Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told aides he had something “f-ing golden” – sole power to pick Barack Obama’s Senate successor – to trade for a White House post or lucrative outside job for himself, and he sought to sell the seat to the highest bidder, federal prosecutors allege in a sweeping complaint against the Democratic governor.
The Senate seat “is a f—-ing valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing,” Blagojevich said, according to the complaint. He even threatened to name himself “unless I get something real good.”
In his first comments on the case, Obama said Tuesday afternoon he was not aware of how Blagojevich was attempting to fill the seat. "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening," Obama said after a meeting in Chicago with Al Gore. "It is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that I don't think it's appropriate to comment."
According to the complaint, Blagojevich weighed a stark quid-pro-quo – he’d appoint a top Obama adviser only if Obama would in turn name Blagojevich secretary of health and human services. The criminal complaint makes clear the Obama adviser is Valerie Jarrett, who was an early contender for the Senate seat. She was then tapped as a top White House aide.
When Blagojevich was spurned, he went after Obama in expletive-laced conversations with the governor’s top aides and his wife.
Blagojevich said he knew that Obama’s top choice was a certain candidate – apparently Jarrett – “but 'they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation,” Blagojevich said to his chief of staff John Harris on Nov. 11. “F—k them."
Blagojevich was expansive in his view of the price he could ask for the seat – even weighing whether he could involve Obama backer and billionaire investor Warren Buffett in a deal, the complaint says. The governor’s price was steep, the complaint alleges: he wanted HHS, an ambassadorship, or a six-figure job with the union coalition Change to Win.
“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said at a midday press conference. “Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. He attempted to sell a Senate seat.”
Fitzgerald said the complaint makes no allegations about Obama.
An Obama source said transition officials didn’t know about the Blagojevich investigation.
The charges threaten to distract the president-elect as he confronts an onslaught of press scrutiny about his knowledge of the investigation. The case will also upend the process of filling his open Senate seat. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin now is calling for a change in the law so the legislature, not the governor, would replace Obama in the seat.
Federal authorities arrested the two-term governor Tuesday morning. When a federal prosecutor called Blagojevich at 6 a.m. to inform him that agents were outside his home, the governor asked: “Is this a joke?”
The 76-page criminal complaint reveals a governor who no longer wanted his job and badly wanted cash – and quickly realized that the chance to name Obama’s successor was the answer to both of those problems. He and his aides spoke in expansive – and often profane – terms of replacing Obama as a naked act of political horse-trading, something to be maximized for as much personal gain as possible for Blagojevich, the complaint says.
Blagojevich compared the process of filling the Senate seat to that of a sports agent shopping around a free agent: “How much are you offering, (President-elect)? What are you offering, [Senate Candidate 2]? . . . Can always go to. . . [Senate Candidate 3].”
“It is not coming for free,” the governor said. “It’s got to be good suff for the people of Illinois and good for me. … [President-elect], you want it? Fine. But, it’s got to be good or I could always take [the Senate seat].”
In a two-hour conference call on November 10th with top aides and his wife, Patricia, the governor, recognizing Obama would not likely appoint him to an administration job, mentioned this and another brazen path to financial gain: getting his wife in on the deal.
Citing advice given to him by his counsel, Blagojevich said that his wife, the daughter of a powerful Chicago alderman, could get tapped for lucrative corporate boards in exchange for naming Jarrett to the Senate.
Patricia Blagojevich spoke up, saying that her background in real estate made her qualified to sit on such boards.
Jarrett is CEO of The Habitat Company, a large Chicago real estate developmental firm.
In the same conversation where Blagojevich signaled he’d pick the Obama adviser in exchange for the HHS job, the governor also discussed a three-way deal:
Blagojevich would take a top post in Change to Win, the splinter labor group that includes powerful unions such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Harris said an unnamed SEIU official could appoint Blagojevich the head of Change to Win and, in return, they could extract promises from Obama to help the labor coalition with its agenda.
Harris said such an arrangement could provide a “buffer so there is no obvious quid pro quo for [Senate Candidate 1].”
Blagojevich said that such a position with Change to Win would have to include a substantial pay increase above his gubernatorial salary. The governor of Illinois is paid $155,600 each year.
In another conversation the with Harris, his Chief of Staff, Blagojevich floated the notion that Buffett could somehow be brought into the deal..
Blagojevich said he could start a 501(c)(4) organization to extract money from the billionaire Sage of Omaha, whom the governor called Obama’s “friend.”
“What, for you?” Harris replied.
“Yeah,” said Blagojevich.
The governor and his chief of staff John were also charged with demanding the firing of members of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board in exchange for helping the Tribune Co. with the sale of Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
If Blagojevich is forced to step down, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, would take over.
Several Democratic operatives from Illinois say the Illinois state legislature will likely move as quickly as possible to hold impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich to prevent him from appointing Obama’s successor.
The Illinois General Assembly would be tasked with holding impeachment hearings, and the state Senate would vote on a conviction.