I'm a Pundit Too

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Culture Of Corruption In Illinois Politics

President –elect Barack Obama’s magical victory tour through the transition process was sidetracked this week by the arrest of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on charges of corruption. Blagojevich is accused of attempting to sell the now vacant Senate seat of the President-elect. He was caught on tape by FBI wiretaps discussing the potential for his personal and political profit off of the appointment of Obama’s replacement. The U.S. Attorney that is prosecuting this case is Patrick Fitzgerald, the same Patrick Fitzgerald of Scooter Libby fame.

Fitzgerald, you may recall, investigated the Valeria Plame leak and found that Richard Armitage was the original source of the leak. Fitzgerald learned it was Armitage during the first few weeks of the investigation and continued to investigate until Libby was charged 2 years later with a process crime. Now that Fitzgerald is on the case of corruption in the Governor’s mansion, how far will he take the investigation? The complaint documents against Blagojevich mention convicted “slum lord” Tony Rezko more than 100 times. Rezko is rumored to be talking to Fitzgerald in order to shorten his prison sentence. Rezko was very well connected within Chicago politics and the heat is now on anyone who may have had dealings with the convicted felon.

Obviously, President-elect Obama was asked what he knew about the scandal and his statements of shock, outrage, and innocence were to be expected. What was unexpected was his declaration that he had not spoken to the Governor concerning his replacement. On November 5, the day after Obama’s election victory, a Chicago news station reported that Obama’s first order of business was to meet with the Governor to discuss his replacement in the Senate. The news station is now claiming on their website that they have not verified that the meeting ever took place. Then on November 23 David Axelrod, Obama’s chief advisor, stated that he “knew” that Obama and the Governor had spoke to discuss the vacant Senate seat. After Blagojevich was arrested, Axelrod quickly claimed that he misspoke. The Huffington Post has a long article that has chronicled the news events related to the appointment of a replacement for Obama in the Senate. Several times over the past month, there have been reports of Obama advisors talking to Blagojevich about the Senate seat. I do not believe that Obama would be stupid enough to discuss any type of payment for an appointment to his Senate seat, but why did he so unequivocally state that neither he nor any of his staff had any idea of the scandal before the arrest?

This investigation will not be over quickly and it will include some very high profile names. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who aggressively campaigned for the Senate appointment, has been named as candidate #5. Although, he has said that the prosecutors have told him that he is not the focus of the investigation, the pressure is on him because the Governor is on tape saying that he is certain that he could get at least $500,000 if he appointed candidate #5. Another interesting point is that the Congressman’s father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, has retained legal counsel. Now I can’t help but wonder why would the elder Jackson hire legal counsel; especially when he is not mentioned anywhere in the complaint or the media coverage since the Governor’s arrest? There are only a few certainties in the eventual outcome of this investigation. The first being that Blagojevich will not be the Governor for much longer, it won’t matter if he is ever convicted of any of the crimes for which he is charged. The second certainty is that Fitzgerald has the most secure job in the world right now. There is no possible way that Fitzgerald could ever be fired. Incoming Presidents have in the past fired many of the U.S. Attorneys from the previous administration. Clinton fired all of them the first week, Bush fired a handful after the 2004 election, but there is no possible way that Obama can even consider firing Patrick Fitzgerald until well after the investigation is over.

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