Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois received an early birthday present from US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, silver metal bracelets. Gov. Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested early tuesday morning, the day before the governor's 52nd birthday, for corruption and a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy which included trying to sell-off Obama's vacated US Senate seat to the highest bidder. This is just another instance of the wide spread corruption of the Chicago-style political machine that has become all too commonplace in Illinois. The governor had approval ratings as low as 4% in mid-October. Not even President Bush (in the teens) or the Democratic lead Congress (9% earlier this year) has had ratings that low, ever.
Blagojevich was elected with the campaign promise to "clean up corruption" from George Ryan's, republican, previous gubernatorial administration in Illinois. Yet, the level of corruption in Blagojevich's administration is "staggering" according to Fitzgerald. The US attorney went on to call his actions a "political corruption crime spree," and said Blagojevich's "conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave."
He was allegedly looking for potential replacements to Obama's vacated seat to give him financial compensation for the appointment to the US Senate. He said the seat "is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing." He even contemplated giving the seat to himself. He was quoted saying: "I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain." He went on to say that if he receives nothing of value for the seat, than he will keep it. He was allegedly looking for money that would be put into his re-election campaign, a high-paying job for his wife or him after he leaves office, and/or a nomination into a cabinet position in the Obama administration in exchange for an appointment into the Senate. He did everything but put the appointment on eBay to make a profit on his position.
Also, in a move that would make Nixon proud, Gov. Blagojevich blackmailed the Tribune to fire certain columnists that wrote unfavorable things about him like possible impeachment. The governor allegedly told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board that if they would fire those writers, then he would approve state financial assistance and approval with the sale and operation of the Chicago Cubs baseball team or Wrigley Field, which are both owned by the company.
None of this is directly linked to President-elect Obama. US Attorney Fitzgerald has said that the Presisdent-elect is not a subject in this investigation at this time. However, there are some discrepancies between what those in the transition team say about how much contact Obama has had with the governor and Obama himself. Obama said that there has been no contact between him and Blagojevich and no conversation with him about his successor. On the other hand, David Axelrod said two weeks ago that there had been discussions between the two about the Senate vacancy, and there is a picture of him with the governor talking on December 2nd. Obviously, the Obama team is trying to distance themselves from the governor. According to various reports, they haven't been known to be very close over the years, so there doesn't seem to be any deep connections between the two. I believe that the Obama people may have been in minimal contact with the governor about the vacancy, and they didn't have any active part in the conspiracy. There is evidence coming from the wiretaps of Blagojevich's phone conversations that Obama wouldn't give anything more than "appreciation" if the president-elect's pick was chosen. The Illinois governor reportedly didn't appreciate the gesture. "They're (Obama's team) not willing to give me anything except appreciation (for picking Obama's choice of replacement candidate). [Expletive] them.", said the governor on one of his wiretapped phone calls. Now on one hand, this quote seems to indicate that Obama isn't guilty of participating in the governor's alleged crimes, but on the other hand, how do they know that Obama wouldn't give them anything but appreciation, if they had no contact whatsoever as Obama claims. The question is probably not did Obama actively participate, but rather how much did he know about what Blagojevich was doing? Was the president-elect aware of his activities but was too complacent to do anything or even care? If the Obama team did know, why didn't they report it to the authorities?
In addition to the previous charges, the governor has, also, been accused of making organizations and businesses, including Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, contribute to and/or hold fundraisers for his campaign fund in order to receive public financing for various projects.
There needs to be a major house cleaning in Chicago. The political environment of the "Windy City" is toxic. It almost brought down the Obama campaign in the primary. Whether it is Bill Ayres, Rev. Wright, Tony Rezko, etc., there has been widespread corruption in the Chicago machine. The "I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine" mentality has led the city and the state as a whole to be one of the dirtiest, if not the dirtiest, in the game.