Tapes Reveal Thanks From White House Not Enough For Blagojevich
UPDATED 05/04/11 7:19 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — When Rod Blagojevich learned in late 2008 that all he would get from the Obama administration was thanks and appreciation for appointing a friend President-elect Barack Obama to the U.S. Senate, he had two simple words for the White House: “F*** them.” CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov has more on the tapes recorded of the former governor.
Former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris was on the stand for a second day on Wednesday when he told jurors at Blagojevich’s retrial that on Nov. 11, 2008, he got a call from Washington, D.C., lobbyist John Wyma with a message from the Obama administration.
“He wanted to relay a message to me to relay to the governor,” Harris said. “That the president-elect would be thankful and appreciative if the governor would appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.”
Jarrett, a close friend and adviser to Obama, was a key member of his transition team and wanted to take his place in the Senate.
Minutes after Harris told jurors about the phone call from Wyma, jurors hear Blagojevich’s reaction to the news in a secretly recorded phone call with Harris the next day.
“They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation? F*** them,” Blagojevich said.
A day later, Jarrett pulled out of contention for the Senate seat to take a job at the White House.
She was a key figure in Blagojevich’s alleged schemes to trade or sell the Senate appointment for campaign cash, a Cabinet position or other high-paying job.
For two days, Harris has been helping prosecutors make their case on the Senate seat allegations. Harris was arrested on the same day as Blagojevich on Dec. 9, 2008 and has been cooperating with the federal investigation in exchange for a plea deal.
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Harris has told jurors about a number of discussions he and Blagojevich had about possible candidates for the Senate seat in the days just before and just after the 2008 election.
Blagojevich and his advisers had been told through intermediaries that Obama wanted Jarrett assigned to the seat. The governor thought he could use that as leverage to get himself a Cabinet position or an ambassadorship with the Obama administration, or perhaps get Obama’s help securing a top job at a major charitable foundation.
Harris testified that Blagojevich clearly wanted to get out of Illinois and join Obama in Washington, D.C.
In a secretly recorded phone call, Blagojevich told Harris that he felt depressed on the night he was re-elected in 2006, because he knew he wouldn’t be able to get much of his agenda accomplished, with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, a political rival, blocking his every move.
“It was a joyless election night. It’s good to get reaffirmed by the people, that means a lot to me, and I, and so, that cuts into the depression, but I was like, you know, it was like, almost like Nixon after he was re-elected, f***ing angry the next day,” Blagojevich said. I was kind of getting stuck into this four thing, four-year deal. And I know it’s gonna be f***ing, getting, just screwed by Madigan.”
“I’d like to get the f*** out of here,” Blagojevich said in another conversation.
Harris also testified Wednesday about a conversation that he and then-deputy governor Bob Greenlee had with Blagojevich on the day after the 2008 election. In that conversation, Blagojevich asked Greenlee to research various charitable and advocacy groups that he might be able to run.
“The pay on these things is very good,” Greenlee told Blagojevich.
But later, after doing some research at Blagojevich’s request, Greenlee told Harris that it was unlikely the governor could get that kind of job.
“He believed that these private foundations were unlikely to be achievable for the governor to head these organizations because they tended to be endowed by family trusts” Harris testified. “And that members of the family headed up these organizations.”
So Harris came up with an idea of his own. He suggested the governor could push for a top job at the “Change To Win” campaign, a political action committee founded by labor unions. Harris told the governor that labor leaders with ties to Obama might be willing to let him run “Change To Win” if he named Jarrett to the seat, as labor leader Tom Balanoff was also pushing for Jarrett.
Blagojevich and Harris also pitched the idea to political consultant and pollster Fred Yang, who endorsed the plan, comparing it to a three-way baseball trade.
Harris and Yang said that Blagojevich could get what he wanted, a high paying job; Obama could get what he wanted, Jarrett in the Senate; and the unions could gain favor with Obama for brokering the deal, while also providing Obama with a “buffer” between himself and Blagojevich.
Prosecution Pokes Holes In Blagojevich Defense
Federal prosecutors have been making a concerted effort to shoot down Blagojevich’s defense that all of his talks about the Senate seat were aimed at ultimately appointing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate to make a political deal with her father, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Harris told the jury that Blagojevich’s talk about appointing Madigan was nothing more than an attempt to gain leverage with Obama while Jarrett was still being considered for the seat.
Blagojevich believed he could convince Obama that he was thinking of appointing Lisa Madigan in an effort to convince her father, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, to stop blocking the governor’s legislative agenda in Springfield.
Speaker Madigan and Blagojevich had been locking horns for years and the speaker was stopping virtually every initiative the governor tried to push through the General Assembly.
But Harris has testified that Blagojevich never spoke to either Madigan about appointing Lisa to the Senate.
“No one had approached Lisa Madigan or Speaker Madigan. There were no steps in that direction,” Harris testified.
Blagojevich Didn’t Want To Be Governor Anymore
At the same time Blagojevich was talking about what he could get from the Obama administration, he was telling his advisers how much he wanted to get out of Illinois.
In one conversation with Harris, Blagojevich lamented that Obama’s election hurt his chances of moving up the political ladder.
“Obama and the circumstances have now put a bit of ceiling on me, at least for now. Maybe forever, probably forever,” Blagojevich said. “I mean where am I goin’? And be governor endlessly a governor? What else can you do? Senator, okay. Uh, Obama’s job, but again that’s spoken for. … Mayor of Chicago? What, what else would you wanna do if you’ve been governor of Illinois, right?”
Harris said Blagojevich had already told his closest advisers that he was not going to run for a second term. And, frequently in his talks about the Senate seat, he was heard angling for a job in Washington, D.C.
But one of his problems was that his ties to convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko had made him politically toxic.
Harris and Yang told him that many of the Cabinet positions or other federal government jobs he wanted to ask Obama for would have required Senate confirmation and that Republicans would likely hold up any such confirmation.
“Obama can even ask them behind the scenes to hold it,” Harris added. “Double, double cross us.”
Blagojevich Calls Jesse Jackson Jr. ‘A Bad Guy’
Jurors also heard Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s name mentioned for the first time on Wednesday.
As Blagojevich, Harris and Yang were discussing possible options for a Senate seat deal, Yang told Blagojevich “Actually I think the only option you should not contemplate is Jesse Jackson, Jr. as a United States senator.
“I don’t think he deserves to be in the United States Senate, number one. And I don’t think he could hold the Senate seat, number two,” Yang said.
Blagojevich added, “Not to mention number three, he’s a bad guy.”
“He’s really not the guy, I hoped or thought he was, he’s really bad,” the governor added.
The governor and Jackson had a falling out during Blagojevich’s first run for governor in 2002, when Jackson reportedly went back on a promise to endorse Blagojevich and, instead, endorsed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris in the 2002 Democratic primary.
Jackson’s name has figured prominently in the Blagojevich case.
Prosecutors contend that one of Jackson’s chief fundraisers offered to raise $1.5 million for Blagojevich’s campaign fund if Blagojevich appointed Jackson to the Senate. Jackson has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors also have alleged that Blagojevich later tried to use a possible Jackson appointment to the Senate as leverage with the Obama administration, believing Obama did not want Jackson appointed to the seat and would be willing to make a deal to avoid that.
Wednesday afternoon, jurors heard Blagojevich talking to Harris about leaking to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed “that Jesse Jr.’s star is rising.”
But Harris testified that Blagojevich never seriously considered appointing Jackson.
In another tape, Blagojevich is heard saying that appointing Jackson is “a repugnant thought to me. I can’t believe anything he says.”
“I don’t believe him, I don’t trust him. I used to like him, I don’t like him anymore, you know, he’s… I think he’s a bad guy,” Blagojevich added.
Tapes Reveal Blagojevich Family Spat
Wednesday’s tapes also offered a glimpse into Rod and Patti Blagojevich’s personal life, as they were discussing Harris’ idea that the governor could ask for a top job at “Change To Win.”
After Blagojevich told his wife about that idea, Patti looks up the group on the Internet in an effort to find out how much its top officials get paid.
“Let’s see what they paid their people in 2006,” Patti said. “I’m not showing anybody getting paid. Directors, instructors, employees, key, nobody gets paid there.”
Rod tried to explain that he could negotiate his own deal for a lucrative salary as Patti tried to look up the salaries of the existing officials at “Change To Win.”
Eventually, Rod gets frustrated with Patti’s efforts, saying “It doesn’t matter. You’re f***in’ doin’, just wasting f***ing time.”
“All of this gets f***in’ created, you understand. It doesn’t mean a f***in’ thing who gets paid or doesn’t get paid over there. ‘Cause none of it is f***in’, we’re makin’ it up,” Blagojevich added.
The two continue fighting later in the call, after Patti appeared to get upset at her husband cursing at her.
“How about I hang up on you. What are you doin’? What is this?” Blagojevich asked Patti at one point.
“Well, what? I mean, what do you want me to say?” Patti said. “I tried to be helpful and you jumped down my f***in’ throat.”
That appeared to appease Blagojevich, who said, “That’s good. All right, that’s it be normal. I don’t like you talkin’ in some weird f***in’ way. I don’t know who the f*** you are when you’re doin’ that.”
“I gotta stop swearin’. I gotta stop swearin’,” he said later.
“It’s terrible,” Patti said. “Total gutter mouth.”
Blagojevich Tried To Get His Wife A State Job
Also Wednesday, Harris testified that Blagojevich asked him in Spring 2008 to help find his wife, Patti, a job because the Blagojeviches were struggling financially amid the federal probe of his administration.
“He would often tell me about it, tell it to others that Patti’s work as a real estate broker had suffered significantly as a result of the federal investigation,” Harris said. “That many clients were shying away from her as an agent and that the family’s income had suffered.”
Harris said that Blagojevich had asked about the possibility of getting Patti a position on the state’s pollution control board, a job with a $100,000 salary. But Harris said he told Blagojevich that it wasn’t a likely option, as such an appointment would need confirmation by the Illinois Senate, which would be problematic and potentially embarrassing if the Senate wouldn’t confirm her.
Blagojevich also had Harris set up meetings for Patti with friends of Harris who were investment brokers at two companies that had state contracts, even though Harris had told him Patti couldn’t work for a company that did business with the state.
Harris agreed to set up the meetings, but told his friends not to offer Patti a job, but only to give her advice on working in the industry and to recommend other firms that didn’t do business with the state.
But, according to Harris, that apparently wasn’t good enough for Blagojevich. He testified that Blagojevich and his wife were upset when neither the Citibank broker nor the other investment broker did any follow-up with Patti after their meetings, so the governor ordered him to cut off the companies’ state business.
Harris said he ignored that order, because he figured Blagojevich would never know if those companies got further state work.
Technical Difficulties Delay Testimony
Harris’ testimony was interrupted by an unusual technical problem on Wednesday. A strange phonecall was somehow broadcast over the courtroom’s sound system while Harris was on the stand.
A man’s voice could be heard repeatedly saying “Hello? Hello?” At one point, the caller whistled and asked why nobody was responding to him.
“Anybody home?” the caller asked.
The interruption drew a few laughs from the jurors and others in the courtroom and Harris made light of the interruption, joking “That’s not me” as those in the courtroom listened to the caller.
U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel took a break while court officials investigated the source of the problem. Proceedings continued after about 25 minutes, although Zagel did not explain exactly what happened.
Todd Feurer, cbschicago.com.