Illinois Gov. in Custody; Who Wants Obama Seat Now?

By Lindsey Ellerson

Dec 9, 2008 9:40am

ABC News’ Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl Report: Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., was taken into federal custody Tuesday morning in Chicago, as part of a long-running federal corruption investigation, as first reported by The Chicago Tribune.

One really interesting tidbit from the Tribune: “A three-year federal corruption investigation of pay-to-play politics in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration has expanded to include his impending selection of a new U.S. senator to succeed President-elect Barack Obama, the Tribune has learned.”

“Federal authorities got approval from a judge before the November general election to secretly record the governor, sources told the Tribune, and among their concerns was whether the selection process might be tainted. That possibility has become a focus in an intensifying investigation that has included recordings of the governor and the cooperation of one of his closest friends.”

Blagojevich still gets to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s now-vacant Senate seat. As long as he’s the governor — even if he’s under indictment — the power is his, and his alone.

But the latest developments complicate the politics around the vacant seat. If you’re an ambitious Illinois pol, would you even want what would otherwise be the biggest of political plums, if it gives you the taint of a connection to an indicted governor?

If you’re a national or state Democratic leader, would you want the seat to go to someone with a political future, if this guarantees a campaign issue for a Republican challenger in 2010?

One way to interpret this is it makes the seat more likely to go to a short-term caretaker — say, the 73-year-old state Senate president, Emil Jones Jr. — than to someone who’s considered a rising star, like 43-year-old Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.

UPDATE: The indictment spells out in fairly incredible detail what Blagojevich felt he could demand in exchange for the Obama seat.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald accuses the governor of "conspiring to sell or trade" the seat "for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife."

At various times, Blagojevich is allegedly recorded as discussing obtaining:
- a substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions

- placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year

- promises of campaign funds, including cash up front; and

- a Cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.

And who is "Senate Candidate 5?"  Whoever it is may be in trouble, too.   

From Fitzgerald’s summary of the complaint:  "Just last week, on December 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 October 31, Blagojevich claimed he was approached by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: ‘We were approached "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.’

"On November 7, while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with Harris and an advisor, Blagojevich said he needed to consider his family and that he is ‘financially’ hurting, the affidavit states. Harris allegedly said that they were considering what would help the ‘financial security’ of the Blagojevich family and what will keep Blagojevich ‘politically viable.’ Blagojevich stated, ‘I want to make money,’ adding later that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 a year the complaint alleges."

The indictment also appears to refer to senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett:

“Unless I get something real good [for Senate candidate 1], s***, I’ll just send myself, you know what I’m saying,” Blagojevich was taped saying the day before Election Day.

The Senate seat, the governor is alleged to have said, “is a f***ing valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”

“By this time, media reports indicated that Senate Candidate 1, an advisor to the President-elect, was interested in the Senate seat if it became vacant, and was likely to be supported by the President-elect,” the complaint states.

This is almost certainly Jarrett, who was rumored to be a possible Obama replacement but who has since taken herself out of the running.

There’s no indication that Obama or his people indicated any willingness to play Blagojevich’s game.

Still, the Republican National Committee jumped on the news Tuesday morning with a friendly reminder to the press that Obama endorsed the governor’s 2006 reelection bid.

But, fortunately for Team Obama, the most recent quote the RNC unearthed with Obama saying nice things about Blagojevich came in 2006.

And maybe the best part: Blagojevich considered appointing himself to the Senate seat, the benefits of such a move, he mused, remake his image for a possible presidential run in 2016.

From Fitzgerald’s summary of the complaint: 

"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, 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."

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