Robert Blagojevich


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.

Patti Blagojevich had a noticeable presence throughout Wednesday’s two-hour episode of “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here,” including as part of the two-woman team that won a “luxury trial” involving tree-sawing and mathematics.

The show picked up where it left off Monday night, with all the quasi-celebrities (except for whiny washed-up model  Janice Dickinson) hanging over a pool of dirty water. Blagojevich was the first to lose her grip and fall in the water. Actor Lou Diamond Phillips won the trial, which granted him weeklong immunity from the public vote to oust someone from the jungle.

Back at camp after the trial ended, actor Daniel Baldwin told former pro wrestler Torrie Wilson he thinks Blagojevich or Dickinson will be the next person voted out of the jungle. We’ll find out who doesn’t get to stay in the jungle Thursday.

Patti complained again about how “unbelievably selfish” she thinks her husband’s successor, Pat Quinn, was in deciding to take away the family’s security three minutes after Rod Blagojevich was ousted from office. Personally, I think it’s unbelievably selfish for the Blagojeviches to think they should keep getting anything from taxpayers.

Patti also vented some more about the situation her husband got them into. Of course, from the Blago point of view, Rod’s ouster was a conspiracy against him — not because he did anything wrong that led to him being arrested on federal corruption charges.

“That was the saddest part, is that people you thought were your friends and just ended up hanging around you because of what they could get from you,” said Patti, neglecting to mention that sounds just like how her husband managed his political life.

Patti was less annoying later when she and Wilson teamed up to defeat actor Stephen Baldwin and former basketball star John Salley in the luxury trial. They had to saw through a tree to get a cannister containing a scroll bearing a math problem. The answer to the math problem was the combination to open a locked box containing the star needed to win the trial. The spoils awarded to the winners: a jump rope, boxing gloves, exercise weights, four granola bars and smoothies. (Dickinson stole one of the granola bars and ate it on the sly.)

The show ended with camp leader Phillips getting to call home and selecting two others to do the same. He picked Daniel Baldwin, whose wife is pregnant, and Patti Blagojevich. Lucky them.

* * *

You may recall that during Monday’s episode of “I’m A Celebrity,” Patti Blagojevich complained she has to drive a 21-year-old car because her family is strapped for cash. I was among those who were skeptical of her claim, and Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn unveiled the apparent truth behind the claim on his “Change of Subject” blog:

A Sun-Times columnist expressed skepticism after failing to find such a car registered in Illinois to the Blagojeviches or to Patti’s family.  But Patti’s husband, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, explained in a WLS-AM 890 interview Wednesday morning that the car in question is an old Volvo on loan from his brother, Robert Blagojevich of Nashville.

And, indeed, Tennessee motor-vehicle records show that Robert Blagojevich owns a four-door 1988 Volvo 740 GLE. So there ya’ go.

Headline in Wednesday’s Chicago Sun-Times: “Day 2 in jungle: Patti gets immunity.”

Obviously I wasn’t the only person who noted the irony of Patti Blagojevich being granted immunity on “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” The headline I wrote for my Tuesday night review of the former Illinois first lady’s second day as a reality TV contestant: “Blagojevich granted immunity on ‘I’m A Celebrity.'”

As for Wednesday night’s episode of “I’m A Celebrity,” Blagojevich once again laid low. That seems to be her modus operandi. Too bad she can’t convince her husband to adopt that same philosophy — he appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” again Wednesday evening.

“It’s with mixed feelings that I watch her on this program, because on the one hand, I want her to do well. On the other hand, we’d like to have her home,” the former governor said.

Rod said “these are the sorts of things that happen sometimes when you’ve been knocked down and you’re trying to rebuild and pick yourself up.” He also said “she’s making a sacrifice because she loves her kids, and eating that tarantula like she had to is an act of love. It’s a sign that this is a mother who loves her children.”

Note to mothers: If your children ever question your love for them, eat a tarantula. It’s an act of love.

King asked Rod about Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation refusing to accept a donation made by NBC on Patti’s behalf for her participation on the show. Rod said he understands why Bear Necessities rejected the offer, but …

“We chose Bear Necessities because children’s health care was the central part of what I was, uh, about as the governor of Illinois,” Rod said.

Uh, sure, Blago. Whatever you say.

It is worth noting that Bear Necessities is affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hospital, which the former governor is accused of trying to shake down for a $50,000 campaign contribution in exchange for a state grant. I don’t blame the group for rejecting any money connected to the Blagojeviches.

Now Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., is set to get the money. And now we know Patti is being paid as much as Rod would’ve gotten if His Hairness was in the Costa Rican jungle instead of his wife. (All contestants are paid salaries and NBC donates money to the charities of their choice. MSNBC afternoon anchor Tamron Hall apparently doesn’t realize this. On the air Wednesday afternoon, Hall told fellow MSNBC anchor David Shuster, “I’m still confused because she said she was doing it for charity, but then she said she needed the money for her family. Was she going to split it with the charity?” In the future, Hall should try harder to learn all the basic facts about a story before talking about it on the air.)

Of course, throughout his interview with King, Rod defiantly continued to maintain his innocence despite evidence to the contrary in wiretapped telephone conversations recorded by the FBI. But he also made a bit of news by revealing that convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko is “a central figure in this case,” which is tentatively set to begin in spring 2010.

“He sent a letter to a federal judge saying that neither President (then-Senator) Obama or me were involved in any wrongdoing with him,” Rod said. “Now suddenly he emerges in this case in a different light.”

Rod also said the Blagojeviches considered a wrongful termination suit against the nonprofit organization that fired Patti after Rod was arrested on federal corruption charges last December. He doesn’t think they will pursue it.

King asked Rod about the recently released, taped conversation between Sen. Roland Burris and the former governor’s fundraising brother, Robert Blagojevich.

“I think that tape speaks for itself. It’s a fundraising call,” Rod said.

The former governor summarily dismissed the Burris controversy thusly: “He said no. I made him a United States senator. I mean, it’s just the opposite of what’s being alleged.”

Except Burris didn’t say no to writing a check and organizing a fundraiser for the man who would make him senator. (Click here to read an excellent commentary piece about that lying scoundrel of a senator, written by former federal prosecutor Ronald Safer and published Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune.)

Speaking of Burris, I’ll end this post with a Roland-related link. Click here to see how you can make your very own Roland Burris “Pinocchio” paper doll. Believe me when I tell you it’s well worth the few seconds it will take you to follow the link.

I find it somewhat amusing that Illinois’ senior U.S. senator, Dick Durbin, says he is troubled by the FBI-wiretapped conversation between Roland Burris, who was interested in being appointed Illinois’ junior U.S. senator, and Robert Blagojevich, the fundraising brother of then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Durbin doesn’t think Burris gave fully truthful answers to the Illinois House impeachment committee and also won’t back Burris if he runs for a full senatorial term.

I find this amusing because when this debacle began with Rod Blagojevich’s arrest last December, Durbin was quick to call for a special election to fill President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. Durbin later backed off that call, as did other Illinois Democratic leaders who feared a Republican could win the seat in a special election. Then, when the governor called their bluff and appointed Burris to the seat, Durbin and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said they would refuse to seat Burris because his appointment was tainted. But they backed off that threat because they feared political retribution by their black constituencies.

So forgive me if I find anything Durbin says about Burris worthless. Although I can’t wait until Burris is out of office, I sort of smiled inside last night when Burris told ABC 7 News reporter Charles Thomas that Durbin should “back off.”

And then there is this beauty of a quote from Burris today: “Please accept Roland Burris’s comments rather than Sen. Durbin’s.”

Actually, I prefer not to accept the comments of either senator, because neither man says anything about this subject that can be taken to heart.

If there was a slim chance Roland Burris could escape Blagogate politically unscathed, a newly released FBI-wiretapped conversation between him and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s fundraising brother, Robert Blagojevich, flushed it down the toilet of public opinion.

In the Nov. 13, 2008, wiretapped conversation, Burris told Robert Blagojevich he is interested in being appointed to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Burris said it would look bad if he directly raised money for the governor’s re-election campaign, but later agreed to “personally do something” such as write a check to the Blagojevich campaign. Burris also suggested having his law partner, Tim Wright, host a fundraiser for the governor rather than do so himself.

However, during damage control today, Burris said he never intended to do any of those things. Burris wants us to believe he is innocent of anything improper because he never got around to doing what he discussed with Robert Blagojevich.

“I did not intend to hold a fundraiser for the governor’s brother,” Burris told Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” “We were seeking to placate the governor’s brother because, at that time, it was my intention not to alienate the governor’s brother. That’s all.”

So … Burris’s defense is that he lied to Robert Blagojevich. Seems the Illinois House impeachment committee, the U.S. Senate’s Democratic leaders, the media and, oh, all Illinois citizens weren’t the only people Burris told lies. Burris lied outright and lied through omission. But at least he’s consistent in his inconsistency.

Of course, Burris read aloud a prepared statement to reporters this morning (which you can find by clicking here) and then got cranky with them after they dared to question his truthfulness.

But it was Burris’s live interview on “Hardball” that really made the senator look bad. As MSNBC political analyst Jim Warren noted, Chris Matthews probably interrogated Burris harder than the U.S. Senate ethics committee did. I’m not sure why Burris agrees to do such interviews, considering he always comes across as a blustery buffoon who doesn’t have his story straight. (You can find the transcript of Matthews’ interview of Burris by clicking here.)

This latest development isn’t going to help Burris’s re-election chances, which weren’t very good to begin with.

“I’m not sure that his campaign fund of $845 is going to see much more money anytime soon,” Chicago Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson said on the WGN Midday News.

A rough election season is the least of Burris’s worries, though. He is being investigated for perjury during his testimony to the Illinois House impeachment committee.

“This is all part of a potential — potential — perjury charge against Burris,” Warren said on “Hardball.” “Does it rise to that level? I’m not sure.

“But what you have here is a guy who is being a 100 percent, unadulterated weasel.”

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty this morning to 16 felony charges of criminal corruption, including racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, attempted extortion and making false statements to federal agents. His brother, Robert, also pleaded not guilty to related charges. (Three others charged in the case are set to be arraigned Thursday.)

I haven’t seen pictures of the media scrum outside the courtroom, but by all accounts I’ve read, reporters and photographers swarmed the ex-governor like a plaque of locusts, pushing and shoving each other like baseball fans fighting over a notable home run ball. The media circus scene led to the following Blagojevich quote, as reported by the Chicago Tribune:

One cameraman used an expletive as he was shoved, then apologized to Blagojevich for his language.

“It’s alright, man. I heard it before,” Blagojevich said. “Listen to some of those tapes.” 

Then there is this juicy nugget from the Chicago Sun-Times:

Rod Blagojevich’s lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, asked for a quick return to court so he can seek expanded travel privileges. Blagojevich, 52, wants to be allowed to go to Costa Rica to film a reality TV show there but needs the judge’s permission.

I’m not surprised that Blagojevich wants to be on a reality TV show, but why is it being filmed in Costa Rica? What exactly will he be doing on the show — fleeing the country to avoid prosecution? Maybe he will hang out with film director Roman Polanski and complain about the U.S. judicial system. Or maybe Blago will get his hair braided and sing Bob Marley songs. (Yes, I know Marley was from Jamaica, not Costa Rica — but the visual still works, doesn’t it, mon?)

In other Blagogate news, the Sun-Times reported Monday that two members of Chicago’s Indian community told Robert Blagojevich (who headed the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund for his brother) that U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. would raise up to $5 million in campaign cash for the former governor if he was appointed to President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. It is unclear whether Jackson played a role in authorizing the alleged offer.

* * *

My wife and I have tickets to see the Second City spoof “Rod Blagojevich Superstar,” which parodies the ongoing Blagogate saga. Make sure to check back here after Saturday to read my take on the play.

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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