Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested this morning on charges of political corruption that allegedly included attempts to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, get members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board fired and shake down a large number of individuals and firms for political favors.
“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said during a news conference this morning.
I’ve been watching and reading coverage of the arrests throughout the day, and I’m still shocked at the depth of the alleged corruption and the height of Blagojevich’s obvious arrogance and disrespect for the state of Illinois. The charges come two years after Blagojevich’s predecessor, George Ryan, was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison on federal corruption charges. When Blagojevich first ran for governor in 2002, he promised to be a reformer who would clean up the state. It has been obvious for awhile that would never come to pass, but I don’t think any of us realized how corrupt Blagojevich was, even as it was common knowledge the governor was under investigation for several years.
Yet that knowledge didn’t stop Blagojevich from thumbing his nose at taxpayers and continuing his pay-to-play ways. In fact, Fitzgerald alleges the governor stepped up his criminal activities after learning a federal probe was focused on him and even continued discussing them over the telephone after a Chicago Tribune story revealed Blagojevich’s phones were tapped by the FBI.
I believe MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann spoke for all of us tonight when he asked rhetorically, “Is this guy the dumbest SOB on the planet, or the craziest?” My guess is Blagojevich is a little bit of both.
Either way, Blagojevich needs to resign immediately. If he doesn’t, he faces certain impeachment by the state legislature. Interestingly, it was just yesterday when the governor compared those wiretapping his phones to the criminals involved in the Watergate scandal. Blagojevich ought to be thinking about how the Watergate scandal ended with Richard Nixon resigning the presidency. In fact, Blagojevich should follow the example set by Nixon and resign to save himself and his constituents the embarrassment of impeachment proceedings.
I’m fairly certain Blagojevich will not resign, though. The brash governor has never put the interests of Illinois first, so why would he start doing the right thing now? I suppose it is possible Blagojevich will avoid resigning and impeachment by appointing himself to be Obama’s successor in the U.S. Senate. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the course of action Blagojevich takes.
Perhaps the worst damage done is the hit job Blagojevich finished on the reputation of Illinois politics. If he is convicted, four of the last eight Illinois governors will have served prison time. (George Ryan, Dan Walker and Otto Kerner are the others.)
Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, commented this morning on the state’s reputation for political corruption: “If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor.”
Congratulations, Blago. You just played a big part in undoing the good will toward Chicago generated by Obama’s presidential win.