Tony Rezko


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.

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.

It was only a matter of time before a federal probe hit former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s wife, too. Here’s part of the story from Thursday’s Chicago Sun-Times:

Federal authorities have hit former first lady Patti Blagojevich with a federal subpoena dealing with recent charges lodged against her husband, raising new questions over whether she will become part of a grand jury indictment expected by early April.

The subpoena, with which Patti Blagojevich reportedly complied, asked for any documents, notes or e-mails she had related to more than 40 people or entities — from former gubernatorial fund-raisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly to her own real estate dealings.

Patti Blagojevich’s lawyer, Raymond Pijon, told the Chicago Sun-Times that federal authorities have great discretion over whether to charge her — and that he hopes they’ll consider the “family structure” as they weigh that decision.

“I’ve seen it happen on a number of occasions; they elect not to bring in other family members,” Pijon said.

Just because she has been cooperative doesn’t mean she’s going to flip on her husband, her lawyer said.

“I think they’re close as a couple and obviously have a lot of things in common,” Pijon said.

Federal investigators have been scrutinizing Patti Blagojevich’s real estate dealings in recent years.

If Pijon is right that charges may not be brought against Patti Blagojevich for the sake of her two young daughters, the former first lady will be awfully lucky. If she was involved with shady real estate dealings that sent others to prison, she should be punished, too — at least with a significant fine and suspension of her real estate license.

Pijon certainly is correct about Rod and Patti having “a lot of things in common.” The Blagojeviches are both unemployed, foulmouthed, defiant and crooked.

And neither has a snowball’s chance in hell to win in the court of public opinion.