  The Madigans were Blago's factional enemies.  Blago drops even more names of politicians who might be on the taped phone calls:      

That's why I felt it was imperative to get the help of Democratic leaders like Rahm Emanuel, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Harry Reid, and Senator Bob Menendez.  And I also felt that those national Democratic leaders might be more motivated to help get a deal done, if they felt that the alternative to Lisa Madigan would be someone they didn't want.

And who didn't they want?

Well, they didn't want state Senate President Emil Jones.  He would create political problems for them that they wanted to avoid.  That view was made clear to me early on.  Who else didn't they want?  They didn't want me.  They were fearful I might appoint myself and bring with me the Rezko baggage that both the new president and I had in common.  This too, was made clear early on.  And Harry Reid and Dick Durbin didn't want Jesse Jackson Junior.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin offered to help.  I spoke to Democratic Senate majority Leader Harry Reid about it.  He was supportive.  I spoke to United States Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and he agreed to help facilitate and negotiate the deal.

Blago's not repeating these names twice because he is a lousy writer.  He continues:

I could help a lot of people if I could make the right political deal with her father.  And that's the kind of thing I said in numerous conversations with people like Senator Durbin, or the owner of the Chicago White Sox Jerry Reinsdorf, or with Rahm Emanuel, with powerful labor leaders, and others....  If that political deal couldn't be worked out...I was going to pick Congressman Danny Davis, Gery Chico, or Eric Whitaker and appoint one of them to the United States Senate.  (p188-190) 

The reference to Reinsdorf is interesting because Blago stands accused of attempting to extort the removal of two Chicago Tribune editors by obstructing the sale of Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field.  The Cubs are owned by the Tribune Company.  "Powerful labor leaders" could include SEIU leaders whose scheming over the Senate seat was described in Blago's Federal Indictment. 

Blago underlines his none-too-subtle point: 

Most of the conversations about the Senate seat took place over my home telephone...the federal prosecutor wiretapped my home telephone line and listened.... (p242) 

Blago then turns to the State political scene.  He also goes into detail alleging corrupt dealings by his estranged father-in-law, Mell.  Blago was not allowed to play most of the wiretap tapes in his impeachment trial.  But in his book he eagerly provides the kind of detail he is as yet withholding on the federal conversations.  This could be read as a preview of things to come at his federal trial:

...perhaps the most important reason why they prevented me from having the taped conversations heard in the Senate trial was because many of those same Senate  Democrats were on some of those telephone conversations with me.  They didn't want what they were saying heard.  From what I recall during the time my private conversations were being recorded, I remember talking to the new Senate President John Cullerton, his good friend and business partner state Senator Jimmy DeLeo, and another member of his leadership team, state Senator Ricky Hendon. 

Senate President John Cullerton...claimed to have raised around $400,000 and gave it out to other state senators.  Senator Cullerton bragged about all the money he raised and the point he was making was that by contributing that money to his colleagues, he expected to be elected the next Senate President.  Was the money he was raising and giving to his colleagues a form of buying their votes? ...

Senator DeLeo...asked me how it was that one of his colleagues, state Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg, had raised $100,000 in campaign contributions from the powerful nursing home industry after he successfully passed a bill that taxed senior citizens in nursing homes for the benefit of that same industry?   ...Senator DeLeo asked me if I agreed with his assessment that what Senator Schoenberg did was a form of pay-to-play politics.... 

(S)tate Senator Hendon...explained to me that he was joining another member of the Black Caucus and breaking from the unit vote the caucus was expected to make and support John Cullerton for Senate president.  His explanation was that the member in question never forgave Cullerton's opponent for a previous liaison she had with him.... Evidently, Senator Hendon saw the personal dalliance between two senators as an opportunity.  Because he soon made a deal, threw his support behind Senator Cullerton, and joined the new leadership team of the new Senate President....

Senator Don Harmon was the sponsor of the (ethics) bill that only applied the limits to the governor but didn't apply those same restrictions on themselves.  After meeting with my legal counsel, who on my instruction was trying to work to expand the application of that law, I was told that Senator Harmon changed subjects and asked my legal counsel in private if he could send bond work to his own law firm....  Was Senator Harmon using his legislation as leverage to benefit his law firm and himself?  (p244-245) 

Blago's reference to the Ethics law connects to an earlier passage where he brings in Obama:

The new ethics law had real teeth in it and was designed to root out abuses like the ones that we learned about in the previous administration.  Top legislative leaders sought to water down my tough ethics legislation.  And then state Senator Barack Obama was asked to sponsor it.... (p170)

And Blago once again reminds his readers:

Several conversations with state Senators took place over my telephone.  Many of those same Senators who voted to impeach me knew they had those conversations.  They obviously didn't want anybody to hear them.  But I wanted those taped conversations heard. (p246) 

The inside cover of "The Governor" reads:  "It is a clarion cry, remarkably, against cynicism in governing....  It is a lament against the current state of the political landscape....  And it is a proclamation that one man will not be silenced, that his side of the story must be heard...."

Unlike the rigged Senate impeachment trial, in a federal court, Blagojevich can have his wish.  Scheduled to begin June 3, 2010, the trial may run into August or even September.  This means a steady drip, drip, drip, of revelations timed perfectly with the 2010 Congressional elections.


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