Hold the Phone, Judge Not Releasing Blago Tapes Yet

Release could happen after impeachment vote

Illinois lawmakers will have to wait two more days before secretly taped conversations of Gov. Rod Blagojevich might be released, but they just may choose to vote on his impeachment proceedings before then.

Chief Judge James F. Holderman was asked to decide whether redacted versions of secretly made FBI recordings of Blagojevich can be given to the Impeachment Committee.

The tapes are tied to allegations the governor tried to squeeze the horse industry for a campaign contribution, in exchange for helping get a law passed.

Holderman gave everyone in the case 48 hours to listen to the tapes in question and decide if they have objections to their release.

But it appears the Impeachment Committee will have already acted by the time those 48 hours are up.

Lawyers at the hearing Monday told Holderman they wanted to know the exact evidence the government presented to get the conversations recorded in the first place. The judge assured them he'd supervised the process from the beginning, but wasn't going to release that information anytime soon.

"I have scrutinized this process ... I can assure you I have done everything in my power to make sure the government has complied with the law," Holderman said.

Holderman also gave prosecutors an additional three months to obtain a corruption indictment against Blagojevich, saying the complexity of the case against him makes it "unreasonable" to expect the indictment sooner.

"The ends of justice served by the extension outweigh the best interests of the public and the defendants to a speedy trial," the judge said.

Holderman's decision to grant the extension was expected, came without any opposition from defense attorneys and didn't indicate any slowdown in the government's corruption investigation of Blagojevich and his administration.

Blagojevich, 52, is charged in a federal criminal complaint filed last month with an array of offenses including a plot to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama following his election as president.

Blagojevich and former chief of staff John Harris also are charged with plotting to squeeze potential campaign contributors for money illegally and trying to get the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers calling for the governor's impeachment.

Federal prosecutors have 30 days after filing such a complaint to replace it with a grand jury indictment, which would allow them to take the case to trial.

The deadline for an indictment against Blagojevich would have run out Wednesday. Holderman extended the deadline to April 7, giving prosecutors an extra three months to do their work.

Holderman said in his written order that the complexity of the investigation makes it "unreasonable to expect the government to effectively prepare the evidence for presentation to the grand jury in a shorter time period."

According to an FBI affidavit attached to the complaint, Blagojevich described his power to appoint a senator to fill the seat as a "golden" thing and vowed to get something in return -- a Cabinet post, a high-paying job after leaving office, a position for his wife or campaign cash -- in exchange.

According to the affidavit, Blagojevich schemed to withhold $8 million in aid to a children's hospital until the head of the hospital made a sizable campaign contribution. He allegedly used the power of the governor's office to pressure road builders and someone interested in casino legislation for political donations.

Blagojevich also discussed with Harris the possibility of holding up financial aid to the Tribune in its efforts to sell Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, unless the editorial writers were fired, the affidavit said. According to the FBI recordings, the governor pressed Harris to apply the pressure in meetings with a financial adviser to the newspaper company.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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