The predawn rousting of Gov. Rod Blagojevich from his Ravenswood Manor home Tuesday marked a stunning climax to a tale of alleged public corruption unmatched in Illinois' storied history of elected scoundrels and thrust the state into an unprecedented political crisis.
Illinoisans awoke to news that their governor had been arrested, handcuffed and hauled before a federal magistrate on sweeping charges he conspired to sell his office many times over--including putting a price on the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
Abraham] Lincoln roll over in his grave."
The well-coiffed governor, sporting a turtleneck beneath a blue Nike track suit and running shoes, was released on his own recognizance and walked out not only free, but still empowered to make an appointment to the Senate seat federal prosecutors say he tried to corrupt.
"They're doing well. He's sad, surprised and innocent," Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky told reporters outside Blagojevich's home Tuesday night.
Throughout the day, the halls of state government in Springfield and Chicago were humming with calls for his resignation or impeachmentand lawmakers planned an emergency session to schedule a special election and to strip the governor of his sole authority to fill the Senate post.
Even for a public with a jaded view of Illinois politics, the arrest of a sitting governor on such audacious charges left many questioning who was in charge of a dysfunctional state government. State workers in the 16-story Thompson Center huddled around television sets to watch Fitzgerald detail the charges against Blagojevich.
A city that little more than a month ago shook off the reputation of machine clout and celebrated one of its own winning the pinnacle of American politics now finds itself struggling to understand how its two-term Democratic governor had been accused of taking public service to a new low.
"If it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor," said Robert Grant, special agent in charge of Chicago's FBI office. "Even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked."
Most shocking are the details that emerged Tuesday in a 76-page arrest affidavit--mostly in the governor's own secretly recorded and profane words--that authorities say laid bare his most tightly held and incriminating conversations.
Blagojevich, who turns 52 Wednesday, was elected twice on vows to reform the culture of corruption that engulfed his predecessor, Republican George Ryan. But after years of well-publicized federal corruption investigations that touched almost every aspect of his administration, in the end it was 45 days of wiretaps that spurred authorities to act swiftly.
The governor and his chief of staff, John Harris, were simultaneously charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and solicitation to commit bribery as part of what officials say was a wide-ranging scheme to shakedown campaign donors and politicians for high-paying posts and millions of dollars in campaign contributions.
Allegedly for sale: state jobs, state contracts and regulatory favors. In one surreal development, prosecutors said Blagojevich even tried to get critical editorial writers from the Chicago Tribune fired in exchange for helping parent Tribune Co. with a state plan to finance the purchase of Wrigley Field.
"At the end of the day, the conduct we have before us is appalling," said Fitzgerald, showing little of his characteristic restraint in detailing the government's charges.
The charge Fitzgerald said represented Blagojevich's "most cynical behavior" was the governor's effort to sell the Senate seat.
The affidavit quoted the governor on a telephone call the day before Obama won his historic presidential victory talking about driving a "hard bargain." Blagojevich called the Senate seat "a [expletive] valuable thing. You just don't give it away for nothing."
"I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden and uh, uh, I'm not just giving it up for [expletive] nothing," he said two days later, according to the affidavit.
Among the prizes Blagojevich envisioned were a position in Obama's Cabinet, an ambassadorship, a $300,000 job with a union-backed group--even a highly paid position for his wife, Patricia.
In one recording, the governor expresses frustration at his inability to have his offers considered and refers to Obama in extremely crude language: "[Expletive] him. For nothing? [Expletive] him."
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrested on federal charges
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