Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accused of using his office for 'pay to play' politics, asking for contributions in exchange for naming Illinois' next U.S. senator.
It's been a whirlwind of a day, even by Illinois political standards.
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff, John Harris, were arrested Tuesday morning by FBI agents on federal corruption charges relating to the selection of a successor for President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat.
The governor, who was taken away from his home in handcuffs in the morning, was released in the early afternoon on his own recognizance after posting a $4,500 bond.
FBI agents also executed a search warrant Tuesday at the governor's office in downtown Chicago.
In a heated late morning news conference, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald repeatedly called Blagojevich's conduct "appalling."
"This is a sad day for government. It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald gave a laundry list of accusations against the Democratic governor, including "extortionate attempts against the Chicago Tribune" and trying to benefit from the appointment of Illinois' next U.S. senator.
"The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," Fitzgerald said.
FBI Special Agent In-Charge Robert Grant also spoke, expressing disgust over the governor's alleged conduct.
"If (Illinois) isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor," Grant said. "I think even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked."
In the wake of the governor's arrest, a flurry of statements have been released by Illinois politicians, some denouncing the governor and calling for his resignation, and others trying to distance themselves from Blagojevich.
"I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening," President-elect Barack Obama said. "And as I said it is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don't think it's appropriate to comment."
Obama's Senior Advisor, David Axelrod, issued a correction to a statement he'd made during an interview on WFLD-TV last month that the president-elect had spoken to Blagojevich about the senate seat.
"They did not then or at any time discuss the subject," Axelrod said Tuesday.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a statement calling for the governor to resign. However, Sen. Dick Durbin declined to make that call, saying the governor is innocent until proven guilty. Lt. Gov Pat Quinn called on the governor to "do the right thing," but also refused to say directly whether the governor should step down. The Speaker of the Illinois House, Mike Madigan, who has had an ongoing public battle with the governor, said he was shocked and disappointed, and he is willing to discuss impeaching Blagojevich.
Andy McKenna, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, urged the governor to resign, and if he does not, to have the state Legislature to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.
"Too many questions have been raised. We need somebody else in that governor role," McKenna said.
Blagojevich's office also issued a statement Tuesday, saying the governor's arrest will not affect how the state functions.
A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti Blagojevich.
"I want to make money," the affidavit quotes him as saying in one conversation.
In another conversation with someone described as Deputy Governor A, the affadavit quotes Blagojevich talking about Obama's open seat.
"If ... they’re not going to offer anything of any value, then I might just take it,” the affadavit quotes Blagojevich. “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain.”
The document quotes the governor as later saying that the seat “is a [expletive] valuable thing. You just don’t give it away for nothing.”
Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field, according to the federal criminal complaint. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said. “They allege that Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism. The citizens of Illinois deserve public officials who act solely in the public’s interest, without putting a price tag on government appointments, contracts and decisions,” he added.
The affidavit alleges, over the last several weeks, Blagojevich discussed getting a substantial salary for himself, placing his wife on a corporate board, promises of campaign funds and a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
A staffer said the governor was scheduled to appear on the Today Show this morning to talk about the sit-in at Republic Windows and Doors. However, his appearance was cancelled because of the news that Jay Leno was moving to prime time.
Corruption in the Blagojevich administration has been the focus of a federal investigation involving an alleged $7 million scheme aimed at squeezing kickbacks out of companies seeking business from the state. Federal prosecutors have acknowledged they're also investigating "serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" under Blagojevich.
Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko awaits sentencing on a federal corruption conviction in which he was charged with shaking down businesses wanting to do state work for campaign contributions.
The governor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
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