Home Forums

Date: 2008/12/10 17:45 By: iluvgossip Status: User  
Karma: 0  
Platinum Boarder

Posts: 1253
President-elect Barack Obama hasn't even stepped into office and already a scandal — not of his own making — is threatening to dog him.

Obama isn't accused of anything. But the fact that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a fellow Democrat, has been charged with trying to sell Obama's now-vacant Senate post gives political opponents an opening to criticize him. A slew of questions remain. The investigation is still under way. And the ultimate impact on Obama is far from certain.

He pointedly distanced himself from the case Tuesday, saying, "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening" concerning any possible dealing about Blagojevich's appointment of a successor.

In an interview published in the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Obama reiterated that point, saying: "I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time."

But Obama wouldn't answer a question on whether he was aware of any conversations between the governor and his top aides, including incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "It's an ongoing investigation," Obama said. "I think it would be inappropriate for me to ... remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know."

In Chicago on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said prosecutors were making no allegations that Obama was aware of any scheming. And Blagojevich himself, in taped conversations cited by prosecutors, suggested that Obama wouldn't be helpful to him. Even if the governor was to appoint a candidate favored by the Obama team, Blagojevich said, "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation."

Republicans pounced nonetheless.

"The serious nature of the crimes listed by federal prosecutors raises questions about the interaction with Gov. Blagojevich, President-elect Obama and other high ranking officials who will be working for the future president," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the new GOP House whip.

Added Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee, "President-elect Barack Obama's comments on the matter are insufficient at best."

Robert Gibbs, an Obama spokesman, said, "We did not know about this recent part of the investigation until today."

The two Illinois politicians have never been close and have largely operated in different Democratic Party camps in the state. Blagojevich's disdain for Obama was clear in court documents; he is quoted as calling the president-elect a vulgar term in one phone conversation recorded by the FBI.

Despite all that, at the very least, the episode amounts to a distraction for Obama just six weeks before he's sworn into office while he works to set up his new administration and deal with a national economic crisis. It also raises the specter of notorious Chicago politics, an image Obama has tried to distance himself from during his career.

In court documents, FBI Special Agent Daniel Cain detailed several phone calls between Blagojevich and his aides that were intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the past month. Blagojevich is accused of conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti. Among his alleged desires: a Cabinet post, placement at a private foundation in a significant position, campaign contributions or an ambassadorship.

There were signs the continuing investigation could still involve Obama.

It appears that Obama friend Valerie Jarrett, an incoming senior White House adviser, is the person referred to repeatedly in court documents as "Candidate 1." That individual is described as a woman who is "an adviser to the president-elect" and as the person Obama wanted appointed to the Senate seat. Court papers say that Candidate 1 eventually removed herself from consideration for the Senate seat.

Blagojevich talked at length about Candidate 1 in a Nov. 11 phone conversation with an aide.

One day later, Jarrett, a Chicago businesswoman who is one of three co-chairmen of Obama's transition team and was a high-level adviser to his presidential campaign, made it known that she was not interested in the seat. On Nov. 15, Obama announced that Jarrett would be a senior White House adviser and assistant for intergovernmental relations.

Obama's circle of major Illinois political allies and supporters is largely separate from Blagojevich's, with two major exceptions. Both Obama and Blagojevich got extensive money and support from Chicago businessman Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who is awaiting sentencing after being convicted in June on charges of using clout with Blagojevich's administration to help launch a $7 million kickback scheme. And Obama is close to Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, who has been the governor's staunchest legislative ally.

At least one top aide to Obama, Michael Strautmanis, previously worked for Blagojevich. Obama has appointed Strautmanis to serve in a top post in the White House. The Chicago native was legislative director and counsel to Blagojevich when the governor was a member of Congress and then helped Blagojevich win the governorship in 2002. There is no indication that Strautmanis is involved in the case.

More details on the case could be forthcoming.

Court documents say they don't include all calls dealing with the governor's efforts regarding the Senate appointment. And many people in the documents are referred to by aliases; there's little doubt their identities will eventually surface.
The administrator has disabled public write access.

Date: 2008/12/11 20:49 By: KatiePery Status: User  
Karma: 0  
Platinum Boarder

Posts: 1388
Federal prosecutors' stunning allegations of corruption by Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday once again reminded the nation of Illinois' shameful history of crooked governors.

George Ryan. Dan Walker. Otto Kerner. All have served as Illinois governor since the late 1960s, and all later served time in federal prison.

"I can tell you one thing," Chicago FBI Chief Robert Grant said. "If it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor."

Blagojevich's arrest Tuesday "reinforces the notion that Illinois is one of the most corrupt states in the nation," said Charles Wheeler, head of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, was elected in 2002 as a reformer promising to clean up after Ryan, a Republican who sits in a federal prison after his 2006 conviction for steering state contacts and leases to political cronies.

Ryan is now asking President George W. Bush to commute his 6 1/2-year prison sentence to the just more than a year he's already served before the president leaves the White House next month.

Well before Ryan, there was Walker. After leaving office in 1977, he committed bank fraud, perjury and misapplication of funds and went to prison.

Kerner was convicted in the 1970s of bribery, tax evasion and other charges for getting horse racing association stock at a reduced price in exchange for doling out favorable horse racing dates while he was governor in the 1960s.

Even when Illinois' stories aren't about corruption, corruption pushes its way in.

When Ryan cleared the state's Death Row, the accounts all included the allegations swirling around the governor.

When retired cops are asked about the notorious 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, they often point out that the commission that labeled the chaotic scene a "police riot" was chaired by Walker — who, they happily add, was a convicted felon.

But the charges that landed those other governors behind bars were nowhere near as sensational as the things Blagojevich is accused of doing — starting with an attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

When Ryan was charged, nowhere did U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald talk about Abraham Lincoln rolling over in his grave, as he did Tuesday in reference to Blagojevich's alleged conduct.

"The brazenness of it blows everything else out of the water," said Wheeler of UofI-Springfield.

Still, the allegation may not be, as Fitzgerald suggested, a "truly new low" for the state. Wheeler suggested that what the governor is accused of doing — trying to make money for himself and land his wife a cushy job — harkens back to bygone days in Illinois when politicians were almost expected to help themselves while running the state.

Help themselves, they did. Ask longtime residents, who remember opening the paper in 1970 to read about the $750,000 stuffed in shoeboxes in former Secretary of State Paul Powell's home after he died. Senior citizens may recall Orville Hodge's guilty plea in the 1950s to embezzling more than $1.5 million in state funds while he was state auditor, and the two planes, four automobiles and homes in Illinois and Florida he bought with the money.

Tuesday's news has left Illinois residents like Chicagoan Suzy Thomas sad about the way history seems to repeat itself around here.

"Unfortunately, you know, it's kind of politics as usual in Chicago and Illinois," said Thomas, 55. "Now we're the top state for number of governors who've been indicted."
The administrator has disabled public write access.