CHICAGO (AP) - Federal authorities arrested Illinois Gov. Rod
Blagojevich Tuesday on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell
or trade the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack
Obama to the highest bidder.
Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to
withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago
Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field, according to a federal
criminal complaint. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich
allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had
been critical of him fired.
A 76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democratic governor
was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month
conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal
benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.
Otherwise, Blagojevich considered appointing himself. The
affidavit said that as late as Nov. 3, he told his deputy governor
that if "they're not going to offer me anything of value I might
as well take it."
"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real
possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain,"
Blagojevich allegedly said later that day, according to the
affidavit, which also quoted him as saying in a remark punctuated
by profanity that the seat was "a valuable thing - you just don't
give it away for nothing."
The affidavit said Blagojevich also discussed getting a
substantial salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or an
organization affiliated with labor unions.
It said Blagojevich also talked about getting his wife placed on
corporate boards where she might get $150,000 a year in director's
He also allegedly discussed getting campaign funds for himself
or possibly a post in the president's cabinet or an ambassadorship
once he left the governor's office. He noted becoming a U.S.
senator might remake his image for a possible presidential run in
2016, according to the affidavit. And he allegedly said a Senate
seat would also provide him with corporate contacts if he needed a
job and present an opportunity for his wife to work as a lobbyist.
"I want to make money," the affidavit quotes him as saying in
The affidavit said Blagojevich expressed frustration at being
"stuck" as governor and that he would have access to greater
resources if he were indicted while in the U.S. Senate than while
sitting as governor.
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in a statement that
"the breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is
"They allege that Blagojevich put a for sale sign on the naming
of a United States senator," Fitzgerald said."
Among those being considered for the post include U.S. Reps.
Danny Davis and Jesse Jackson Jr.
Blagojevich also was charged with using his authority as
governor in an attempt to squeeze out campaign contributions.
His chief of staff, John Harris, also was arrested.
Corruption in the Blagojevich administration has been the focus
of a federal investigation involving an alleged $7 million scheme
aimed at squeezing kickbacks out of companies seeking business from
the state. Federal prosecutors have acknowledged they're also
investigating "serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" under
Political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko who raised money for
the campaigns of both Blagojevich and Obama is awaiting sentencing
after being convicted of fraud and other charges. Blagojevich's
chief fundraiser, Christopher G. Kelly, is due to stand trial early
next year on charges of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service.
According to Tuesday's complaint, Blagojevich schemed with
Rezko, millionaire-fundraiser turned federal witness Stuart Levine
and others to get financial benefits for himself and his campaign
Federal prosecutors said Blagojevich and the chairman of his
campaign committee have been speeding up corrupt fundraising
activities in the last month to get as much money as possible
before the end of the year when a new law would curtail his ability
to raise contributions from companies with state contracts worth
more than $50,000.
According to the affidavit, agents learned Blagojevich was
seeking $2.5 million in campaign contributions by the end of the
year, with a large part allegedly to come from companies and
individuals who have gotten state contracts or appointments.
Blagojevich took the chief executive's office in 2003 as a
reformer promising to clean up former Gov. George Ryan's mess.
Ryan, a Republican, is serving a 6-year prison sentence after
being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges. A decade-long
investigation began with the sale of driver's licenses for bribes
and led to the conviction of dozens of people who worked for Ryan
when he was secretary of state and governor.
FBI spokesman Frank Bochte said federal agents arrested the
governor and Harris simultaneously at their homes at 6:15 a.m. and
took them to the Chicago FBI headquarters.
Bochte said he did not know if either man was handcuffed or if
the governor's family was their North Side home at the time of his
arrest. He did say Blagojevich and Harris both were given time to
get dressed before being taken to the headquarters.
He also did not have any details about Blagojevich's arrest,
only that he was cooperative with federal agents.
"It was a very calm setting," he said.
The governor was to appear later Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate
Judge Nan Nolan to answer the charges. The time was not immediately
Associated Press Writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)