Governor charged with trying to sell Obama's Senate seat (Roundup)
By Mike McCarthy Dec 9, 2008, 17:16 GMT
Washington - Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his top aide were arrested Tuesday on corruption charges, including a plot to appoint a replacement for president-elect Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat in return for cash and political favours.
Federal agents intercepted conversations between Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, during which they explored ways to solicit money in return for using the governor's sole authority to name Obama's successor in a 'pay-to-play' scheme.
'He attempted to sell the Senate seat,' Patrick J Fitzgerald, the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said in a press conference in Chicago. 'This is a sad day for government ... Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a new low.'
Obama resigned from the Senate on November 16, 12 days after winning the election.
Blagojevich, 51, and Harris, 46, have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. They face maximum sentences of 20 years in prison if convicted.
The Justice Department also accused the two men of threatening to withhold state assistance for the media firm, the Tribune Co, unless it fired editorial writers seen as unfriendly to the governor. They were additionally charged with seeking campaign contributions in exchange for official actions.
Blagojevich and Harris were to appear in a federal court in Chicago later on Tuesday. The wiretaps showed that Blagojevich was seeking higher positions in return for political favours, hoping for a post in Obama's cabinet or a lucrative job for his wife on a corporate board, Fitzgerald said.
Blagojevich also considered appointing himself to the Senate, figuring he would have more protection if he was indicted and could avoid impeachment by the state legislature.
'The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,' Fitzgerald said. 'They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator, involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target, and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism.'
Fitzgerald said there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Obama.
Blagojevich, whose term expires in 2011, has been under federal investigation for corruption for years. He replaced former governor George Ryan, who is already in prison on corruption charges. Illinois has long been considered one of the most corrupt states in the country.
The Justice Department complaint details Blagojevich's conversations beginning November 3 and ending December 5 about an Obama replacement, during which he considered the financial and political benefits he and his wife could receive if he appointed any of various candidates.
'I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden, and uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing,' Blagojevich allegedly said. 'I'm not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there.'
Robert Grant of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said he telephoned Blagojevich early Tuesday morning to inform him that agents were waiting outside his house to arrest him and urged the governor to surrender quietly.
According to Grant, Blagojevich responded: 'Is this a joke?'
The governor then turned himself in to the agents outside.
Grant said Blagojevich's illegal activities surprised his agents despite Illinois' long history of corruption. 'Even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked,' Grant said.