IL-Sen: Blagojevich Arrested for Trying to Sell Senate Seat

Last week, I said that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich must appoint a placeholderto succeed Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate, to allow for a competitive 2010 primary.  I would like to update that statement.  Blagojevich must appoint no one.Blagojevich should resign immediately.  Why?In case you haven’t already heard this morning, Blagojevich was arrested for allegedly attempting to sell the Senate appointment for a steep pay-off, as well as other corrupt misdeeds (and the feds have a mountain of audio of the Governor):

Gov. Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested at their homes this morning in a probe involving the governor’s quest to fill Sen. Barack Obama’s open Senate seat and focusing on wire fraud and bribery charges.The charges also include alleged attempts by the governor to influence the Tribune editorial board, threatening, that if the Tribune didn’t support him, he wouldn’t approve the sale of Wrigley Field.

The complaint contends Blagojevich, a Democrat, threatened to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Co. in connection with the sale of Wrigley to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members critical of Blagojevich.

The governor is also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for official actions – in the past and recently in a push before a new state ethics law takes effect Jan. 1.

Blagojevich, 51, and Harris, 46, both of Chicago, are each charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. They were charged in a two-count criminal complaint that was sworn out on Sunday and unsealed today following their arrests, which occurred without incident, the feds said.

A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife.

At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich allegedly discussed obtaining:

•A substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions.

•Placing his wife on corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year.

•Promises of campaign funds – including cash up front.

•A cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.

On Dec. 4, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might “get some (money) up front, maybe” from Senate Candidate 5, if he named Senate Candidate 5 to the Senate seat, to insure that Senate Candidate 5 kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election.

In a recorded conversation on Oct. 31, Blagojevich claimed he was approached by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: “We were approached to ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”

Blagojevich also weighed how threatening to appoint himself could raise the value of his pay-off, and how actually appointing himself could help him better cover his own backside:

Throughout the intercepted conversations, Blagojevich also allegedly spent significant time weighing the option of appointing himself to the open Senate seat and expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, according to the affidavit, including:•Frustration at being “stuck” as governor;

•A belief that he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor;

•A desire to remake his image in consideration of a possible run for President in 2016;

•Avoiding impeachment by the Illinois legislature;

•Making corporate contacts that would be of value to him after leaving public office;

•Facilitating his wife’s employment as a lobbyist;

•And generating speaking fees should he decide to leave public office.

In the earliest intercepted conversation about the Senate seat described in the affidavit, Blagojevich told Deputy Governor A on Nov. 3 that if he is not going to get anything of value for the open seat, then he will take it for himself: “If . . . they’re not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it.”

Later that day, speaking to Advisor A, Blagojevich allegedly said: “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain.” He added later that the seat “is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”

Much to the credit (and exculpation!) of the Obama Administration, they weren’t offering Blagojevich anything besides their thanks and good wishes:

Also during that call, Blagojevich agreed it was unlikely that Obama would name him Secretary of Health and Human Services or give him an ambassadorship because of all of the negative publicity surrounding him, according to the complaint.In a conversation with Harris on Nov. 11, the charges state, Blagojevich said he knew Obama wanted Senate Candidate 1 for the open seat but “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them.”

In addition to Blagojevich’s apparent corruption, this “Senate Candidate 5″ is no sweetheart:

As recently as Dec. 4, in separate conversations with Advisor B and Fundraiser A, Blagojevich said that he was “elevating” Senate Candidate 5 on the list of candidates because, among other reasons, if Blagojevich ran for re-election, Senate Candidate 5 would “raise money” for him.Blagojevich said that he might be able to cut a deal with Senate Candidate 5 that provided Blagojevich with something “tangible up front.”

Noting that he was going to meet with Senate Candidate 5 in the next few days, Blagojevich told Fundraiser A to reach out to an intermediary (Individual D), from whom Blagojevich is attempting to obtain campaign contributions and who Blagojevich believes is close to Senate Candidate 5.

Whoever “Senate Candidate 5″ turns out to be should not only be taken out of contention but deserves his own investigation.

So there’s the sordid tale.  It’s a pretty immense case against Blagojevich.  In American jurisprudence, one is innocent until proven guilty, and that should stand for Blagojevich, too, as a citizen.  But, in terms of being Governor, we’re talking about a higher standard.  As such, Blagojevich should resign his Governorship immediately.

Given that these charges center directly around the appointment to fill the Senate vacancy, Blagojevich should obviously leave that for his successor, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, who I’m told, fortunately, is a real Boy Scout.

I hope that Blagojevich does the right thing, for once, and resigns ASAP.  Stay tuned.

UPDATEMarc Ambinder speculates that, based on the details known, “Senate Candidate 5″ is likely Jesse Jackson Jr.

UPDATE 2: The Associated Press reminds us that history may have doomed Blagojevich: “3 ex-Ill. governors have served time since 1970s.”  Yikes.

UPDATE 3TPM Muckraker joins Ambinder in speculating that Jesse Jackson Jr. is “Senate Candidate 5.”

Click here for the new senate guru blog…

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