Patrick Fitzgerald


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.

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If you ever held a woman’s hair up while she was vomiting, you know how Patti Blagojevich felt when she did that for fellow contestant Janice Dickinson on Monday’s episode of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!”

Blagojevich also received a back massage, was awakened by on-site security removing a big snake from camp, bared her soul (again) to John Salley and later narrowly lost to Salley in a trivia trial to determine this week’s camp leader.

Blagojevich and Torrie Wilson earned back massages by beating Salley and Lou Diamond Phillips in a luxury trial called “Walk the Plank.” Blagojevich and Salley stood on planks as their teammates cranked handles to pull back their opponents’ planks. Wilson made Salley fall in the water, so the women got back massages.

Later, Blagojevich and Salley sat in the river as Blagojevich bared her soul again.

“The hardest part about it all was that it took me probably four or five days to get myself out of the constant — this weight that hangs over us that won’t go away for a long time, you know? It just sits there,” Blagojevich said. “And so after a few days it was kind of off a little bit. And that call (to husband Rod last week) just put it back on.”

Blagojevich explained, “My husband looked tired. That’s what got me, you know? He looked a little worn out and it makes me worry that something’s going on that I don’t know about.”

Perhaps she could see Rod’s worry about his impending appearance at last Saturday’s performance of “Rod Blagojevich Superstar.” But I digress.

“When people got you down, they step on you, and when they see you stand up with strength, they back off,” Salley said.

“Well, that was part of the problem, the big decision whether to come here or not,” Blagojevich said. “Because the question is, are you aggravating the U.S. attorney (Patrick Fitzgerald) and then they indict me too, you know? You know it’s coming, in about a year it’s coming with the, you know, we’re going to indict your wife unless you come plead guilty. They’ll say it.

“It’s like, yeah, well go ahead and do it then. You gonna take, you know, make our kids orphans?” she concluded, dealing the sympathy card to her husband’s (and possibly her) potential jury pool.

Patti Blagojevich avoided indictment in early April, but there is an ongoing investigation into her real estate dealings with convicted businessman Tony Rezko. (She allegedly was paid commissions for some deals she did little work on.) Some legal observers suggested she wasn’t indicted so the young Blagojevich children wouldn’t potentially lose both parents to prison.

Anyway, back to the show: Salley later called Patti Blagojevich “my BFF in camp.” (For those who don’t know, BFF stands for “best friend forever” in textese — my word for the shortened language created by text messaging.)

Earlier in the show, Dickinson’s foul mouth prompted this ironic gem from Blagojevich: “She talks about it in a way that my own mother would be ashamed if I spoke that way.”

Of course, Patti Blagojevich was heard cursing in the background of FBI-wiretapped telephone conversations between her husband and associates, and her less-than-ladylike language is lampooned in Second City’s “Rod Blagojevich Superstar.”

Speaking of which, tonight MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann noted Rod Blagojevich’s Saturday appearance at the Second City spoof accordingly: “It’s not clear how much Blagojevich got for the appearance, but you better believe he was paid to play.”

Well said, Keith.

Second City announced Friday it extended the run of its hit musical spoof “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” through Sunday, June 14, at Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater “due to tremendous demand and irresistible new source material provided daily by the former governor.”

I saw “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” last weekend and loved it. Writer Ed Furman and music lyricist T.J. Shanoff worked in numerous references from throughout the Blagogate saga, including the allegations that Blagojevich tried to sell a U.S. Senate seat and get members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board fired, Blagojevich’s media blitz (including his infamous comparison of himself to Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi), Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s description of Blagojevich as “cuckoo,” and Blagojevich’s desire to be dropped into the heart of the Costa Rican jungle for a reality TV show. There also is a wonderful reference to his hairbrush, dubbed “the football” by the ex-governor, who breaks down during the show and proclaims, “Must brush hair for power!”

The breakdown leads into a gloriously profane song sung by Lori McClain as Patti Blagojevich, who in real life is heard swearing in the background of wiretapped phone conversations between her husband and his co-conspirators. Pottymouth Patti gets a laugh every time she swears, and sometimes she curses in shockingly funny ways. She also is portrayed as the brains behind Rod’s charmingly naive “scrapper,” who gets seduced into the Chicago political machine by his wife and her father, Chicago Alderman Richard Mell.

Of course, no Blagojevich spoof would be complete without somebody playing Roland Burris, who Blagojevich appointed to fill President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat after being accused of trying to sell it to the highest bidder. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also are characters in the play, which, as you might expect, pretty much wrote itself as it unfolded in real life.

And it continues to. While “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” lasts only 55 minutes (one of my few complaints about the play), it is followed by a brief intermission and an improv session that fills out the rest of your 90-minute date with the Second City troupe. Beginning May 7, the improv segment will include a game called “Rod Island,” which Second City describes as “portraying a never-before-seen bootleg copy of the pilot for Rod Blagojevich’s new reality television show.” Too bad I missed that.

Here’s the Bread Line bottom line: If you find humor in the ongoing Blagojevich scandal — even if it’s a sad kind of gallows humor — you’ll enjoy “Rod Blagojevich Superstar.” Click here for more details.

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.

Radio Blago

Not surprisingly, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich used his two-hour radio stint on WLS-AM Wednesday to blast his critics and Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed income tax increase.

“I kept the promise not to raise taxes for six years. It took him less than six weeks to break that promise,” said Blagojevich, neglecting to mention he left his successor with an $11.5 billion deficit to fix.

His guests included comedian D.L. Hughley, who previously had Blagojevich as a guest on his CNN show; reviled sports commentator Jay Mariotti, who quite possibly was booked to make Blagojevich look better by comparison; and two actors from the Second City spoof “Rod Blagojevich Superstar.” The actors asked Blagojevich to join the cast in whatever role he wants to play.

“I think I’d like to play the U.S. attorney, and I’d be real nice to the governor,” Blagojevich said.

Speaking of which, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has until April 7 to get a grand jury indictment against Blagojevich or ask for an extension.

Blagojevich didn’t quote any poetry during the radio show, but he made multiple Biblical references, played several Elvis Presley songs, plugged the book he is writing, and mentioned his famous helmet of hair.

In his Chicago Tribune column about Blagojevich’s radio gig, John Kass noted the former governor will have plenty of time to hone his radio skills if he ends up in prison:

He might even ask his predecessor, convicted Illinois Republican Gov. George Ryan to be his loyal sidekick, his Ed McMahon.

“What is this, a place full of politicians?” Rod might ask Ryan.

“You are correct, sir!”

If Blagojevich gets another shot at hosting a radio show, he should invite Kass to be one of his guests. That likely would never happen, since Kass would tear the former governor to shreds. But I’ll hold out hope for that must-hear radio show since stranger things have happened throughout the Blagogate saga.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is at it again.

Five days after the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to remove him from office, Blagojevich today started his second national TV media blitz, beginning this morning on NBC’s “Today” show.

“It was an unlawful and improper impeachment,” Blagojevich told interviewer Meredith Vieira. “So I don’t view myself at all as being shamed or disgraced. … But they did a disservice to the people of Illinois and the people across America.”

The way I see it, the disservice done to the people of Illinois is that legislators didn’t impeach this corrupt clown earlier. It also was a disservice for so many Democrats to publicly support and defend Blagojevich until he became too much of a political liability after his Dec. 9 arrest on political corruption charges. Blagojevich made a good point last week when he questioned why he wasn’t impeached earlier for political crimes he committed during his first term as governor but weren’t brought against him until last month, two years into his second term.

Making a good point about the timing of his impeachment does not excuse Blagojevich’s corruption. But I want to share a quote from his successor, Gov. Pat Quinn, made during the 2006 campaign: “In all my interactions with him, I’ve found him to be an honest person.” Blagojevich was already under investigation at that point and had already committed some of the political crimes cited against him in his impeachment trial, yet Quinn found him to be “honest.” I am skeptical that Quinn knew nothing of his two-time running mate’s questionable behavior, and therefore I question the new governor’s squeaky-clean image. He may not have known the worst of Blagojevich’s alleged transgressions until they were revealed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, but that doesn’t excuse him for ignoring Blagojevich’s abuse of power in order to get re-elected as lieutenant governor.

Quinn wasn’t the only top Democrat to conveniently ignore Blagojevich’s transgressions, some of which were well known before the 2006 gubernatorial election. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton endorsed Blagojevich for re-election. In fact, Madigan was engaged in a well-documented, long-running feud with Blagojevich, yet co-chaired the governor’s re-election committee. Maybe Blagojevich can return the favor later by co-chairing the presumed gubernatorial campaign of Madigan’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

The point I’m trying to make is this: If you watch Blagojevich continue repeating his same talking points to Larry King, Greta Van Susteren and David Letterman tonight, keep in mind that the Blagojevich conversation would be much more complete if we heard politicians like Quinn, Cullerton and Michael Madigan tell us why they ignored the warning signs of corruption even after they became apparent.

And when they are done giving their excuses – if they ever have the guts to do so – they should apologize to Illinois residents for intentionally misleading them about Blagojevich until it suited their purposes to do otherwise.

And so it is done. Rod Blagojevich is no longer governor of Illinois.

The Illinois Senate voted 59-0 to remove Blagojevich from office and then voted 59-0 to bar him from ever holding public office in Illinois again. Of course, Blagojevich later proclaimed his innocence again, this time during a press conference outside his Chicago home.

Incidentally, Blagojevich traveled home on a taxpayer-funded, state-owned airplane before he was removed from office. His successor, Pat Quinn, said yesterday Blagojevich would need to find an alternate way home if he was no longer governor.

Blagojevich left the Capitol immediately after finishing his closing statement, which shows how little he really cared about defending himself in the first place. Either that or he just couldn’t face his accusers for longer than what amounted to a 47-minute stump speech for himself.

Regardless, the bottom line is Blagojevich is out of office, so Quinn and the Illinois legislature can get to work tackling other problems. Quinn will probably do an adequate job as governor, but because he isn’t part of the Chicago political machine, serious challenges will be mounted by people within his own party if he seeks election to a full term as governor next year. Attorney General Lisa Madigan surely will head the list of Democratic challengers to the throne. She stands a good chance of beating Quinn, too, thanks to the strong political influence of her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a longtime cog in the Chicago political machine.

But when voters begin contemplating that race and others next year and in the years to come, I hope they will keep in mind what freshman Sen. Dan Duffy said today about Blagojevich’s political sins.

“Testimony shows that his abuse of power has been going on for years and that many people in this government and in this chamber had to have known about it,” Duffy said.

Perhaps someday we will learn the names of those who, until recently, looked the other way as Blagojevich abused his gubernatorial powers. I’m sure we will never learn all of their identities, but I hope many of them are revealed in the hundreds of hours of FBI wiretap recordings made for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s criminal case against Blagojevich.

As for who the next governor of Illinois should be, perhaps, in wake of the impeachment of Democrat Rod Blagojevich and the conviction of his Republican predecessor, George Ryan, on federal corruption charges, it is time for a strong third-party candidate to make a serious bid. Someone with the average taxpayer’s interests at heart – like Quinn was before he sold out to be second-in-command to a crooked Chicago political machine governor.

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