John Harris


Not surprisingly, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has resurfaced in the news in time to try to influence the upcoming Chicago mayoral race.

Attorneys for the impeached governor filed a motion Tuesday seeking supposedly missing evidence in his corruption trial, including records of a phone call between an aide and Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff (and now the clear frontrunner in the Chicago mayoral race). I use the phrase “supposedly missing” because I’m suspicious that the lawyers didn’t notice the evidence missing during Blagojevich’s first trial and the timing of the egomaniac ex-governor’s request coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) is just two weeks before the Feb. 22 mayoral election.

No matter. It is unlikely Blagojevich can do anything to derail the Rahm train. All the polls show Emanuel leading by a wide margin; an ABC7 poll released today suggests Emanuel has a commanding lead, drawing the support of 54 percent of those surveyed. (His closest competitor, Gery Chico, has the support of a mere 14 percent of those surveyed.)

Still, Emanuel addressed the subject of the “missing” tape Tuesday. Here is what he said about it, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog:

He hearkened back to a two-year-old report by then-President-elect Obama’s transition team that concluded there were “about four” conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris, but “nothing inappropriate or any deal-making.”

“It also noted that I was asked at the time by the President’s transition (team) to provide a list of four names for the U.S. Senate: Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowsky, Dan Hynes and Congressman Jesse Jackson [Jr.],” Emanuel recalled, noting there was a separate conversation about Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Trial testimony indicated that Blagojevich and his team considered this list a “BS list.”

“I provided that list. Then, there was a question: The governor’s representative said, `What’s in it for us?’ And I responded, `You’ll get thanks and appreciation‚ [but nothing more]. You also know how the [former] governor responded to the word, `appreciation.’ That’s been detailed over two years ago in the report.”

Testimony at Rod Blagojevich’s trial indicated that it was in fact lobbyist John Wyma who passed on that message to the Blagojevich team in early November, 2008 at Emanuel’s request. Wyma at that point had been cooperating with the feds in their probe against the former governor and provided the government with the necessary information to put up wiretaps against Blagojevich.

Meanwhile in other Blagojevich news, the judge presiding over the former governor’s retrial (U.S. District Judge James Zagel) ruled Tuesday that jurors’ names will remain anonymous throughout the trial and will not be made public until eight hours after the verdict is delivered. You can read the ruling here, again courtesy of the Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog.

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Three weeks in, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial is finally getting interesting.

Being a political junkie — and as regular readers of this blog know — I’ve paid close attention to all things Blagojevich, his rise and fall, and especially his life after being arrested. So the first week or so of the trial, mainly comprised of jury selection and opening statements, didn’t reveal any surprises to me.

But now we’re getting to the good stuff, namely testimonies of his former associates and – even better – the secret recordings.

There are recordings that are interesting purely from the standpoint of what prosecutors are presenting as evidence, such as several wiretaps that captured Blagojevich seemingly pushing for more campaign money, no matter what – even if it involved holding up money earmarked for a children’s hospital or other laudable charities that didn’t offer his wife a job.

There also are recordings that are interesting partly for prosecutorial purposes but also interesting on some level because of their entertainment value. For instance, there’s the hair conversation between Rod and his brother Rob, who had just heard from the wife of a fundraiser that she loves the Blagojevich hair.

“She loves our hair, by the way,” Rob told Rod. “Loves your hair and loves my hair … because it’s all real, I guess.”

Sounds wiggy to me.

Then there’s Rod’s various ponderings about what he might get in exchange for appointing Obama pal Valerie Jarrett to the president’s former U.S. Senate seat. One of the wildest suggestions was he could be named ambassador to the United Nations, an idea that his then-chief of staff John Harris quickly shot down.

“I don’t think that’s realistic,” Harris said.

Apparently Blagojevich also thought that if he appointed himself to the Senate seat he eventually gave to Roland Burris, he could parlay that into an ambassadorship. (As far as I know, there are no rumors suggesting the self-important Burris will attempt this route to an ambassadorship just to add another line to his resume-etched-in-stone mausoleum.)

Among the secret recordings played in court was a conversation between Rod and his wife, Patti, who talked about the possibility of an ambassadorship. They apparently discussed beforehand which countries would be acceptable places for Rod’s potential ambassadorship. Patti continued researching some of the countries on the Internet while they spoke, and she suggested India as the ideal place for them to relocate. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it’s because so many people live in India. After all, Rod’s a man of the people, right?

Rod later mentioned the Indian ambassadorship idea to Harris, who once again didn’t think President Obama would go for it.

“Why can’t I be ambassador to India?” Blagojevich asked on the tape, citing his main qualification as being governor of Illinois, which he called a $58 billion corporation.

Of course, he didn’t mention that he helped run that “corporation” well into the red, but that’s to be expected.

After Harris pooh-poohed the idea, Blagojevich then suggested he be named commerce secretary. At one point he also suggested he could become secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

And so the suggestions continued. The bottom line, Blagojevich makes clear in one recording, is he wasn’t interested in being governor anymore and just wanted to “get the (expletive) out of here.”

“I’m looking at just two years of crap and (expletive) ineffectiveness,” Blagojevich lamented on the tape.

If only he knew what the next two years really held for him.

A version of this column was published in today’s edition of Ottawa Delivered.

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.

Now that Patti Blagojevich’s jungle adventure is over, it’s time for the Blagojeviches to remember why NBC wanted one of them to be on “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” in the first place.

Her husband, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, faces 16 felony charges of criminal corruption, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. Today U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel set Blagojevich’s trial to begin June 3, 2010. Two of Blagojevich’s co-defendants, Lon Monk and John Harris (both former Blagojevich chiefs of staff) are cooperating with authorities and are expected to take the stand as government witnesses if the case goes to trial.

The fun and games should be over for the Blagojeviches now, as they have only 11 months to prepare for what surely will be a lengthy trial, and that preparation includes sifting through about 3.5 million pages of documents. Have fun doing that, Blagojevich lawyers.

In reality, the fun probably isn’t over for the Blagojeviches, particularly Rod. I figure Rod will keep popping up in the media until the day he gets taken away to prison. But what about Patti? One of my Twitter followers jokingly suggested Patti can appear on next year’s edition of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” before the jurors are chosen for her husband’s trial. I’m sure Patti will be invited back on the show, but I doubt she will be a contestant again, mostly because the show likely would air as Rod’s trial is just getting under way. Patti will want to stay home with their children after the trial begins.

Besides that, by this time next year, Patti may have her own trial to start worrying about.

Lon Monk, a former chief of staff to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, pleaded not guilty in the Blagojevich corruption case today. He is charged with one count of wire fraud.

However, federal prosecutors said Monk is cooperating with authorities and will take the stand as a government witness if the case goes to trial. Another former Blagojevich chief of staff, John Harris, is also known to be cooperating with the government.

I think Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass’s nickname for Blagojevich — “Dead Meat” — is pretty accurate if two of the former governor’s chiefs of staff are willing to testify against their former boss. The question is, will Harris be just as forthcoming with information from his days as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s chief of staff? It seems logical for the feds to try getting it out of him as part of a plea deal.

It is also worth remembering that Roland Burris, who is a U.S. senator thanks to Blagojevich’s tainted appointment power, testified before the Illinois House impeachment committee that he approached Monk (who at that point was a lobbyist with close ties to Blagojevich) about getting more state business for his law firm and, oh yeah, he is interested in President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat, too.

The bottom line is there are multiple people who ought to be squirming after hearing Monk and Harris are cooperating with the government. I can’t wait for all the dirty laundry to be aired. The day of reckoning approaches for at least some of the corrupt politicians in Illinois.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley made a puzzling comment Friday about the 19-count federal indictment of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and five associates.

“Well, really, it’s really unfortunate for him,” Daley said. “He’s a young man, 52 years old. He has two children, a wife. Look at them, all young. These are young — basically young people involved in politics. It’s a very sad comment.”

What’s really sad is Daley didn’t condemn what the Blagojevich group is accused of doing. Instead, he made a comment that makes me think he feels bad for Blagojevich and company simply because their younger generation of politicians aren’t getting away with corruption the way the old-school pro pols did back in the day.

Daley surely feels pity for Blagojevich because he knows U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald may be breathing down the mayor’s neck next. It is worth noting that one of the men charged in the Blagojevich indictment, John Harris, was Daley’s chief of staff before taking the same job with Blagojevich in 2005. Harris reportedly is cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He might have some interesting things to say about Chicago corruption that have nothing to do with Blagojevich.

Fitzgerald says his probe into political corruption is ongoing, and as an Illinois taxpayer, I am thankful for the U.S. attorney’s tireless effort. The six-year investigation, dubbed Operation Board Games, has led to charges against 17 people so far. He may not kill the whole weed, but yanking out a few main roots hopefully will give pause to those who seek to spread the seeds of political corruption.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and five others were indicted today on federal criminal charges alleging they participated in a wide-ranging scheme to use the governor’s office for financial gain.

Also indicted were Robert Blagojevich, the former governor’s brother; Christopher Kelly, a former Blagojevich fundraiser; Lon Monk, a lobbyist and longtime Blagojevich associate; John Harris, a former Blagojevich chief of staff; and William Cellini Sr., a Springfield businessman who raised significant funds for Blagojevich.

The 75-page indictment includes 19 counts. The former governor is charged with 16 felonies, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. The former governor’s wife, Patti Blagojevich, is mentioned in the indictment papers but is not formally charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

So where was Blagojevich when the indictments were handed down? Vacationing at Disney World with his family.

I’ll post more about this topic after I read the entire indictment document.

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