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Blagojevich Trial: On Tape, Blago Says He Wants 'A Good Gig' For Seat


MICHAEL TARM and MIKE ROBINSON   06/23/10 11:16 PM ET   AP

CHICAGO — Days after the November 2008 election, Rod Blagojevich sent word to Barack Obama that he would name one of the president-elect's close friends to the Senate in exchange for a position in the Cabinet, the ousted governor's former chief of staff testified Wednesday.

After court adjourned Wednesday, Blagojevich's attorneys filed a motion asking to see the FBI's summaries of interviews agents conducted with Obama.

Jurors at Blagojevich's corruption trial heard a tape of the impeached governor telling aides that Valerie Jarrett, the person Obama wanted as his successor in the Senate, had been informed he would appoint her to the seat if he received the job.

"So she now knows she could be a senator if I get health and human services," Blagojevich is heard saying on a tape secretly made by the FBI.

The response from the Obama camp to the deal Blagojevich allegedly proposed was apparently puzzlement.

"They didn't know quite what to make of my request," Blagojevich says on another FBI tape. He says it was inevitable that "they would be squeamish" because a deal for the Senate seat that Obama was giving up was not what they had hoped for.

"Barack really wants to get away from Illinois politics," Blagojevich says on tape.

Blagojevich's attorneys said their motion was prompted by former chief of staff John Harris's testimony and tapes played in court, which they said "raise the issue of President Obama's direct knowledge and communication with emissaries and others regarding appointment to his Senate seat."

They said there would be no way to conduct a meaningful cross-examination of Harris without seeing the FBI's summaries of the Obama interview.

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he schemed to get a large payoff, a high-paying job after he left office or a big campaign contribution in exchange for the Senate seat. He has also pleaded not guilty to conspiring to launch a racketeering scheme using the powers of the governor's office.

His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell or trade the Senate seat and conspiring to put illegal pressure on a potential campaign donor, a racetrack owner who was hoping Blagojevich would sign beneficial legislation.

Harris has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge involving the Senate seat and has agreed to testify for the government in return for a lenient sentence.

Blagojevich never ultimately made a deal involving the Senate seat, and no one in the White House has been accused of wrongdoing in the case. Jarrett withdrew her name from consideration and is now a White House adviser. About a month after the tapes were made, FBI agents arrested Blagojevich.

He ended up appointing former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the seat.

Blagojevich's alleged efforts at negotiation were conducted through Tom Balanoff, an official of the Service Employees International Union.

Harris testified that he came up with the idea of making another kind of trade with the incoming Obama administration. Under this plan, Blagojevich would appoint Jarrett to the Senate seat and the union, eager to score points with Obama, would name the outgoing governor to a high-paying position with Change to Win – an organization sponsored by the service employees and a number of other unions.

At one point, Harris testified, Blagojevich asked whether, if he got such a job, he could also supplement his salary from the union group by serving on corporate boards.

Harris said Blagojevich's hunt for a job was prompted by worries about his family's economic future and "anxiety about life after governor."

In one tape, Washington-based consultant Fred Yang says Blagojevich might be able to get some other federal job, adding there are a number of them that "don't require Senate approval and pay pretty good."

"Why would I want to do that?" Blagojevich asks on the tape.

Yang says it would be "something the president could do for you that would pay a lot of money."

"How much money?" Blagojevich asks.

The strain on Blagojevich as he fishes for a top job apparently spills into his relationship with his wife, Patti. In one phone conversation played in court, their chat about a possible job with Change to Win descends into a profanity-laced shouting match after Rod Blagojevich tells Patti to stop searching the Internet for information about the group.

"It doesn't mean a (expletive) thing," he yells.

"I tried to be helpful, and you jump down my (expletive) throat," she shoots back.

Seconds later, in a calmer but serious voice, Blagojevich adds, "I've gotta stop swearing."


Filed by Will Guzzardi  |