On the day before Barack Obama was elected president, Gov. Rod Blagojevich was recorded on profanity-laced government surveillance tapes sounding like it was he who was about to hit the jackpot.
An Obama election would leave Illinois with a vacant U.S. Senate seat that Blagojevich had sole authority to fill. As federal agents secretly listened in, the governor told an aide that the Senate seat was "a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing."Over the days that followed, Blagojevich, top aides and on occasion his wife, Patricia, hashed over an array of schemes for the governor to squeeze financial, political and legal gain out of the selection of a new senator, according to a government affidavit filed Tuesday along with a criminal complaint against Blagojevich.
They talked about swapping the Senate pick for an ambassadorship or Cabinet post for Blagojevich, or even perhaps Obama's help landing lucrative lobbying and corporate board work for Patricia Blagojevich or highly paid positions with not-for-profits for the governor, the affidavit alleged.
Blagojevich also allegedly floated the idea of getting Obama to lean on billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to bankroll a private foundation for him to run or leaning on the politically active Service Employees International Union to install Blagojevich in a high-paying job with an affiliate. Blagojevich also allegedly suggested he might secure a "high-ranking position" with the Red Cross if Obama could be persuaded to intervene.
Blagojevich even allegedly weighed the notion of installing himself as senator, reasoning that he could avoid impeachment by the Illinois legislature and remake his tattered image in time for a possible 2016 presidential run.
At one point, the affidavit declared, Blagojevich likened himself to a sports agent shopping a star free agent to various teams. Obama was believed to favor his friend Valerie Jarrett as a replacement, but Blagojevich allegedly told an aide that he would ask the president-elect, "How much are you offering?"
The Senate post has yet to be filled.
There is no suggestion in the government filing that Obama had any knowledge of Blagojevich's alleged plans, and the president-elect declared emphatically that he did not.
"I have not discussed the Senate seat with the governor at any time," Obama said in an interview with the Tribune.
Obama said the ongoing criminal investigation into Blagojevich made it inappropriate for him to respond to a question about whether any of the incoming president's aides had spoken of the Senate pick with Blagojevich or his chief of staff, John Harris, who is charged along with the governor.
David Axelrod, Obama's senior adviser, told an interviewer last month that Obama and Blagojevich had spoken about the Senate vacancy. But Axelrod issued a statement Tuesday saying he had been in error.
Blagojevich and Obama have never been close, and Blagojevich is quoted in the affidavit as frequently speaking of the president-elect with profanity and scorn. But there is an overlap among some of their top political confidants.
Axelrod ran Blagojevich's successful 1996 campaign for a Northwest Side U.S. House seat, though the two later had a falling-out. When Blagojevich was elected governor in 2002, his replacement in Congress was Rahm Emanuel, now Obama's designee as chief of staff. Emanuel and Blagojevich have since worked closely on several initiatives.
Beginning in October, the affidavit said, government agents tapped Blagojevich's phone at his Ravenswood Manor neighborhood home and placed bugs in his nearby political office. They allegedly recorded the governor and others discussing ways to "monetize" his tenure in office.
"I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing," Blagojevich allegedly said the day after the election in a discussion about the Senate appointment.
On Nov. 12, Blagojevich allegedly laid out his three criteria for filling the Senate seat: "Our legal situation, our personal situation, my political situation (this sentence as published has been corrected in this text)."
Over a series of weeks, Blagojevich was allegedly recorded discussing at least six possible picks for the Senate. They are not named in the affidavit but rather identified by number. Sources have confirmed that Jarrett is the "Senate Candidate 1" referred to by prosecutors.
On Nov. 6, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich allegedly told his spokesman to leak an item to the Sun-Times touting a person referred to in the affidavit as "Senate Candidate 2" as an alternative to Jarrett in order to "send a message to the [president-elect's] people." The next day, columnist Michael Sneed wrote that Blagojevich was considering Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, a political rival of the governor's, for the Senate.
A spokeswoman for Madigan said she has no interest in the Senate seat and has never discussed it with Blagojevich or any of his associates.
On the day Sneed's column appeared, prosecutors said, Blagojevich spoke with Harris and an unnamed Washington-based consultant about floating a trade of appointing Jarrett in exchange for the governor being named secretary of health and human services. A few days later, Blagojevich allegedly expressed frustration with the Obama camp. "They're not willing to give me anything except appreciation, [expletive] them," Blagojevich was recorded as saying.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has been the most aggressive in promoting himself as a contender for the Senate seat. As recently as Monday, Jackson met with Blagojevich to discuss the Senate post. Last week, Jackson told the Tribune that he had recently reached out to Blagojevich confidant John Wyma as well as the governor's patronage chief, Victor Roberson, to discuss the Senate job. The Tribune reported last week that Wyma has been cooperating with the federal corruption probe of Blagojevich.
Jackson did not respond to requests for an interview Tuesday, and his spokesman did not directly address questions about whether the congressman offered to raise campaign money for Blagojevich in exchange for appointment to the Senate seat. His office, however, did release a statement in which he denied any wrongdoing and vowed to aid the federal probe.
The government affidavit refers to a "Senate Candidate 5" whose identity could not be confirmed. The candidate is described as someone who publicly is known to be seeking appointment to the Senate.
On Oct. 31, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich described an approach by an associate of Senate Candidate 5. "We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know, he'd raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made [Senate Candidate 5] a senator," Blagojevich allegedly said.
Last week, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich told an adviser that he was giving greater consideration to Senate Candidate 5 because that person could raise money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election and perhaps kick in "some [money] upfront" as well. And Blagojevich was recorded as saying that he was going to meet with Senate Candidate 5 in the next few days, the affidavit said.
Blagojevich allegedly told one of his fundraisers to pass a message to someone identified in the affidavit only as Individual D whom Blagojevich believed to be close to Senate Candidate 5: If Candidate 5 was to land the Senate seat, "some of this stuff's gotta start happening now ... right now ... and we gotta see it. You understand?"
Emanuel, the confidant of both Blagojevich and Obama, is not mentioned by name in the government complaint. But the document refers to a "president-elect adviser" concerned about the conduct of a special election for a new congressman in his 5th District.
The complaint outlines discussions among Blagojevich, Harris and others to influence the adviser to support a scheme to install the governor as the well-paid head of a non-profit organization. When "he asks me for the 5th [Congressional District] thing, I want it to be in his head," Blagojevich allegedly said.
Emanuel did not respond to requests for comment.