JUNE 30, 2010
Rod Blagojevich tried to sell President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat but he also considered appointing himself in a worst-case scenario if he didn’t get the right bribe.
“I really believe the worst thing Obama wants is me going there,” Blagojevich says in secret FBI recordings played Wednesday at his corruption trial in a Chicago federal court.
The graphic recordings of conversations between Blagojevich and a top aide reveal that the famously crooked governor was desperate to make money and he saw the opportunity to appoint a U.S. Senator as “f_ _ _ ing golden.” The profanity-laced tapes are being played daily for the jury in Blagojevich’s trial, which is in the middle of its fifth week.
First Blagojevich tried to secure a cabinet position in the Obama Administration in exchange for appointing a candidate approved by the president, then he solicited the White House’s help in creating a charity where he could land after completing his second term as governor or if he got impeached before that. Blagojevich also tried to get his wife, Patti, lucrative corporate board positions similar to ones held by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Blagojevich has for years been under federal investigation for selling the influence of his office, lucrative state jobs and contracts to the highest bidders. The feds started recording him around the 2008 presidential election and the tapes have exposed a major public corruption scheme that goes all the way up to the White House.
So far Blagojevich is the only high-ranking public official to be criminally charged (with 24 counts, including bribery, extortion and conspiracy), but he’s hardly the only prominent player in the scandal. President Obama and his chief of staff, former Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, have been repeatedly mentioned in court testimony for their involvement in Blagojevich’s scheme to sell Obama’s old Senate post.
Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, testified that Obama supplied his boss with a list of “acceptable” candidates and the testimony was collaborated with FBI recordings played for the jury earlier this week. Additionally, union leader Tom Balanoff, a longtime Obama ally, testified that the president called him personally to push for his confidante, Valerie Jarrett, to fill his Senate seat before she opted for a White House job.
Harris also testified that Blagojevich asked him to call Emanuel to confirm that Obama was “still in agreement” with Jesse Jackson Jr. getting the Senate appointment after Jarrett had pulled out of the running. This clearly indicates that negotiating was taking place between Obama and Blagojevich.
Without offering any details, the president has steadfastly denied any involvement in selecting his successor. In fact, when the scandal broke just weeks after Obama won the presidential election, he responded by initiating an “investigation” that he assured would clear his good name.
The president assigned his first White House Counsel, Greg Craig, to conduct the laughable probe that, not surprisingly, fully exonerated him. Craig concluded that Obama, then president-elect had “no contact or communication with Governor Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat.” Court testimony in Blagojevich’s trial has contradicted this assessment repeatedly.
Blagojevich’s trial is expected to last months. Each day attorneys for both sides wheel large carts loaded with files of evidence into the jam-packed courtroom on the 25th floor. At least a dozen television cameras capture Blagojevich and his entourage from a cordoned off area of the courthouse where he enters and leaves daily. The disgraced governor basks in the attention, always smiling for the lens as he struts by.
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