Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich had no qualms about selling the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama; he just wanted to get a good price for it, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Tuesday.
The seat is a “valuable thing. You just don’t give it away for nothing,” Mr. Blagojevich is quoted as saying on wiretap transcripts. If contenders for the seat “are not going to offer anything of value,” he continued, he “might just take it” for himself.
Mr. Blagojevich, 51, and his chief of staff, 46-year-old John Harris, were arrested Tuesday morning on federal corruption charges that included seeking bribes in exchange for an appointment to the vacant Senate seat.
Other charges accused the governor of trying to get the Chicago Tribune to fire opinion writers in exchange for state funding for the Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs. Authorities also accused the two men of fostering a pay-for-play system, in which state jobs and contracts were won by filling Mr. Blagojevich’s campaign coffers.
Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, said he woke the governor with a 6 a.m. phone call informing him of a warrant for his arrest and told him that two agents were at his front door. The governor asked whether it was a joke, Mr. Grant said.
Mr. Blagojevich was released after a brief court appearance Tuesday afternoon. He is scheduled to return to court Jan. 14.
The governor’s attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, insisted Tuesday that Mr. Blagojevich would not resign, adding: “He didn’t do anything wrong. A lot of this is just politics.”
His office released a statement saying the “allegations do nothing to impact the services, duties or function of the state.”
“Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political-corruption crime spree,” U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said during a late-morning news conference. “We acted to stop that crime spree.”
A federal prosecutor called Mr. Blagojevich’s eagerness to sell the seat the most “appalling” of the federal corruption charges leveled Tuesday against the Democratic governor and his top aide.
According to the affidavit prepared by FBI Agent Daniel W. Cain, the bureau began investigating Mr. Blagojevich in 2003, the year he took office from disgraced former Gov. George Ryan, who is serving a six-year prison sentence on a federal corruption conviction.
The investigation already has won convictions against people close to Mr. Blagojevich’s administration, including Tony Rezko, a convicted real estate developer who was Mr. Blagojevich’s principal fundraiser and also raised money for Mr. Obama. Rezko was and is now cooperating with federal authorities in the hopes of receiving a lesser sentence, according to court records.
Despite the connection with Rezko and the vacant Senate seat, federal authorities made clear Tuesday there are no allegations against Mr. Obama.
“There’s no reference in the complaint to any conversations involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it,” Mr. Fitzgerald said during a news conference.
According to the affidavit, Mr. Blagojevich called the opportunity “golden” and began scheming before election day. He said he was hurting financially and “the immediate challenge is how to take some of the financial pressure off our family.”