Last month, we noted that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich could appoint himself to fill Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. While becoming a U.S. Senator might prove just a bit challenging now that Blagojevich has been arrested on corruption charges, federal prosecutors said that the governor once was seriously considering appointing himself.
The day before the presidential election, Blagojevich told a deputy governor, “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility” so “I can drive a hard bargain” with others seeking the seat, according to a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago.
Prosecutors allege that Blagojevich, whose home and office the FBI wiretapped, was seeking wide-ranging personal favors in exchange for Obama’s seat. If he didn’t receive the right compensation, “then I might just take [the seat],” Blagojevich allegedly told a deputy governor.
Blagojevich also reportedly believed that an Obama ally (identified in the complaint only as Senate Candidate 1, but widely recognized as Valerie Jarrett) was interested in Obama’s seat and likely was supported by the president-elect.
Blagojevich rebuked advisors who told him to “suck it up” and appoint Jarrett, believed to be Obama’s preference. “For nothing? Fuck him,” Blagojevich allegedly said about Obama.
“Unless I get something real good for [Senate Candidate 1], shit, I’ll just send myself, you know what I’m saying,” Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor on Nov. 3.
Four days later, Blagojevich told an advisor he was willing to “trade” the seat to Jarrett in exchange for becoming Secretary of Health and Human Services in the president-elect’s cabinet.
But reality set in (at least temporarily) for Blagojevich. He later reportedly decided Obama was unlikely to award him a cabinet position or ambassadorship because, well, Blagojevich had long been under investigation. And the possibility for a deal fell through when Jarrett withdrew her name from consideration, according to Pat Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney overseeing the case.
As for Blagojevich, Fitzgerald alleged that he was motivated at least partly by money. On Nov. 7, while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with his chief-of-staff and now co-defendant John Harris, Blagojevich allegedly said he needed to consider his family and that he was “financially” hurting.
“I want to make money,” he allegedly said.
But driving up the Senate seat’s price was not the only reason Blagojevich considered appointing himself, prosecutors allege. Blagojevich also believed that if he were indicted he’d be in a better position to fight the charges as a senator rather than governor. Illinois’ legislature had already informally considered impeachment earlier this year.
None of these concerns rank as the most grandiose of Blagojevich’s considerations. The award for that would have to go to Blagojevich’s apparent desire, detailed by prosecutors, to remake his image to prepare for a possible presidential run in 2016.
If convicted on bribery and fraud charges, Blagojevich faces up to 30 years in prison, which would keep him behind bars during that election season and many others.
Fitzgerald said the investigation into Blagojevich continues, but authorities arrested him yesterday to prevent further harm from taking place.
“They did intervene now to prevent him from making the appointment,” Dick Simpson, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former city alderman, told ProPublica.
While Fitzgerald did not exactly say that, he described Blagojevich’s schemes surrounding the seat, the “most appalling” of the allegations. “The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said the FBI arrested Blagojevich because he went on “a political corruption crime spree” that needed to be stopped.
But Blagojevich still holds the sole power to appoint anyone (including himself) as Obama’s successor and will continue to unless he resigns or is impeached, in which case the decision will fall to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn and several other state leaders have called for Blagojevich’s resignation.
State legislators also are considering proposing legislation to take away Blagojevich’s appointment power. Only one problem: Blagojevich would have to sign the bill.