Now that Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial is done and the disgraced Illinois governor has been sentenced, the FBI’s extensive interview with President Barack Obama related to the case should be made public.
After all, Obama and his top aides—including Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett—were prominently mentioned at both of Blagojevich’s federal trials in Chicago because he was charged with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Obama got elected president. For all intents and purposes it was one of the biggest political scandals of modern times.
The nation’s commander-in-chief and his top aides were subpoenaed (only Emanuel testified) as were records associated with the mystery FBI interview, which took place after Blagojevich got criminally indicted. In the end, Blagojevich got convicted of 18 corruption charges and, this week, was sentenced to 14 years in prison, making him the fourth Illinois governor in recent history to serve time.
Throughout the scandal, the White House has insisted the president had nothing to do with Blagojevich. However, in 2009 Judicial Watch obtained documents from the Illinois Governor’s Office that prove Obama and Blagojevich had repeated contact after Obama became president. They include a letter from Obama to Blagojevich less than a week before the crooked governor’s arrest.
Judicial Watch has a long-standing public-records request to access the now famous FBI interviews with Obama, Emanuel and Jarrett relating to Blagojevich’s corruption case. The “most transparent” administration in history has refused to make the information available and has also denied requests to explain the president’s involvement in the Blagojevich scandal or the nature of the FBI interrogations.
What we do know is that court testimony at both trials (the jury hung the first time and Blagojevich was retried) indicates that Obama was embroiled in the scandal. Judicial Watch covered both trials in the same Chicago federal courtroom where witness after witness indicated top-level White House involvement in the Senate-appointment scheme.
Rod Blagojevich will join an all-star lineup of disgraced Illinois politicians when he becomes the state’s fourth governor to serve time for corruption in the last three decades.After deliberating for 10 days a federal jury convicted Blagojevich of 17 corruption charges for, among other things, trying to sell President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat. Prosecutors retried the impeached governor after a jury deadlocked on 23 of 24 counts last summer.Judicial Watch has for years investigated Blagojevich’s corrupt activities and JW covered both trials in Chicago. In 2007 JW sued to obtain public records relating to Blagojevich’s federal investigation and in 2008 JW Director of Litigation Paul Orfanedes testified before the Illinois House Special Investigative Committee considering Blagojevich’s impeachment.In 2009 JW obtained public records that prove Obama and Blagojevich had repeated contact after Obama became president even though the White House has vehemently denied it. The subject came up repeatedly at both trials because secret FBI wiretaps capture Blagojevich negotiating a bribe in exchange for appointing Obama’s pal to the senate.Obama’s top aide (Rahm Emanuel, who recently became Chicago mayor) pushed Blagojevich to appoint the president’s good friend, Valerie Jarrett, to the Illinois Senate seat, according to trial testimony from Blagojevich’s one-time chief-of-staff. A longtime confidante of Obama’s, Jarrett eventually followed him to the White House and serves as a key advisor.Blagojevich, a two-term governor who won every public office he ever ran for, was also convicted of trying to shake down the head of a children’s hospital and an Illinois racetrack executive. Technically, he could be sentenced to hundreds of years in prison but will likely go away for about a decade, according to legal experts quoted in local press reports.It will make him the fourth Illinois governor to go to jail for felonies since the 1970s. The most recent, Republican George Ryan, is currently serving 6 ½ years for racketeering and fraud. In 1987 Democrat Dan Walker was convicted of bank fraud and in 1973 Democrat Otto Kerner was convicted of more than a dozen counts of bribery, conspiracy and perjury.Illinois has a strong public corruption legacy that has seen at least 79 elected officialsconvicted for wrongdoing in the last few decades. Among them are more than a dozen prominent state legislators, city officials, county judges and even a popular mayor.The problem is so pervasive that a few years ago the state’s largest newspaper published an editorial declaring a campaign against the Illinois “culture of political sleaze.” The piece lists several examples of public corruption and accuses all Illinoisans of not asking enough integrity from public officials, laws and the people paid to enforce them.
Chicago—Like Isaiah in the Old Testament, Rod Blagojevich wanted to “get the rich to help the poor” when he offered to send Barack Obama’s close friend (Valerie Jarrett) to the U.S. Senate in exchange for a nonprofit set up by wealthy Democratic donors close to the president.The multi million-dollar charity would promote healthcare for children and “working families” and, of course, Blagojevich and his pals would run it. Instead he got criminally charged with a mountain of felonies, including trying to sell the Illinois senate seat vacated when Obama won the 2008 presidential election.On his fifth day testifying in his corruption retrial, Blagojevich continued blaming his trusted advisers for encouraging him to “leverage” his power as governor to appoint a new senator and insisting that he get “something of substance” from the president-elect in return for appointing Jarrett, who ended up going to the White House as a top aide.Blagojevich testified that he never promised or connected any deals to the senate appointment. In fact, he testified that he was only “venting” when he blasted Obama on a secret FBI recording because he offered only to be “grateful and appreciative” in exchange for Jarrett’s appointment. “F_ _ _ them,” Blagojevich is heard saying on the wire tap.That’s when he devised a plan to get Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to help set up the healthcare nonprofit by hitting up wealthy Democratic donors like leftwing activist George Soros and investor Warren Buffett for money. To put it all in perspective for the jury, Blagojevich interjected the Isaiah Old Testament analogy.After the lunch break Blagojevich addressed recorded conversations previously played by the prosecution in which he discusses getting “tangible” and “concrete” support “up front” from Jesse Jackson Jr. before considering giving him the senate appointment. Jackson Jr. represents Chicago’s south side in the U.S. House and prosecutors have presented evidence that one of his top donors offered Blagojevich $1.5 million to appoint him senator.On Thursday Blagojevich explained to the jury that he was simply referring to “political support up front.” Prosecutors began cross examining Blagojevich late in the afternoon, with less than an hour before proceedings broke until Monday.
Chicago—Trading a U.S. Senate appointment for a personal benefit is perfectly legal and politicians throughout history have committed similar acts, according to Rod Blagojevich, who took the stand for a fourth day Wednesday in his corruption retrial.As a recent example the impeached Illinois governor offered a deal brokered between Barack Obama and his then-rival Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential election. Obama offered to appoint Clinton Secretary of State in exchange for pulling out of the presidential race and gave her $10 million to settle her campaign debt.This according to Blagojevich, who is charged with 20 crimes including attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. The most explosive charge involves a scheme to sell the senate seat left vacant when Obama got elected president.Blagojevich’s defense has two parts; he truly didn’t think he committed any wrongdoing because his actions are commonplace in politics and that he was simply following the recommendations of trusted advisers. In a courtroom hearing outside of the jury’s presence, Blagojevich gave the judge (James Zagel) his spiel about politicians who have participated in similar schemes.Gerald Ford offered Ronald Reagan two cabinet positions and an ambassadorship not to run for president, Blagojevich said, and Dwight Eisenhower offered Earl Warren a seat on the U.S Supreme Court in exchange for his support. Keeping with tradition, Blagojevich was determined to get something in return for his power as governor to appoint a senator.“I’m not giving it up for nothing,” he testified, recalling how it all went down in the fall of 2008. “I knew it was a unique opportunity.” His key motivation was to help his constituents, he said. “Good stuff for the people of Illinois came first,” Blagojevich testified.Throughout the day Judge Zagel admonished Blagojevich for rambling on about unrelated matters after most of his attorney’s questions. When jurors broke for lunch Zagel ordered the defense team to force Blagojevich to answer questions concisely, pointing out that many of his long-winded responses sound like a campaign speech. The excessive chatter is diminishing the jury’s attention span, the judge told defense lawyers.Federal prosecutors are expected to begin cross examining Blagojevich on Thursday. It will be interesting to see it he’s as relaxed as he’s been while fielding defense softballs. Blagojevich smiles frequently and regularly interjects witty lines into his testimony.
Chicago—The most explosive charges—trying to sell Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat—against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich were finally addressed on his third day of testimony in his corruption retrial.How exciting was it? Several of the spectators who waited in line to get a coveted seat in the courtroom dozed off during the exhausting testimony and more than a couple of jurors appeared a bit distracted. One female juror in the front row played with her hair and another bit her nails, fidgeted in her seat and repeatedly glanced around the courtroom.Who could blame them? Blagojevich, who testified that he talks “a lot,” lived up to the reputation by rambling on and interjecting commentary when answering his defense attorney’s softball questions. The judge was not amused and repeatedly directed Blagojevich, who is charged with 20 felonies, to provide precise answers amid countless objections from visibly irritated federal prosecutors.The impeached two-term governor, who boasts that he’s won every political office he’s run for (the Illinois House and the U.S. House as well), laid it on thick in an obvious effort to win the jury over. He spoke of his immigrant background, efforts to kill legislation that would raise taxes and accomplishments in creating a healthcare program for kids.Blagojevich said he really wanted to replace the only African American in the U.S. Senate with another African American, though he also considered appointing himself. However, he testified that naming himself senator was “never something I felt deep down comfortable with.”Candidates under serious consideration included an Illinois congressman (Danny Davis) who “loves poor people” and an “African American war hero.” Blagojevich testified that the African American war hero idea was “thinking outside the box.” Blagojevich takes the stand again Wednesday and is expected to get cross examined by prosecutors by the end of the week.
Testifying at his corruption retrial, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich offered perhaps the most accurate description of himself just minutes after taking the stand for the first time: “I am an f-ing jerk and I apologize.”The disgraced politician rambled about his youth, Little League baseball, the struggles of his Serbian immigrant family and his childhood job as a shoe shiner. He also mentioned that history inspires him and choked up about the death of his parents, who incidentally he claims have helped him from heaven.It was an apparent effort to win jurors over, though none showed any signs of compassion and one reporter inside the courtroom observed a juror “extremely annoyed” by all the personal history. Blagojevich has been charged with 20 felonies, including trying to sell President Obama’s old senate seat. Jurors deadlocked on all but one count (lying to the FBI) at his first trial last summer, but Blagojevich never testified so his appearance has been anxiously anticipated.There was doubt the impeached two-term governor would actually take the stand up until the moment he was sworn in. “I would prefer to be somewhere else,” Blagojevich told jurors, adding that he was in court to tell the truth after a 2 ½-year wait. Now he feels “very liberated.”Proceedings will juice up next week (no trial on Fridays) when the defense softball questions conclude and prosecutors dig in. As it did last summer, Judicial Watch will cover the trial live inChicago.JW has long investigated widespread corruption in the Blagojevich Administration. In 2006 Blagojevich refused a JW public records request for subpoenas relating to the federal probe of his office and in 2007 JW filed an open records lawsuit in Cook County Court to obtain them. In 2009 JW obtained public records that prove Obama and Blagojevich had repeated contact after Obama became president even though the White House has vehemently denied it.
A U.S. congressman and a White House chief of staff turned big-city mayor took the stand in Rod Blagojevich’s corruption retrial today to forge, if only momentarily, the sort of excitement that surrounded the first trial.
Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (Chicago’s new mayor) created a sort of media frenzy when they appeared at the Dirksen federal courthouse in downtown Chicago this morning. Jackson, a Democrat who represents the city’s south side in the U.S. House, testified first.
The son of the famed “civil rights” con artist with the same name denied ordering a major political fundraiser to offer $1.5 million in exchange for a U.S. Senate appointment that became available when Barack Obama got elected president. Appearing somewhat nervous, Jackson testified that he has never directed anyone to raise money for another politician other than himself and he did not offer any fund-raising in exchange for the appointment.
Jackson was the first high-profile witness to testify in Blagojevich’s retrial, which began earlier this month. The impeached two-term governor is charged with a multitude of felonies—including several counts of bribery, extortion and conspiracy—for, among other things, trying to sell Obama’s senate seat. Jackson aggressively pushed for the appointment when it became open in 2008 and even launched a media campaign he hoped would build public support.
Prosecutors claim Blagojevich considered awarding the seat to Jackson because the congressman’s emissaries had promised to raise at least $1 million for the former governor’s campaign fund. In fact, Jackson is mentioned as “Senate Candidate 5” in the government’s original 76-page indictment, though he has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of a bribery scheme on his behalf.
Emanuel’s testimony was even shorter, though his appearance alone created commotion and required heightened security around the courthouse grounds. Earlier in the trial Blagojevich’s top aide testified that, as Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel called to suggest appointing the president’s close friend Valerie Jarrett, who ended up taking a White House job.
In court Wednesday, Emanuel testified in less than five minutes that he was never asked for anything in exchange for appointing Jarrett to Obama’s vacant senate seat. Prosecutors assert that Blagojevich tried to negotiate a cabinet position or a lucrative “nonprofit” that he could run after leaving office for appointing Jarrett.
Of interesting note is that Jackson is an honorary member of Judicial Watch’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians.” Jackson’s father has also been the target of Judicial Watch probes and was the subject of a special report that exposes him as an extortionist who uses his influence as a civil rights leader to blackmail wealthy corporations with claims of discrimination and threats of boycotts.
With the prosecution resting after only three weeks, there’s a break in Rod Blagojevich’s corruption retrial because the impeached governor’s defense team is calling witnesses of “prominence” with scheduling conflicts.Those who have been subpoenaed include top White House aides, a couple of U.S. Senators and a congressman. They are “prominent people whose names you have heard,” according to Blagojevich’s attorney. The two-term Illinois governor, charged with 20 counts including trying to sell President Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat, may also take the stand.Then again, his lawyers promised to call high-profile witnesses at his first trial last summer and it never happened. They also said that Blagojevich would testify but he never did. In fact, the defense didn’t call any witnesses in the first trial, which dragged on for eight weeks. The jury deadlocked on all but one count (lying to the FBI) which still makes Blagojevich a convicted felon.The same Chicago federal courtroom has hosted both trials, but the second has been anticlimactic with little interest outside of local media. Absent are the hoards of national press and spectators that required an overflow courtroom. Also missing are the sizeable crowds that gathered daily to take pictures or get a peek of the former governor who shakes hands, waves and winks at anyone who makes eye contact with him.The first Blagojevich trial “kept us riveted from the very beginning,” according to a local newspaper editorial. “The sequel, on the other hand, has been more like background noise to many Illinois residents.” That’s because there’s really nothing new and people have “grown tired of Blagojevich’s antics outside of court,” according to the piece.The excitement will suddenly pick up if Blagojevich or any of his high-profile witnesses take the stand. Those who have been subpoenaed: Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who was recently sworn in as Chicago mayor; U.S. senators Dick Durbin and Harry Reid; White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.As Obama’s top aide, Emanuel pushed Blagojevich to appoint Jarrett to the Illinois Senate seat vacated after the presidential election, according to trial testimony from Blagojevich’s one-time chief-of-staff. A longtime friend and confidante of Obama’s, Jarrett eventually followed him to the White House and serves as a key advisor.Jackson Jr., who represents Chicago’s south side in the U.S. House, and his top fundraiser colluded to buy the senate appointment for $1 million, according to trial testimony. The son of the world-renowned “civil rights” con man directed the fundraiser to make Blagojevich the campaign cash offer in exchange for Jackson’s appointment. Jackson denies involvement in the media so his testimony under oath will be quite interesting.Judicial Watch has for years investigated the massive corruption in the Blagojevich Administration and has covered both trials live. In 2006 Blagojevich refused a Judicial Watchpublic records request for subpoenas relating to the federal probe of his crooked administration and in 2007 Judicial Watch filed an open records lawsuit in Cook County Courtto obtain them. In 2009 Judicial Watch obtained public records that prove Obama and Blagojevich had repeated contact after Obama became president even though the White House has vehemently denied it.