A spellbinding soundtrack of Chicago-style politicking is getting its world premiere as jurors at the trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich hear FBI tapes in which Mr. Blagojevich grows increasingly frustrated over efforts to make a deal for the Senate seat Barack Obama vacated after being elected president.
Revelations of Mr. Blagojevich’s colorful management style, profane rhetoric and sense of entitlement have been emerging daily as the trial unfolds in a Chicago courtroom.
At one point, Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, complained that the Obama White House “is not willing to give me anything but appreciation” in exchange for offering the Senate seat to Chicago businesswoman Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of the president and first lady Michelle Obama.
In the tapes, secretly recorded just days after Mr. Obama won the November 2008 election, Mr. Blagojevich is heard responding to his chief of staff, John Harris, informing him that an Obama envoy offered only thanks and appreciation in exchange for the potential selection of Ms. Jarrett.
Mr. Blagojevich faces 24 charges in connection with racketeering and scheming to sell the seat. The tapes suggest in excruciating detail how he hoped for a Cabinet post or a high-paying job in the private sector in exchange for naming Ms. Jarrett as interim senator.
• AP INTERACTIVE: Blagojevich trial
An internal White House investigation acknowledged there were contacts between Mr. Blagojevich and Obama aides about possible candidates to fill the seat, but said Mr. Obama had no knowledge of Mr. Blagojevich’s quest for a political payoff in exchange for picking a particular candidate.
But the trial, which concluded its fourth day Thursday, has been a running embarrassment for Illinois Democrats and a political irritant for the White House. Mr. Blagojevich eventually offered the seat to former state Attorney General Roland W. Burris, who is not running for a full term in November.
Harris took the witness stand as jurors heard him on tape urging Mr. Blagojevich to appoint Ms. Jarrett, saying that having the president as an ally was “not a bad thing,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Harris also testified Wednesday that he was under the impression that Mr. Obama himself was aware of the discussions regarding Ms. Jarrett.
On Thursday, Harris in a taped call is heard telling the governor that Rahm Emanuel, soon to be named Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, had called with a list of four acceptable candidates for the Senate post: Illinois Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky, Illinois state Comptroller Dan Hynes and injured Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth.
Mr. Blagojevich indicated at one point he wanted more than gratitude, saying a life of public service had made his wife and children financially “vulnerable.”
“How in the hell am I going to send my kid to college?” Mr. Blagojevich is heard asking Harris.
However, Mr. Blagojevich saw his seeming plan to profit from appointing Ms. Jarrett unravel unexpectedly as new reports surfaced that she would join the Obama White House.
In another tape aired Thursday, Mr. Blagojevich mused about asking the president-elect to solicit a job for him from billionaires Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. The governor’s idea was apparently for the billionaires to fund a health-related charity or foundation that Mr. Blagojevich could oversee for a healthy salary.
“This is one of those things where you’re the president-elect of the United States. His people, they go get the money,” Mr. Blagojevich explains.
Harris also testified that he and the governor mused about Mr. Emanuel personally wanting Ms. Jarrett to take the seat because he didn’t want her working in the White House.
Mr. Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to the charges that he schemed to sell the Senate seat for personal gain. He also has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to launch a racketeering scheme using the powers of the governor’s office.
If convicted, Mr. Blagojevich could face up to $6 million in fines and 415 years in prison, though he will likely get much less under federal sentencing guidelines.
His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the purported scheme to sell or trade the seat and conspiring to put illegal pressure on a potential campaign donor, a racetrack owner who was hoping Mr. Blagojevich would sign legislation benefiting his business.
Defense attorneys Thursday attempted to delay the trial so they could study a Supreme Court ruling that they said could affect the case against their client. The high court ruling cast doubt on what is called the “honest services” law - the basis for some of the charges facing Mr. Blagojevich.
In the opinion issued Thursday, the justices were unanimous in imposing limits on the use of the law, which had been described by critics as so vague that a federal prosecutor could label all sorts of activities criminal.
However, U.S. District Judge James Zagel rejected the request and allowed the trial to proceed. The judge said he had read the opinion on the law, adding that it “may not offer a lot of hope for you.”
Federal prosecutors also brought charges not based on the “honest services” statute in anticipation of the ruling.
- This article is based in part on wire service reports.