Dems try to keep governor from filling Senate seat
Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois returned to work Wednesday amid efforts across the state and country to remove him from office before he could make an appointment to the vacant U.S. Senate seat that is at the root of a criminal case against him.
The New York Times
CHICAGO — Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois returned to work Wednesday amid efforts across the state and country to remove him from office before he could make an appointment to the vacant U.S. Senate seat that is at the root of a criminal case against him.
In what the lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, called a "crisis situation," Illinois lawmakers scrambled to find a way to force the Democratic governor's exit; President-elect Obama and the Senate Democratic caucus called for his resignation; and Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, warned him he should "under no circumstances make an appointment."
"This is a crisis of confidence of people in their government in a democracy," said Quinn, who would become governor if Blagojevich resigned or were forced from office. "The governor has to resign, or at the very least step aside."
All 50 members of the Senate Democratic caucus signed a letter urging Blagojevich to quit immediately and allow his successor to fill the seat. If the seat goes unfilled, they fear, it could prove difficult to produce 60 votes to prevent a filibuster on Obama's economic-rescue package.
Robert Gibbs, the incoming White House press secretary, said Obama thinks Blagojevich should step down, because "under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois."
Meanwhile, some of the elements sketched out in a 76-page criminal complaint against Blagojevich on Tuesday came into sharper view, as federal authorities identified U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois as "Candidate Five," the potential Senate candidate who was described in the complaint as most intertwined with Blagojevich in making a deal for the empty seat.
The criminal complaint quotes Blagojevich as saying that an emissary from Candidate Five had offered to raise $500,000 for Blagojevich's campaign treasury.
Jackson, a Democrat, denounced Blagojevich at a news conference in Washington, saying he had done nothing wrong and did not know the selection process had been corrupted. Jackson, the son of civil-rights activist Jesse Jackson, said, "I never sent a message or an emissary" and had been assured by prosecutors he was not a target of the investigation.
The younger Jackson, who met with Blagojevich about the Senate opening for 90 minutes Monday, said he was cooperating and would meet with investigators from the office of Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, who is leading the investigation.
Blagojevich, 52, and his chief of staff, John Harris, 46, have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.
The identity of another important figure in the case against Blagojevich — known only as "Individual A" in the complaint — also became apparent Wednesday. Law-enforcement officials said he was John Wyma, a lobbyist, fundraiser and close adviser to Blagojevich, who went to the federal authorities in October with a tale of corruption that helped lead to the use of wiretaps on Blagojevich, and eventually, the governor's arrest Tuesday.
Wyma's assertions did not center on the vacant Senate seat but on different accusations of corruption included in the case against Blagojevich.
The lobbyist said Blagojevich was improperly squeezing recipients of state aid for large contributions in an attempt to amass a $2.5 million campaign fund before Jan. 1, when a new state law takes effect barring contributions from state contractors.
In arresting Blagojevich on Tuesday, Fitzgerald said there were "a lot of things going on that were imminent" and "we were in the middle of a corruption crime spree and we wanted to stop it."
Blagojevich's spokesman and lawyer did not return calls for comment Wednesday, and Blagojevich made no public appearance. That he went to his Chicago office at all was considered a statement, however, because the governor is well-known to prefer to avoid his offices in Chicago and in Springfield to work alone at his home or some other unofficial location.
A lawyer for Blagojevich said Tuesday that the governor denied wrongdoing.
Lisa Madigan, the state's attorney general — who has also been suggested as a possible Senate appointee and was identified in the complaint as "Senate Candidate Two" — said she was weighing whether to file a complaint with the state Supreme Court seeking to declare the governor unfit to serve. Meanwhile, she said, state legislators were considering a move to conduct impeachment proceedings against the governor.
She and Quinn, both Democrats, said they also were working on plans to create a special election to choose the next senator.
The Senate seat became empty with the election of Obama as president in November, and under state law, the governor is assigned to name a replacement to fill the remainder of the term, which runs through 2010.
Also Wednesday, Bob Greenlee, 33, a deputy governor and former deputy chief of staff to Blagojevich, resigned, said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for the governor. Greenlee made $149,000 a year. Quinn said Greenlee had not said why he was resigning.
The criminal complaint against Blagojevich included a mention of a possible appointee to Obama's seat identified only as "Candidate 4" and a deputy governor. There were, until Greenlee's resignation, three deputy governors under Blagojevich. Efforts to reach Greenlee were unsuccessful, but in a telephone conversation with The Associated Press, he said he had "been instructed" not to speak.
According to the complaint, in the weeks of recorded phone calls at his home and campaign office, Blagojevich considered various ways he might financially gain from the possible Senate appointments.
He talked about how one potential choice might help him secure a post with the Obama administration as a Cabinet secretary, and he talked about possible deals that might win him a union leadership post or a high-paying job with a nonprofit organization.
The complaint also said the governor was trying to obtain contributions from a lengthy list of people and companies, a list the complaint said was given to the FBI.
The document also provided a compendium of instances in which Wyma, the Blagojevich associate cooperating with the authorities, said Blagojevich exhorted Wyma and others to quickly bring in hundreds of thousands in cash.
The complaint said Blagojevich told Wyma on Oct. 5 that he wanted the chief executive of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago to raise $50,000 after it had been awarded $8 million in state funds. At one point, Blagojevich threatened to withdraw the state funds because the hospital executive failed to make an earlier contribution the governor had expected, the complaint said.
Neither Wyma, nor a lawyer for him, could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Blagojevich may be trying to hold on to the most potent bargaining power he has: that of resignation should he enter into talks about a plea with federal prosecutors, some experts suggested.
"If I were his lawyer, I'd sit down with him soon and say this case is not winnable, you're going to the penitentiary pretty soon and the only question is for how long," said Albert Alschuler, a professor of law and criminology at the University of Chicago Law School. "Your bargaining power is greater today than it ever will be. The big question is whether the U.S. Attorney's Office would be willing to make some sentencing concessions in exchange for a resignation from office."
A spokesman for Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney, would not comment on the investigation, which continues.
Alschuler said a grand jury was meeting and the case against the governor was so strong that an indictment was "for sure."
Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.
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