In a major embarrassment for the Democratic Party, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday morning on charges he sought to benefit financially from his ability to name Barack Obama’s replacement as a US Senator.
The United States Attorney’s office in Chicago also charged the Democratic governor with threatening to withhold state assistance in the Tribune Company’s effort to sell Wrigley Field as part of attempt to get the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial board members who had written critically of him.
Arm twisting the Tribune
The Tribune Company wants to sell the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field to reduce a massive debt load that caused the company to file for bankruptcy on Monday.
Both the governor and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested at their homes and taken to the Federal Bureau of Investigation offices in Chicago, according to the Tribune. They were each charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement. "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."
The government alleged that on court-approved wiretaps the governor discussed obtaining a "substantial salary" for himself with a non-profit organization; placing his wife on a corporate board where he speculated she might make $150,000 a year; up front cash in campaign fund; or a cabinet post or ambassadorship.
Blagojevich has denied wrongdoing during an ongoing federal investigation of alleged efforts to squeeze kickbacks from companies doing business with the state. The Chicago Tribune quoted him as saying on Monday, “whether you tape me privately or publicly, I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful and the things I’m interested in are always lawful.”
Ironic moment for a reformer
Blagojevich took office in 2003 as a reformer, promising to clean up wrongdoing by his predecessor, Republican Governor George Ryan. Ryan is serving a six-year prison sentence for racketeering and fraud.
Robert D. Grant, special agent in charge of the Chicago Federal Bureau of Investigation office said, "many, including myself, thought that the recent conviction of a former governor would usher in a new era of honesty and reform in Illinois politics. Clearly, the charges announced today reveal that the office of the Governor has become nothing more than a vehicle for self-enrichment, unrestricted by party affiliation and taking Illinois politics to a new low."