With news of the scandal surrounding Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich grabbing the nation’s attention, it’s worth remembering that out of the last seven men who previously held that office, three ended up in jail. Illinois, in fact, is the only state where the governor has two official portraits: one full face and one profile. Blagojevich, in other words, is simply following in the footsteps of some of his less illustrious predecessors. Why then has this sordid affair attracted so much extra attention?
Well, for one thing, the scandal has touched upon president-elect Barack Obama. In announcing the filing of the criminal complaint and Blagojevich’s arrest, federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald emphasized that Obama was not involved. “I should make clear, the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever,” said Fitzgerald. Despite the perfervid efforts of the right-wing dittorati to link Obama with Blagojevich, the two have never been close political allies or social friends, and Obama surely must have been aware of Blagojevich’s longstanding legal problems and his rapidly slipping popularity. It was hardly an accident, for instance, that the governor was not invited to speak at the Democratic Convention in Denver and did not make an appearance at Obama’s Nov. 4 victory rally at Chicago’s Grant Park.
Apart from the potential taint to the nascent Obama administration, this scandal is most noteworthy for the truly epic imbecility of the chief culprit. After the indictment and conviction of the governor’s friend, fundraiser, and all-around political fixer Antoin “Tony” Rezko earlier this year, Blagojevich must have known that he was the next target of federal prosecutors. Yet he apparently spoke freely in his office and on his private phone about blackmailing the Chicago Tribune, shaking down a prominent Chicago pediatric hospital, and auctioning Obama’s senate seat like a prize heifer at the Illinois state fair. Even after the Tribune, on Dec. 5, published a front-page story stating that the feds had obtained secret recordings capturing Blago’s conversations, he was still making those incriminating statements, some of which ended up in the affidavit appended to the criminal complaint.
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