Just two weeks before his arrest on corruption charges, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich floated a plan to give President Obama's former Senate seat to the daughter of his biggest political rival in return for concessions on his pet projects, people familiar with the plan told The Associated Press.
Blagojevich told Sen. Dick Durbin he was thinking of naming Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the seat, according to two Durbin aides who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A Madigan appointment would have been a political shocker because the governor had been warring politically with her father, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, on and off for Blagojevich's two terms in office.
Last November, Madigan said the chance was "less than zero" the governor would offer her the seat, adding that she did not believe she was even being considered. She is a likely contender in the 2010 governor's race.
It was already known that Blagojevich thought of her as a possible pick for the Senate seat but this conversation, unreported until now, provides details and shows he went as far as discussing the idea with at least one high-ranking fellow Democrat.
The 10-minute conversation took place Nov. 24 as Durbin was in his car using his cell phone, according to the aides. One aide said Durbin considered the idea an "innocuous compromise" and offered to help, but was told by the governor to "do nothing," and never heard more on the matter.
"He said he was struggling with it morally," one of the aides said of the governor, adding that he did not understand why.
The aides spoke on condition that their names would not be used out of respect for the custom that Senate aides most often allow their bosses to be quoted. They gave their account in response to questions as reports circulated as to exactly what was said by Blagojevich and others on tapes made by FBI agents who wiretapped Blagojevich's home and campaign offices last fall.
Blagojevich also said he wanted a deal in which the elder Madigan would allow a long-stalled capital construction program through the House and take action on a Blagojevich-backed health care plan in return for his daughter's appointment to the Senate seat, the aides said.
Blagojevich attorney Samuel E. Adam declined to comment Monday and Durbin's office would offer no further comment. Mike Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown did not immediately return a call and a spokeswoman for Lisa Madigan said she did not have any immediate comment.
According to the Senate aides, Durbin was delighted to hear that Blagojevich was thinking of naming Madigan to the seat. He believed she would be a popular figure in Illinois and stood perhaps the best chance of holding the seat against a Republican.
Durbin volunteered to call the attorney general or the speaker to get the ball rolling and possibly broker an agreement, the aides said.
And that, as far as they know, was the end of the matter, the aides said.
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 and faces racketeering, fraud and other charges in connection with allegations that he sought to sell or trade the Senate seat, and that he used the political muscle of the governor's office to pressure people for campaign money.
He has pleaded not guilty. He was impeached and thrown out of office in January.
The aides said the Nov. 24 conversation was the only one between Durbin and Blagojevich last fall and that Durbin had been trying for 10 days to reach the governor before the two finally connected by telephone.
Wiretaps made public previously show Blagojevich discussing a number of possible appointees, including one believed to be Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett, now a senior White House adviser.
Lisa Madigan's name surfaced early in connection with the Senate seat. She's believed to be "Senate Candidate 2" in the federal criminal complaint, which describes Blagojevich telling an aide to float her name to a newspaper columnist as a possible appointee in a ploy to send a message to the Obama administration.
Blagojevich ultimately appointed former state official Roland Burris to the seat.
Last week, a federal judge released another tape in the corruption investigation. It was of a conversation between Burris and Blagojevich's brother Robert, who is also the head of the Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund. On the tape, Burris repeatedly asks for consideration for the Senate seat.
Burris also agonizes over whether to raise funds for Blagojevich, saying he would like to help but fears it would backfire politically. He finally vows to "do something."
In charging the governor, federal prosecutors released an affidavit that quotes extensively from the wiretapped conversations, including ones in which the governor described the Senate seat as "a golden thing" and said he expected something for himself in return for an appointment.
Among other things, he mentioned a possible Cabinet post or high-paying job for himself or his wife, Patti, or in lieu of that, a large amount of campaign money.