Lost somewhat in the shuffle of Illinois political news Wednesday was former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris’s guilty plea that included a promise to be a government witness in the federal corruption case against the former governor.
Judging from what the Chicago Tribune reported about the 26-page plea agreement, Rod Blagojevich should be quaking in his boots.
John Harris, who was arrested with the former governor in December, is expected to detail for prosecutors perhaps the most stunning charge in the case: how Blagojevich allegedly used his power to appoint a successor to President Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate to barter to enrich himself.
In exchange for Harris’ testimony, prosecutors agreed to recommend he serve less than 3 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud and is expected to be one of a series of former aides and confidants — fellow chiefs of staff Alonzo “Lon” Monk and John Wyma as well as fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko among them — to testify against Blagojevich.
The plea agreement alleges that the former governor viewed the Senate appointment as a unique opportunity to try to bargain with the new Obama administration, perhaps leading to a Cabinet or ambassador’s post.
But Blagojevich isn’t the only person who should be worried. As I suggested on this blog in early April, and Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass noted in his column today, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley might be quaking in his boots, too. If Harris has knowledge pertaining to any other federal corruption cases, he will be a government witness in those cases, too. And before he was Blagojevich’s chief of staff, Harris was Daley’s chief of staff and served in other high-ranking positions in Daley’s administration. If U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating anything related to the Daley administration, Harris is a go-to guy for inside information.
To drive home my point, read this quote from Harris’s attorney, Terry Ekl:
“I’ll tell you this: When John Harris began to cooperate with the government, he did not pick and choose the subject matters. He’s been questioned about a variety of subjects. He’s been truthful and honest about all of those, and I’m not going to have anything further to say about what he has talked about in terms of other investigations.”
Hopefully Ekl doesn’t need to say anything more in order for fear to be struck into the hearts of corrupt Chicago politicians. However, it is more likely they expect to beat the rap, as has often been the case when the Chicago political machine is involved.
But maybe this time will be different. At least we can hope so.