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Blagojevich Book Says Rahm Wanted "Placeholder"

DEANNA BELLANDI   08/31/09 07:09 PM ET   AP

Blagojevich Book

CHICAGO — Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says in a new book that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel wanted his help in arranging to leave the Obama administration after two years to reclaim his seat in Congress.

Blagojevich writes in "The Governor" that Emanuel spoke with him about whether it was possible to appoint a "placeholder" to the congressional seat Emanuel was giving up so that he could win back the seat in 2010 and continue his efforts to become speaker some day.

"As we have done for many months, we will continue to decline comment," Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said in an e-mail Monday.

Blagojevich also admits that he wanted something in exchange for appointing President Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate, but it wasn't the deal described in federal corruption charges against him.

The Chicago Democrat says that the night before his arrest in December, he had launched a plan to appoint Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat because he hoped to cut a deal on pet projects with her father, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

That plan was ruined by his arrest. Blagojevich writes that he eventually appointed Roland Burris, in part because of Burris' famously big ego. No one else but Burris would accept the appointment and fight to be seated under the circumstances, Blagojevich says.

Burris' office declined to comment.

The ex-governor's 264-page book, published by Phoenix, comes out Sept. 8. It offers a benign picture of events surrounding Blagojevich's arrest in a corruption scandal that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said would make Abraham Lincoln "roll over in his grave."

The scandal cost Blagojevich his job when lawmakers impeached and threw him out of office in January. The once-rising political star is scheduled to stand trial next year. Blagojevich, who has pleaded not guilty, repeatedly asserts his innocence in the book.

He says his discussions about Obama's possible successors amounted to "ordinary and routine politicking."

But federal authorities cast it in a much different light, alleging Blagojevich was caught on FBI wiretaps discussing what he could get in exchange for the seat, from jobs to campaign contributions.

Blagojevich says that story is "upside down" and that he never asked for, or raised the subject of, campaign contributions in exchange for the Senate seat.

Others approached his administration with offers of campaign money, he says in "The Governor" without naming names. "If anyone should have been charged with a crime for this, it should have been them and not me," he writes.

When Blagojevich talked to Emanuel after the election about the Senate pick, Obama's right-hand man "did not lobby for anyone in particular," according to the book.

Blagojevich says Emanuel was interested in his own career because he had to give up his congressional seat to work in Obama's White House. Blagojevich writes that Emanuel dreamed of being speaker of the U.S. House and wanted to know if Blagojevich would work with him to name a successor to "hold" his seat until he wanted it back.

Blagojevich says he told Emanuel he didn't think he could do that and the House vacancy would have to be filled by special election. But Emanuel reportedly told him "his lawyers thought there was a way."

Blagojevich writes that he struggled with the idea of appointing Lisa Madigan to the Senate. The prospect "repulsed" him because of bad blood with her father.

But in the end, Blagojevich saw it as a way to entice Michael Madigan to support legislation he wanted, including a long-stalled statewide construction program that he said would create jobs and expand health care access for families.

Blagojevich says he told his chief of staff, John Harris, to begin working on a deal to appoint Lisa Madigan. The deal was halted when both Blagojevich and Harris were arrested the next day, Dec. 9, 2008.

"Mr. Fitzgerald didn't stop a crime spree. He stopped me from doing a lot of good for a lot of people," Blagojevich writes.

Harris has since agreed to testify against Blagojevich after pleading guilty and admitting that he repeatedly talked to the then-governor about ways he could profit from his authority to appoint Obama's successor.

It's unclear if the Madigans were aware of Blagojevich's intentions. Lisa Madigan said last November she thought there was a "less than zero" chance Blagojevich would appoint her.

Madigan's spokeswomen, Robyn Ziegler, said the attorney general hasn't read the book and doesn't intend to.

Madigan was widely seen as a potent challenge to Blagojevich if he ran for a third term in 2010. After he was arrested, Blagojevich writes, he was a "political leper."

He decided to fill the Senate vacancy by appointing Burris, the former state comptroller and attorney general and the first black man to hold a major statewide office in Illinois. Blagojevich said Burris was qualified and had the self-confidence to accept the appointment despite the scandal.

"It was that self-esteem that I was counting on to be able to withstand the storm of protest that was inevitably going to come," he said.

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Filed by Julian Hattem  |