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Justice Department Briefing on Blagojevich Investigation

Justice Department Briefing on Blagojevich Investigation

By Patrick Fitzgerald - December 9, 2008

This is a sad day for government. It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low.

Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree. We acted to stop that crime spree.

The most appalling conduct Governor Blagojevich engaged in, according to the complaint filed today or unsealed today, is that he attempted to sell a Senate seat, the Senate seat he had the sole right to under Illinois to appoint to replace President-elect Obama.

Let me take you back eight weeks ago to set the allegations in context.

Back eight weeks ago we the following environment. There was a known investigation of the Blagojevich administration that had been going on for years involving allegations of pay-to-play conduct and corruption. There had been a recent trial of an associate of Governor Blagojevich in which allegations were aired, where people testified that Governor Blagojevich was involved in corrupt conduct, and there was an Ethics in Government Act that was pending, that would go into effect January 1 of 2009, that would bar certain contributions from people doing business with the state of Illinois.

You might have thought in that environment that pay-to-play would slow down. The opposite happened. It sped up. Government (sic) Blagojevich and others were working feverishly to get as much money from contractors, shaking then down, pay-to-play, before the end of the year.

I will give you one example. A month or so ago a $1.8 billion tollway project was announced. While that tollway project was being announced, Governor Blagojevich was privately seeking to have a person benefiting from that contract raise $100,000 in contributions, and privately the government (sic) said, "I could have made a larger announcement but wanted to see how they would perform by the end of the year. If they don't perform, bleep 'em." That's a quote. And the word "bleep" was not the word he used.

After being aware that actually the pay-to-play scheme had taken -- taken up greater steam and greater urgency back eight weeks ago, after careful review, the decision was made that more extraordinary means of investigation needed to be used.

After that point, a bug was placed in the campaign offices of Governor Blagojevich and a tap was placed on his home telephone. And that tap and that bug bore out what those allegations were.

I'll give you two examples set forth in the 76-page complaint. One involves Children's Memorial Hospital, a hospital that obviously takes care of children. At one point, the governor awarded funding, reimbursement funding to that hospital to the tune of $8 million. But he also indicated privately that what he wanted to get was a $50,000 personal contribution from the chief executive officer of that hospital.

In the ensuing weeks, that contribution never came. And Governor Blagojevich was intercepted on the telephone checking to see whether or not he could pull back the funding for Children's Memorial Hospital.

A second example is legislation that is pending concerning horseracing. There is a bill that I believe sits on the governor's desk that would take money from casino revenues and divert a percentage of it to horseracing tracks. While this was pending, the interceptions show that the governor was told that one person who he was seeking to have raise $100,000 also was working with a person who was seeking that money to have a bill pending.

And the governor was told that the person who wanted that bill -- from whom they wanted money -- was told the following: that he needed to get his contribution. And the quote was, "Look, there is a concern that there is going to be some skittishness if your bill gets signed because of the timeliness of the commitment," closed quote. Then the person told the contributor, the money, quote, "got to be in now," closed quote.

And when the governor was told this part of the conversation, his response was, "Good."

Shortly thereafter, the person who was trying to get the contribution from the person who had the bill pending suggested that the governor call the person directly, that it would be better to get the call personally from the governor, quote, "from a pressure point of view," closed quote, and the governor agreed.

As we sit here now, as far as we know, that bill sits on the governor's desk. That $8 million in funding is still pending.

In addition to the pay-to-play allegations, which are described in greater detail in the complaint, we also were surprised to learn of an extortionate attempt against the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

The Chicago Tribune had not been kind to Governor Blagojevich, had written editorials that called for his impeachment. And Governor Blagojevich and defendant Jonathan -- John Harris, his chief of staff, schemed to send a message to the Chicago Tribune that if the Tribune Company wanted to sell its ballfield, Wrigley Field, in order to complete a business venture, the price of doing so was to fire certain editors, including one editor by name.

In the governor words -- governor's words, quote, "Fire all those bleeping people. Get them the bleep out of there. And get us some editorial support," close quote. And the bleeps are not really bleeps.

The defendant Harris tried to frame the message more subtly to get the point across to the Tribune that firing the editorial board members would be a good thing in terms of getting financing to allow the sale to go forward.

But the most cynical behavior in all this, the most appalling, is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

The governor's own words describing the Senate seat, quote, "It's a bleeping valuable thing -- thing. You just don't give it away for nothing," close quote.

Another quote, "I've got this thing, and it's bleeping golden. And I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing. I'm not going to do it, and I can always use it; I can parachute me there," quote. Those are his words, not our characterization, other than with regard to the bleep.

The tapes reveal that Governor Blagojevich wanted a number of things in exchange for making the appointment to the Senate seat -- an appointment as secretary of health and human services or an ambassadorship, an appointment to a private foundation, a higher paying job for his wife or campaign contributions.

At one point, he proposed a three-way deal -- that a cushy union job would be given to him at a higher rate of pay where he could make money.

In exchange, he thought that the union might get benefits from the president-elect, and therefore, the president-elect might get the candidate his choice. I should make clear the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever -- his conduct. This part of the scheme lost steam when the person that the governor thought was the president-elect's choice of senator took herself out of the running. But after the deal never happened, this is the governor's reaction. Quote, "They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them," close quote. And again, the bleed is a redaction.

What I should also talk about is that in another event, somebody else approached the governor. And the governor's understanding of this approach was that in exchange for an appointment to the Senate seat, he would receive campaign contributions. And the government's view of what was told to him through intermediaries was that, quote, "We were approached pay to play, that you know, he raised me 500 grand, then the other guy would raise a million if I made him senator," close quote.

This was a conversation with a senator describing how he perceived the message that came through multiple hands. His concern was he offense -- that he though campaign contributions were being offered in exchange for a senate seat? No. He was worried that the campaign contributions would actually be paid. He wasn't the corrupt deal; he was against being stiffed in the corrupt deal.

His quote was he wanted the money, quote, "tangible, upfront," close quote. He told someone who was his intermediary, quote, "Some of the stuff's got to start happening now; right now, we got to see it," close quote.

Just last week, he was saying this to someone to make sure that the money was going to be up front. And he said, quote, "You got to be careful how you express that, and assume everybody's listening. The whole world is listening. I would do it in person. I would not do it on the phone," close quote.

That's the governor of Illinois.

After an article appeared in the Tribune last week, indicating a belief that Mr. Blagojevich had been taped, then a message was sent for him to undo contact with the intermediary on that campaign contribution deal.

And, finally, we should also note that the governor talked about appointing himself to the Senate seat for reasons not having to do with the better welfare of the citizens of Illinois.

He wanted to do it to avoid impeachment in the Illinois legislature for his conduct. He wanted to do it to have access to greater financial resources, if he were indicted. He wanted to do it to see if he could help his wife work as a lobbyist. He wanted to do it to remake his image to run for office in 2016, and he wanted to do it to see if he could generate speaking fees.

At the end of the day, the conduct we have before us is appalling. What I do want to note is that, at the end of the day, it's very, very important that how we proceed from here be the right way to proceed.

We have a lot of information gained from a number of interviews and investigation over the years. We have a tremendous amount of information gained from the wiretap and the bugs that occurred over the last month and a half or so.

What we also know is that some of these schemes went pretty far and some did not go far at all. But they had discussions about what they would do, who they would approach and how they would phrase it.

And we need to do the investigation, now that the investigation is overt, to find out from other people what happened, what they were told, how explicitly, what they understood, and what happened.

That part of the investigation we intend to conduct responsibly. We hope people out there understand that this complaint only charges two individuals. These two individuals are presumed innocent. But we make no charges about any of the other people who are referenced in the complaint, most not by name.

And people should not cast aspersions on people who were discussed on wiretap or bug tapes, or conduct with other people, or scheming to figure out how to approach them for different things.

We hope you'll bear that in mind and not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed, or if you learn they're being interviewed.

The other part is that I think this is a moment of truth for Illinois. In all seriousness, we have times when people decry corruption, and yet here we have a situation where there to appear to be wide-ranging schemes where people are seeking to make people pay contributions to get contracts or appointments or do other stuff.

The FBI and their sister agencies at Postal, IRS and the Department of Labor have done a magnanimous -- magnificent job. They will continue to work very, very hard. But what we really need is cooperation from people who are not in law enforcement, the people outside who heard or saw things or were approached in ways that felt uncomfortable.

If they felt uncomfortable and they think this is not how you run a government, then they outright to come forward and give us that information. Very, very important that we get that information so we can make the right decisions about where to proceed from here.

I can tell you, we've been conducting interviews during the day, and we're already quite heartened to hear that there are a number of people out there who were appalled by this conduct who were willing to come forward and talk to us.

So I encourage people to talk to us. We encourage people to work with us, to let us get to the bottom of what has happened here. We remind people that there's a lot we don't know and need to know. We remind people that we -- there's an awful lot we do know, and we'll be able to verify what people tell us. But we ask that the press, in particular, recognize that we're not casting aspersions on people other than the two people we charged and bear that in mind and be responsible.

And with that, I'd like to turn the microphone over to Rob Grant, a special agent in charge. I want to thank the assistant U.S. attorneys who worked night and day in this case. (inaudible) especially want to thank the FBI agents who monitored the bug and wiretap and did all sorts of work over the last few months on top of the work they've done for years, and their partners at IRS, Postal and Labor.

Thanks.

Patrick J. Fitzgerald is the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.

Patrick Fitzgerald

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