Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Obama at the Root of Blagojevich's Troubles

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    AP
    In this Dec. 2, 2008 file photo, President-elect Barack Obama, right, greets Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, left, at the Bipartisan meeting of the National Governor's Association in Philadelphia. Federal authorities in Chicago have arrested Blagojevich, and they've accused him of attempting to benefit financially from his position to appoint a Barack Obama's Senate replacement.

    Tapes played in Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial Wednesday revealed a forlorn governor who felt the world was passing him by, as America elected its first African American President.

    "There's nothing I could have done about Obama," Blagojevich tells advisor Doug Scofield in a conversation recorded the morning after the election. "Other than to keep him from speaking at the convention. I mean, you've got this historic (EXPLETIVE) demigod!"

    Blagojevich had harbored Presidential aspirations of his own. But as he watched the jubilation over Obama's victory, he told Scofield, "The President of the United States is someone I know, but I'm in a bad place. I feel like I failed."

    "There was a level of jealousy and anger," Scofield said, as he testified for a second day.

    That anger apparenty did not prevent Blagojevich from attempting to leverage Obama's open Senate seat for all he could get.  In a conversation just two days later, Blagojevich continues to express hope that he can squeeze a cabinet position out of the President in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett, the President's choice, to the the open Senate seat.

    "She's holding Health and Human Services," he said, "and I'm holding a U.S. Senate seat!  She's holding hers with two hands, and I've got the whole thing wrapped around my arms!"

    "I'm willing to trade the thing I have tightly held, to her, for something she doesn't hold so tight," he's heard saying.

    In the end, of course, Jarrett dropped out of the running for the Senate seat, choosing a White House post instead. Blagojevich immediately shifted his focus to trying to convince the President to lean on rich donors to fund a multi-million dollar non-profit organization which he planned to head.

    He enlisted Scofield to get word to incoming chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel. The tapes suggest that Blagojevich hoped the charity gambit might put Jarrett back in play, and give him a high paying job where he could keep his political viability alive.

    Scofield testified that he thought it was a bad idea, and he never pursued it with any vigor.

    Through it all, Blagojevich often spoke of proposing poison pills which he felt the White House would find unacceptable. Scofield was enlisted to leak stories to columnist Michel Sneed that the governor was leaning toward appointing Jesse Jackson, Jr.  It was a pick he thought the President-elect didn't want and which might increase his chances of making some kind of deal.

    "I'll do Valerie Jarrett," he says November 10. "But if they think they can do this and not (EXPLETIVE) give me ... I mean, anything, then I'll go (EXPLETIVE) Jesse Jackson, Jr. The arrogance of these (EXPLETIVE) people!"

    One of the tapes showed that Blagojevich knew that appointing himself to the job was probably a non-starter, at least in the eyes of the new team at the White House. In a conversation from November 13, 2008, he tells Scofield, "I really believe the worst thing Obama wants, is me!"