Illinois governor charged with ’selling’ Obama’s Senate seat

December 10th, 2008 - 11:10 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaChicago, Dec 10 (IANS) Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested for corruption and charged among other things with conspiring to sell the senate seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.So brazen has been the extent of corruption over the last five years that Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said: “The conduct would make (Abraham) Lincoln roll over in his grave.”

Fitzgerald said the governor had gone a “political corruption crime spree”, which had “taken us to a truly new low”. However, he was categorical in saying that the affidavit “makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever”.

A 76-page affidavit charged the state governor of “conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a United States senator;

“Threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical of Blagojevich;

“And to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions - both historically and now in a push before a new state ethics law takes effect Jan 1, 2009″.

In the US, state governors have the authority to nominate people to the Senate in the event that the seats are vacated for various reasons. In the case of the Illinois seat, Obama gave it up after he was elected president on Nov 4.

Illinois has a reputation of extraordinary political corruption. George Ryan, the immediate predecessor to Blagojevich, is serving a prison term on charges of racketeering and fraud since 2006. While the 51-year-old Blagojevich is a Democrat, Ryan was a Republican.

Tuesday’s indictment is a result of a five-year-long investigation, which involved extensive deployment of listening devices in the governor’s office and home. According the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) affidavit, Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorised wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade the Illinois Senate seat vacated by Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife.

Blagojevich wanted to use his authority to make a lot of money, extract a position either as an ambassador or secretary of health and human services, or a high-paying position at a non-profit or an organisation connected to labor unions. He is also accused of wanting to ensure a job at an annual salary of $150,000 for his wife. In case he could not extract any of that, he said he would keep the Senate seat for himself.

The affidavit also accused the governor of holding back $8 million in state funding for a children’s hospital if the CEO did not make a contribution of $50,000. His scheme did not even spare the Tribune Company, the financially ravaged owner of the prestigious Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times newspapers. Blagojevich has been charged with withholding state assistance for the company if it did not dismiss editors not favoring him.

According to Fitzgerald, the recorded conversation were profane, including at one point Blagojevich saying “F**k Obama”.

On his part, Obama said: “I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening. And as I said it is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment.”

Blagojevich’s attorney seemed to play down the arrest and release on a $4,500 cash bond.

“He didn’t do anything wrong,” attorney Sheldon Sorosky told reporters after Blagojevich was arraigned. “A lot of this is just politics.”

Asked if the governor would resign, he said: “Not that I know of, no.”

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