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Excerpt: 'Only in Chicago'

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The following is excerpted from "Only in Chicago: How the Rod Blagojevich Scandal Engulfed Illinois and Enthralled the Nation" (Agate Midway, 2013).

It was two days before a historic election, [former Rod Blagojevich chief of staff John] Harris testified, when [then Senator] Obama's people called Harris. Harris was shopping with his kids at a Payless shoe store on November 2, 2008, when he got a call from Rahm Emanuel, who told Harris that Obama was interested in seeing a "close friend" of his appointed to his seat. Harris said he understood that friend to be Valerie Jarrett.

"[Emanuel] asked whether it would be helpful if Senator Obama called the governor to advocate for this individual," Harris testified of the phone call. "I said sure." The next day he spoke to Blagojevich about Emanuel conveying Barack Obama's interest in having Valerie Jarrett appointed to the Senate seat.

"Should I have Barack call Rod?" Harris said Rahm asked him. Harris said it would help, and he's heard laughing on tape as he relays this conversation to Blagojevich. "You may get a call from him or Dave," he goes on.

"Dave who?" Blagojevich says.

"Axelrod," Harris says. Harris is heard on tape explaining that he believes Obama is serious. "[Obama] wouldn't leave it to osmosis or the media. He very much cares about this. It's his definite desire for Valerie."

Blagojevich says, "We should get something for that. Could I? What about Health and Human Services, can I get that?" Harris testified that this was a reference to a cabinet appointment.

"What could I honestly think I might get a shot at getting?" Blagojevich asks.

"Well, besides good things for Illinois, good things for Illinois?" Harris says. In court, Harris said what's made clear in that conversation: "that [Blagojevich] was seeking something for himself as well."

Back on the tape, Blagojevich wonders what else might be available to him: "I mean, what other cabinet position would be not stupid?" he is heard asking. "UN ambassador?"

"Yeah, I don't think that's realistic or serious," Harris replies.

"Shit, that would be cool, huh?" Blagojevich says, laughing.

On the call, Blagojevich also explores appointing himself, describing it as the "ace in the hole." Then he brings up the Health and Human Service appointment by Obama. Harris urges Blagojevich not to shoot too high to start. Instead, he suggests, let the Obama camp make the first move.

"Let them feel like they're helping you," Harris says. "Let them come to you first."

"Let's go down the pecking order. What else is good?" Blagojevich asks. Harris says he thinks Obama would "do an ambassadorship."

Blagojevich replied, "OK. I'm interested. How about India? South Africa?... That's realistic?"

Harris explained his reasoning from the stand, saying, "An ambassadorship in some small country somewhere would pretty much sideline [Blagojevich] for the rest of his political life" and therefore might have been appealing to Obama.

On the tape, Blagojevich is clearly taken with the India idea.

"I'm the governor of a $58-billion corporation, why can't I be ambassador to India?" he asks.

"Canada? France?" Blagojevich goes on, floating ideas for other countries to which he might be appointed ambassador.

"All those are easier than India," Harris replies. But Blagojevich might face an uphill battle. "It's the Rezko issue," Harris is heard saying. "I think your qualifications are there. It's not about your qualifications."

Blagojevich later called Patti to float the idea of moving to India. They are heard discussing what she would feed her daughters and how congested the running paths would likely be in India.

Harris and Blagojevich are also heard discussing other alternatives for the seat -- including Bill Daley, the former U.S. commerce secretary and brother of Mayor Richard Daley, and Lisa Madigan.

However, Harris testified, those were basically decoys, not serious alternatives. Harris and Blagojevich at one point discuss leaking a potential Lisa Madigan appointment to Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed.

Harris explained from the stand, "Michael Sneed is a woman who writes a political gossip column for a local paper -- a page that a lot of politicians read before the sports." Hamilton asked, then, if Harris and Blagojevich were talking about leaking "false information" to Sneed.

"Yes," Harris replied.


Throughout Harris's testimony, jurors also heard how Blagojevich spent his days as governor. He passed much of his time at his home, ordering two state-paid workers to research future high-paying jobs for him. The secret recordings revealed that the plotting was constant. In one call, Blagojevich can be heard snapping at Patti [Blagojevich] on the phone as she's looking up salary information for him.

"You're just wasting fucking time. We're making it up. We're saying this is what I want...this is the deal."

Later on the tape, Blagojevich and Harris discuss a call Harris got from John Wyma relaying a message from the Obama camp.

This was significant because it showed that Wyma, a Blagojevich friend and lobbyist, had contact with both the Obama camp and Blagojevich at the same time he had been cooperating with federal officials.

"Rahm asked [Wyma] to deliver the message -- the president-elect would be very pleased if you appointed Valerie and he would be, uh, thankful and appreciative" for a Valerie Jarrett appointment, Harris tells Blagojevich on the recorded call.

"They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation-- fuck them," Blagojevich says. In the background, a children's TV show is heard playing, and a child is heard talking.

As the trial kept up its quick pace, each recording seemed to trump the next.

In one tape, Rob Blagojevich attempts to dispense a dose of sanity to his younger brother.

Rod suggests that he should appoint to the Senate his deputy governor, Louanner Peters, because she could then step aside be fore he would get impeached, leaving Rod himself to assume the Senate seat.

"Oh Jesus!" Rob can be heard saying.

"What's better," Blagojevich replies, "that or being impeached?"

"Neither one! Neither one! It's so transparent. What is the public going to think?...I don't like that option at all," Rob says forcefully.

In another tape, Blagojevich is heard floating yet another idea -- asking the president-elect to ask Warren Buffett or Bill Gates to throw $15 million into a healthcare-related charity account that Blagojevich could manage and live off. In exchange, of course, he'd appoint Jarrett to Obama's Senate seat.