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Obama Calls for Governor Under Siege to Step Down

Posted by tothewire on December 11, 2008

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois left his home through a back alley on Wednesday in Chicago.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois left his home through a back alley on Wednesday in Chicago.

CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday called for the resignation of Rod R. Blagojevich, the besieged governor of Illinois whose political fortunes slammed to earth a day after he was arrested and accused of putting Mr. Obama’s former United States Senate seat up for auction.

Robert Gibbs, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, said the charges against Mr. Blagojevich had made his leadership virtually untenable.

“It is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois,” Mr. Gibbs said in a statement. “The president-elect believes that the General Assembly should consider the issue and put in place a process to select a new senator that will have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois.”

It is the first time Mr. Obama has weighed in on the fate of Mr. Blagojevich. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama said he had been “saddened and sobered” by news of the governor’s arrest, and asserted that he had not talked to the governor or his staff about filling Mr. Obama’s vacant Senate seat. But he declined to comment further.

Mr. Obama becomes the most prominent voice in a near-unanimous chorus of political leaders who have called on Mr. Blagojevich to step aside. Politicians, including leading Democrats in the United States Senate and many Illinois lawmakers and executive officials, greeted the charges against Mr. Blagojevich with a chorus of shock and dismay. Many urged the governor to step down immediately.

The Illinois legislature, which is currently adjourned, plans to reconvene on Monday to try to neutralize Mr. Blagojevich’s authority by stripping him of his appointment authority, or even impeaching him. The state House is expected to draft a bill that would call for a special election to fill Mr. Obama’s Senate seat, which he resigned last month; state law authorizes the governor to appoint the President-elect’s successor.

More than 50 lawmakers have already signed a draft resolution to create a committee to investigate whether the governor should be impeached. And the state’s attorney general is weighing whether to file a legal action on behalf of the people of Illinois seeking to declare the governor unfit to serve.

Cindy Davidsmeyer, a spokeswoman for Emil Jones, the president of the state Senate, said lawmakers could pass a bill on the special election as soon as next Tuesday. It is unclear whether Mr. Blagojevich would sign such legislation; he could veto it or delay it by returning it to the legislature with requests for changes or by taking no action at all for as long as 60 days.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for the state House speaker, Michael Madigan, said the legislature would act quickly “to try and send yet another signal that there is not confidence in the governor’s ability to make this appointment.”

While Mr. Blagojevich still has the power to appoint Mr. Obama’s successor, leading Democrats in the Senate were circulating a letter to the governor on Wednesday warning him not to exercise that authority. The letter from Senators Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, urges Mr. Blagojevich to step down and “under no circumstance make an appointment to fill the vacant Illinois Senate seat.”

Mr. Blagojevich (pronounced bluh-GOY-uh-vich), a Democrat, has not made any public comments on his arrest. Sheldon Sorosky, his lawyer, told reporters that the governor was “very surprised and certainly feels that he did not do anything wrong.” A hearing in federal court will be held in January to determine whether there is probable cause to go forward with the charges.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Blagojevich’s 52nd birthday, he went back to work. Briefcase in hand, he emerged from his home on Chicago’s North Side, and ducked into a waiting black sport-utility vehicle.

Just a day earlier, F.B.I. agents with a warrant for Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest had led him from his home while his children slept. The early-morning arrest would become the first in a series of developments on Tuesday that stunned a state that thought it had seen every brand of political corruption, created grave doubt over how or when President-elect Obama’s successor in the Senate might now be selected, and left many wondering who else might yet be implicated in Mr. Blagojevich’s brash negotiations, which were captured in phone calls recorded by federal agents since before Election Day.

“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said in announcing the arrest of Mr. Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris.Mr. Obama, who Mr. Fitzgerald said was not implicated in the case, sought to put distance between himself and the governor during brief remarks on Tuesday afternoon and later in an interview with The Chicago Tribune, saying he did not discuss his Senate seat with Mr. Blagojevich.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois with his wife, Patti, in Chicago after he won the Democratic nomination in March 2006.
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois with his wife, Patti, in Chicago after he won the Democratic nomination in March 2006.

“I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not — I was not aware of what was happening,” Mr. Obama said. “And as I said, it’s a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment.”

Throughout his career, Mr. Obama has adroitly straddled the state’s bruising politics, forming alliances with some old-style politicians even as he pressed for ethics reform. But Mr. Obama had long been estranged from the governor, even though some in his political circle have had relationships with both of them, including Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, and Emil Jones Jr., the retiring State Senate president and a longtime mentor.

The federal accusations against Mr. Blagojevich go beyond the Senate question into what the authorities here described as a “political corruption crime spree.”

The governor is accused of racing to solicit millions of dollars in donations from people with state business before an ethics law bars such behavior in January, and threatening to rescind state money this fall from businesses, including a Chicago hospital for children, whose executives refused to give him money.

He is also accused of putting pressure on The Chicago Tribune to fire members of its editorial board who had criticized him or lose the governor’s help on the possible sale of Wrigley Field, which is owned by the Tribune Company and is home to the Chicago Cubs.

In conversations with advisers that were recorded by the F.B.I., the governor seemed alternately boastful, flippant and spiteful about the Senate appointment, in which he likened his role at one point to that of an agent shopping around a free-agent ballplayer for the steepest price, a federal affidavit showed. At times, he even spoke of appointing himself to the job, the prosecutors said.

“I’ve got this thing,” Mr. Blagojevich is heard saying on one recording, according to the affidavit, later calling the seat “golden” and saying “I’m just not giving it up.” He added: “I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”

According to the affidavit, in more than a month of recorded phone calls at his home and campaign office, Mr. Blagojevich considered numerous ways that he might personally and politically gain from the various Senate candidates, none of whom were identified by name in the court filing. One possible choice might be able to help him secure a post with the new administration as secretary of health and human services or energy; a “three way” deal involving a union and a candidate might win him a union leadership post; or perhaps, he could secure the high-paying helm of a nonprofit organization that could be created for him.

Mr. Blagojevich, whose administration has for years been known to be the subject of a federal corruption investigation, also spoke of his family’s financial woes and said he had three criteria for selecting the new senator: “Our legal situation, our personal situation, my political situation — this decision, like every other one, needs to be based on that.”

In several possible situations, the affidavit says, Mr. Blagojevich seemed to refer to plans already under way to make money or win a job (for him or his wife, Patti) in exchange for a particular Senate selection, raising the specter that there might be others, including some of the Senate candidates, who were participating or at least considering participating in such deals.

Even before Mr. Obama was elected president, Mr. Blagojevich was recorded telling an adviser on Oct. 31 that he was giving greater consideration to one candidate described as Senate Candidate 5 after an approach by “an associate” of that candidate who offered to raise $500,000 for Mr. Blagojevich, while another emissary of the Senate hopeful offered to raise $1 million. “We were approached ‘pay to play,’ ” Mr. Blagojevich said on a recording.

On Wednesday, a lawyer for Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr. said Mr. Jackson was the person identified as Candidate 5, but denied any wrongdoing on Mr. Jackson’s part.

Prosecutors, who have made it clear that the investigation is continuing and who issued a plea on Tuesday for people to come forward with information, warned against drawing any conclusions about the true roles of candidates or anyone else in Mr. Blagojevich’s plans. And they emphasized repeatedly that the affidavit made “no allegations against the president-elect whatsoever.”

The affidavit says that in November, Mr. Blagojevich asserted to an adviser that he knew whom Mr. Obama wanted named as his successor — described in the affidavit as Senate Candidate 1, a reference apparently to Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama — but cursed him in apparent frustration that “they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation.”

Ms. Jarrett later took her name out of consideration for the post. But at one point, Mr. Blagojevich spoke to an official at the Service Employees International Union, the affidavit says, with the “understanding that the union official was an emissary” to discuss the possibility of a “three-way deal” that would put Ms. Jarrett in the Senate seat, Mr. Blagojevich at the leadership of Change to Win, a union-affiliated group, and “in exchange, the president-elect could help Change to Win with its legislative agenda.”

Officials at the service union said they had no reason to believe that any union officials were involved in wrongdoing, and a spokesman for Change to Win said the group had had no involvement or discussion with Mr. Blagojevich. “The idea of a position at Change to Win was totally an invention of the governor,” the spokesman said.

Ms. Jarrett could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mr. Obama’s advisers made the decision on Tuesday essentially to remain silent and ignored criticism for doing so from Republicans, a strategy reminiscent of how the Bush administration reacted to the last high-profile case of Mr. Fitzgerald, who was the special prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case. Still, David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, issued a statement late Tuesday saying he had misspoken in comments he made in November that now seemed to contradict Mr. Obama’s assertions that he had no contact with Mr. Blagojevich in the conversations over a replacement.

“I know he’s talked to the governor,” Mr. Axelrod said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” on Nov. 23. “And there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Axelrod said he had been wrong. “They did not then or at any time discuss the subject,” according to his statement.

If the governor were to resign or be removed by the legislature, he would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who has clashed with Mr. Blagojevich for years and who said on Tuesday that he last spoke to the governor more than a year ago, in the summer of 2007.

Mr. Blagojevich arrived in office in 2002, portraying himself as a fresh break from the investigations that had plagued the state for years — and most recently from the investigation and eventual conviction of Gov. George Ryan, a Republican whom Mr. Blagojevich succeeded.

Last month, Mr. Blagojevich said that despite his regular criticism of Mr. Ryan over the years, he believed that President Bush should commute Mr. Ryan’s 6 ½-year sentence even though he had served less than 13 months. It would be a “fine decision,” Mr. Blagojevich said.

On Monday, Mr. Blagojevich, who was visiting a factory sit-in here in Chicago, said he was unconcerned about reports of the corruption investigations that have swirled around his administration since at least 2005 and have swept up 14 other people.

“I don’t believe there’s any cloud that hangs over me,” he told reporters at the factory. “I think there’s nothing but sunshine hanging over me.”

Mr. Blagojevich seemed not to mind earlier news reports that his conversations had been recorded. “I should say if anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it,” he said, though he added that those who carried out such recordings sneakily, “I would remind them that it kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate.”

 By MONICA DAVEY and JACK HEALY

NY

 

 

The Plans to Sell a Senate Seat

The United States Attorney’s office in Chicago charged in a 76-page complaint that Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of having numerous schemes for profiting from his office, including several related to gaining jobs or contributions in exchange for making a particular appointment to Barack Obama’s vacated seat in the Senate. The complaint does not suggest that President-elect Obama, Bill Gates or Warren E. Buffett were involved in any of these plans.

Mr. Blagojevich would get secretary of Health and Human Services or another position in the Obama administration.

The president-elect would get his choice of appointee.

Mr. Blagojevich would get political contributions and fund-raising help from the person he appoints.

Two people were discussed as potential senators who would take part in this scheme.

Mr. Blagojevich names himself to fill the Senate seat to avoid impeachment by the Illinois Legislature.

The president-elect would get Mr. Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, paid positions on corporate boards.

The president-elect would get his choice of appointee.

Mr. Blagojevich is made the head of Change to Win, a labor organization affiliated with seven unions.

The Obama administration would help Change to Win with its legislative agenda.

The president-elect would get his choice of appointee.

Mr. Blagojevich starts a nonprofit organization that he would head after being governor.

The president-elect would get people like Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to contribute as much as $20 million to the organization.

The president-elect would get his choice of appointee.

Some of the people being considered to fill Obama’s Senate seat

Danny K. Davis

Democratic representative, from Chicago.

Tammy Duckworth

Director of the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs.

Luis V. Gutierrez

Democratic representative, from Chicago.

Jesse L.
Jackson Jr.

Democratic representative, from Chicago.

Valerie Jarrett

A close adviser to Mr. Obama.

Emil Jones Jr.

State Senate president; early political benefactor of Mr. Obama.

Lisa Madigan

State attorney general.

Jan Schakowsky

Democratic representative, from Chicago area.

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2 Responses to “Obama Calls for Governor Under Siege to Step Down”

  1. tothewire said

    Makes me sick!

    Like

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