- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s corruption drama took several new twists Wednesday as the prosecutor who ordered the governor’s arrest last month requested extra time to secure a formal indictment while a Democratic congressman divulged that he rebuffed an offer last week to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat at the heart of the criminal case.

Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, asked a judge to give prosecutors until April 7 to bring an indictment against Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat.

A hearing to consider the request is scheduled for Monday in a federal court in Chicago. If the unusual request is not granted, Mr. Fitzgerald would have to indict Mr. Blagojevich by Jan. 7, suggesting that the government is having trouble getting together an indictment-worthy case in time.

“The government has been conducting a diligent and thorough investigation in this case,” Mr. Fitzgerald wrote in a motion seeking the extension. “But the investigation includes multiple defendants and potential defendants as well as thousands of intercepted phone calls, and additional factors warranting an extension of time exist.”

He also wrote that investigators must interview new witnesses who have come forward and that the holiday season has limited the availability of a grand jury to hear evidence.

Also Wednesday, Rep. Danny K. Davis, Illinois Democrat, told The Washington Times that Mr. Blagojevich offered him through an emissary last week the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama.

“I told them the climate was such that I wouldn’t be comfortable accepting the appointment,” he said.

In a startling move Tuesday, Mr. Blagojevich appointed former state Attorney General Roland Burris to fill the vacant seat, a move that Secretary of State Jesse White refused to certify. The appointment dismayed critics and left questions about whether Congress would refuse to seat Mr. Burris, as Democratic leaders had threatened.

On Wednesday, Mr. Burris asked the Illinois Supreme Court to force the secretary of state to certify his appointment — normally a mere formality with gubernatorial appointments, but a move Mr. White must legally make and which he said Tuesday he will not.

An attorney for Mr. Burris told the Associated Press that paperwork was filed Wednesday with the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield. Dave Druker, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, told the wire service that he had not reviewed the filing but said Mr. White’s agency is acting legally.

Mr. Blagojevich was arrested in December on charges of conspiring to commit theft of honest services as well seeking the firings of opinion writers at the Chicago Tribune in exchange for financial assistance from the state.

The most sensational accusation against Mr. Blagojevich is that he sought to sell the Senate seat left vacant by Mr. Obama.

Corruption cases typically are brought after a grand jury, which hears evidence from prosecutors, decides there is “probable cause” to believe a defendant committed a crime. Persuading a jury to find “probable cause” and deliver an indictment is usually not difficult for prosecutors.

In the case of Mr. Blagojevich, authorities used a lower standard, charging the men through criminal complaints, which require only that an investigator make a sworn complaint to a judge. But a criminal complaint also requires authorities to deliver an indictment within 30 days in order for the case to proceed.

Without an extension, prosecutors would have until Jan. 7. to deliver indictments against Mr. Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, who had a complaint filed against him the same day.

Two white-collar defense lawyers not involved in the case called Mr. Fitzgerald’s request for more time unusual.

“It’s a sign to me that the government really did proceed precipitously well before they had their case in order,” lawyer Barry Pollack said. “It suggests a level of uncertainty in their case that is unusual.”

But given the public scrutiny the case has received, Mr. Pollack said, Mr. Fitzgerald likely will seek to indict only on charges that he feels certain he can prove.

Lawyer Robert Kelner noted that Mr. Fitzgerald acknowledged the prosecution moved quickly against Mr. Blagojevich because authorities wanted to stop what they considered ongoing criminal activity, such as seeking to sell the Senate seat.

“You can argue that he should not have arrested Blagojevich if he was not prepared to indict him, but the law allows him to proceed the way he did,” Mr. Kelner said. “If I was Blagojevich, I wouldn’t take any particular comfort from the fact that Fitzgerald is proceeding slowly and cautiously.”