Now that the charm offensive is over, what are we to make of Gov. Rod Blagojevich?
A conviction in the senate impeachment trial is a foregone conclusion. The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow (but exceedingly fine) in the grand jury room at the federal courthouse. In the court of public opinion, Blagojevich has been so skewered by the 76-page finding released by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald last December that the most Blagojevich can hope to salvage of his reputation is a DVD of his greatest hits on Saturday Night Live, Jay Leno and David Letterman.
Elvis has left the building. The governor is so toast even his attorney Ed Genson, who has tolerated all manner of miserable clients in his practice, has abandoned his case. While the issue this week is the Illinois Senate trial – and observers of that august body can rightly ask who are they to judge – losing the governorship is the least of Blagojevich’s problems.
When the official federal indictment comes down in April, there are indications it may charge over 30 counts of official corruption. Selling Barack Obama’s Senate seat and pressuring the Tribune to fire its editorial writers are only the most titillating.
So why aren’t we focused on who is going down with him? Including, as Blagojevich hinted last weekend, “some of those that are sitting in judgment of me.”
As a matter of simple reason, you cannot accept a bribe unless somebody is willing to give it.
The investigation of the governor has been going on for two years and is only the tip of a larger probe into “Pay to Play” politics in Illinois. This is not a game Blagojevich invented. It is a way of life here. The exchange of campaign contributions for legislative favors is so ingrained in the system, anyone who gave to the governor seeking a favor probably has done it before with other politicians. As the evidence against Blagojevich mounts, the likelihood that the feds will give immunity to all of them diminishes.
The feds not only have wiretap transcripts from the governor’s home and campaign office, but his brother’s phone, his chief aide’s phone and perhaps others. They have issued over 50 subpoenas to Blagojevich’s office since 2007 demanding everything from complex hiring records to Patty Blagojevich’s personal calendar.
One issued on December 8, the day before Blagojevich was arrested, demands “notes, calendars, correspondence and any other data” relating to 34 political operatives in Illinois (including Obama aides David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, who are not suspected of any crime). Another issued December 11, sought bid documents from the Illinois Capital Development Board and Transportation Department and similar information on 22 engineering firms and individuals.
The feds have subpoenaed hiring records of any state employee earning over $100,000. They have convicted and incarcerated two of Blagojevich’s key fundraisers, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly, and gotten the former Illinois Finance Authority director Ali Ata to testify at Rezko’s trial that he gave Rezko a $25,000 contribution in the governor’s presence as a downpayment on his appointment. Now, they also have Rezko, already convicted of 16 counts of fraud, talking about turning state’s evidence.
The 90-day filing extension Fitzgerald asked for (and received) on January 9 was not simply a way for the U.S. Attorney to organize his case. It was a last chance for the rats to climb on the immunity bandwagon before he brings down the hammer on them.
A Dangerous Man
The media blitz Blagojevich conducted in New York this week unfolded with his usual blizzard of bizarre behavior. While it was fun watching him tell Diane Sawyer on Good Morning, America he considered naming Oprah Winfrey to Obama’s vacant Senate seat and the girls on The View muss his hair, the more telling interview came on the Today Show, where he compared himself to Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi.
“Some national figures like Harry Reid are frankly covering their own backside,” he told NBC correspondent Amy Robach in a portion of the interview that was not aired but appears in a transcript.
“And for me to just quit because some cackling politicians want to get me out of the way because there’s a whole bunch of things they don’t want known about them and conversations they may have had with me . . . would be to disgrace my children when I know I’ve done nothing wrong,”
Talking about the interview later on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Robach said she didn’t find the governor delusional. As flighty as Blagojevich gets comparing himself Gandhi (or my favorite, Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), “He truly believes he’s the one who is going to save Illinois from corruption, and he is so serious when he says it,” she said.
Blagojevich’s syntax may be skewed but pay attention to the phrase cackling politicians want to get me out of the way because there’s a whole bunch of things they don’t want known about them and conversations they may have had with me.
If Blagojevich is going down, he’s not going down alone. And that makes him a dangerous man.
The Contents of His Hard Drive
As the man at the nexus of Illinois politics for the last six years, and someone who obviously enjoys pulling the levers, it is hard to imagine Blagojevich does not know who responds to “”Pay to Play” pressure, and who else exerts it. Where do you think he got his shakedown list?
Once you get past the Elvis songs in his iTunes library, the Cubs trivia pages and the Rudyard Kipling folder, what else is there on his computer hard drive?
How many gigs of emails, notes, proposed schemes and stashed away dirty linen on other politicians are there? If Blagojevich is so inclined, his computer could be a roadmap to the whole culture of pay to play. Even without it, his famous encyclopedic memory would be a pretty good guide.
Of course, at the moment, it’s all about his innocence. He’s going to “fight, fight, fight” until the jury comes in, and the verdict is read, and the judge sentences him to 40 years, or as long as it takes for his hair to fall out in a federal prison.
Then the feds are going to give him an opportunity to tell what he knows to prosecutors about others gaming the system – while the facts are still fresh and the possibility exists that he might be out of prison in time to see his youngest daughter graduate from college. And you know what? He’s going to take it.
The investigation of pay to play politics in Illinois won’t end with the prosecution of Rod Blagojevich. It starts there.