FBI: Illinois Governor Sought To "Sell" Obama's Senate Seat

Wanted President-elect to "put something together . . . something big."

December 9, 2008, 11:40 AM

December 9, 2008— -- Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich wanted President-elect Barack Obama "to put something together…something big" in exchange for going along with Obama's choice to fill his vacant U.S. Senate seat, according to a FBI affidavit unsealed following the governor's stunning arrest.

"I've got this thing and it's f***ing golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for f***in' nothing. I'm not gonna do it. And I can always use it. I can parachute me there," Blagojevich said in a phone call secretly recorded by the FBI on Nov. 5, the day after the election, according to the affidavit.

Click here to read the full affidavit.

"It is conduct that would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in announcing the charges today in Chicago.

He said the governor's efforts to "sell" the Senate seat was the "most sinister and appalling" of a range of alleged corrupt acts detailed in today's case.

Fitzgerald said "there's no reference in the complaint to any conversations involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it, and that's all I can say." His comment did not close the door on the possibility that Obama or someone on his staff may have known of some aspect of the governor's demands.

Obama addressed the scandal over his Senate seat Tuesday afternoon, saying, "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening."

But Obama's senior advisor David Axelrod told a Chicago affiliate of Fox News that Obama had in fact spoken to Blagojevich about his empty Senate seat.

"I know he's talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them," Axelrod said in the Nov. 23 interview.

The controversy continued Tuesday evening, when Axelrod issued a statement retracting his statement.

"I was mistaken when I told an interviewer last month that the President-elect has spoken directly to Governor Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy. They did not then or at any time discuss the subject," said Axelrod.

The president-elect, who was speaking to reporters following a meeting with Al Gore about green energy and climate change, also said, "Obviously, like the rest of the people of Illinois, I am saddened and sobered by news that came out of the U.S. Attorney's office today, but as this is an ongoing investigation into the governor, I don't think it'd be appropriate for me to comment at this time."

Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. said he met with Blagojevich yesterday "for the first time in years" and voiced his desire to fill Obama's empty Senate seat. He said he was "shocked" by Blagojevich's arrest, adding "If these allegations are proved true, I am outraged by the appalling, pay-to-play schemes hatched at the highest levels of our state government."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called on the Illinois State Senate to set a special election to fill Obama's vacant Senate seat, claiming that "No appointment by this governor under these circumstances could produce a credible replacement."

As the Governor of Illinois, Blagojevich retains power to fill Obama's seat, however sources say that isn't likely.

ABC News' George Stephanopoulous reports that Illinois state legislators will meet next week to pass a bill for a special election in February. Beyond a special election, the Illinois Secretary of State has the power to certify Blagojevich's pick, and the U.S. Senate can choose not to seat whoever he might appoint.

Candidate 1 May Be Valerie Jarrett

There are strong indications that Candidate 1 may be Valerie Jarrett, Obama's close confidante who has since been named a special presidential adviser. Senate Candidate 1 is identified in the federal documents as an adviser to the president-elect.

Durbin in his news conference said Blagojevich was considering Jarrett until she withdrew her name from consideration. "The governor asked me if I thought she [Jarrett] was serious about not being appointed and I said 'Yes, she told me point blank that she was,'" Durbin said.

The federal complaint also states that Candidate 1 eventually withdrew from consideration.

In addition, Durbin declined to speculate whether Senate Candidate 5 could be in peril.

Blagojevich Wanted Obama Cabinet Appointment, Well-Paying Job, or Campaign Money, FBI Says

The FBI says Blagojevich wanted an appointment to the Obama cabinet as Secretary of Health and Human Services, a well-paying job, or huge campaign contributions as the price for naming Obama's successor.

Blagojevich was overheard by the FBI saying "I want to make money," complaining he was "financially hurting."

Blagojevich also sought a high paying job for his wife, according to the FBI. "Is there a play here, with these guys, with her" to work for a firm in Washington or New York, he reportedly asked.

The FBI affidavit said Blagojevich had been told by an adviser "the president-elect can get Rod Blagojevich's wife on paid corporate boards in exchange for naming the president-elect's pick to the Senate."

Told by two other advisers he has to "suck it up" for two years, the FBI says it heard Blagojevich complain he has to give this "motherf***er [the president-elect] his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him."

The governor is heard saying he will pick another candidate "before I just give f***ing [Senate Candidate l] a f***ing Senate seat and I don't get anything."

Candidates for Obama's Senate Seat

According to the affidavit, one candidate for the senate seat, identified as Senate Candidate 5, promised to "raise money" for Blagojevich. The governor described, in a recorded call, an earlier approach by an associate of Senate Candidate 5.

"We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know he'd raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator," Blagojevich was quoted as saying.

The affidavit said Blagojevich was interested in a high-paying position with an organization affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), called Change to Win, and that he suggested in a conversation with a SEIU official on Nov. 12, 2008 that Obama wanted other people to be considered for the Senate seat besides Senate Candidate 1. Previous phone conversations indicated that Blagojevich knew the SEIU official "was an emissary to discuss Senate Candidate 1's interest in the Senate seat," the affidavit said.

"HARRIS suggested that SEIU Official make ROD BLAGOJEVICH the head of Change to Win and, in exchange, the President-elect could help Change to Win with its legislative agenda on a national level," noted the affidavit.

SEIU has denied any involvement, saying in a statement, "We have no reason to believe that SEIU or any SEIU official was involved in any wrongdoing."

Change to Win released a statement saying the organization never "considered, discussed or promised" any position to Blagojevich or his staff, and that the group only learned of conversations between the governor and his advisers discussing such a position upon the release of the affidavit today.

Affidavit Says Blagojevich Knew He Was Under FBI Investigation

The FBI affidavit says Blagojevich thought he might get something "tangible up front" from Senate Candidate 5.

Aware that he was under FBI investigation, Blagojevich apparently considered appointing himself to Obama's Senate seat, the affidavit says. He is quoted as saying "he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting senator as opposed to a sitting governor."

He was arrested this morning on a two count criminal complaint.

Blagojevich Appears in Federal Court, Must Surrender Passport

Blagojevich and Harris appeared briefly in federal court in Chicago this afternoon. Bond was set at $4,500 for both of them, and Blagojevich was ordered to turn in his passport and gun card. Cameras were not allowed in the courtroom.

"If it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor," said the head of the FBI's Chicago office, Robert Grant, about the state of Illinois.

He said veteran FBI agents were "disgusted, sick" as they listened to the intercepted conversations of the Illinois governor.

The governor was taken into custody in handcuffs from his home by two FBI agents just after six this morning, according to Grant.

Grant said he had first called the governor to tell him there was a warrant for his arrest.

"Is this a joke?" the governor responded, according to Grant.

Blagojevich has previously been linked to former political fundraiser Tony Rezko, who was convicted in June of charges stemming from him using his influence with the governor's office in a multi-million dollar kickback scheme. Blagojevich's relationship with Rezko, who is in jail while he waits sentencing on Jan. 6, was a consistent theme of Rezko's trial.

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