Tuesday, December 09, 2008


Reports: Illinois Gov. taken into custody

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was unexpectedly taken into federal custody Tuesday morning on corruption charges related to his appointment of President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced the details of the charges in a press release (pdf) Tuesday morning.

"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," the federal prosecutor said. "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 citizens of Illinois deserve public officials who act solely in the public’s interest, without putting a price tag on government appointments, contracts and decisions."

The FBI arrested Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, on charges alleging that the governor essentially attempted to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat and tried to get members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board who had criticized him fired. The two were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud along with solicitation of bribery.

Obama had been scheduled to meet with the Chicago FBI Tuesday morning before proceeding to a meeting with Vice President Al Gore, but that meeting was suddenly canceled, according to a pool report. It's unclear whether the meeting or its cancellation was related to the governor's arrest.

Both Blagojevich and Harris are expected in court later Tuesday.

An FBI affidavit outlines the benefits Blagojevich discussed soliciting when he was captured on wiretaps in the course of the investigation, which came as part of Operation Board Games, a five-year public corruption probe of pay-to-play schemes in Illinois.

At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich 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 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.
The Chicago Tribune, which first reported Blagojevhich's arrest, documented the expansion of a three-year pay-for-play probe aimed at the governor. The paper reported that the probe was focusing on appointing Obama's successor and that some Blagojevich associates were wearing wires in cooperation with the probe.

The governor, who has made headlines in recent days for cutting off Bank of America on behalf of laid off workers conducting a sit-in, disputed allegations of corruption when he spoke to reporters Monday at the Republic Window & Doors plant in Chicago. The arrest appeared to be unreleated to Blagojevich's intervention on behalf of the workers.

More details are expected to emerge at a noon press conference and throughout the day.

Video clips at Ustream

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