Friday, June 19, 2009

Zealotry for the law! Part II

Back at the end of January, I posted about the loss of the governor's office, at the hands of the Illinois State Senate, suffered involuntarily by the Great Helmet-Haired Milorad Blagojevich. The comments that followed led me to express my hope that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald would experience an ignominous loss if the whole business ended up in court. (Since Blago has since been indicted, in court it shall be.)

A commenter on my original post, my friend Mr. Macrum from Maine, he of the bicycle repair shop that would get my business if I only lived a little closer, asked me why I felt this animosity toward Fitzgerald. Kenneth Starr was mentioned in passing, and I wrote this post on February 10th about how zealotry for the law, however nobly intentioned, often leads us to all sorts of unpleasant places, particularly the disheartening trend to criminalize politics. In the post, I focussed on Starr, with a promise to follow up at some point on Patrick Fitzgerald - he who got the topic rolling in the first place.

None dare accuse me of striking while the Teflon-coated frying pan is hot, or whatever the proverb actually says. It is now five months later and I cannot use the "I don't have time to write about this right now" excuse anymore. I still don't have the time to write about it, but truthfully, I don't have the time to write about anything. I managed to put this post together over the past few weeks (if anyone was wondering where I was). So today Patrick Fitzgerald finally gets his day in court, here in the Great Halls of Ignatian Pontification.

Blago!  With the cool hair!I know by now I should have changed my mind about Blago. The indictments sound pretty severe, and with cases like this, high-profile prosecutors avoid bringing indictments forward if their cases are not solid. But to hell with all that. As my friend Mr. Durham from South Carolina pointed out, there is no justice in seeing Blago get sent up the river when the rest of the detritus that passes for politics in Chicago remains free. I am therefore remaining on record that I hope to see Rod Blagojevich beat the rap and win acquittal on every single charge, because I think it would be a delight to see the look on Patrick Fitzgerald's face when he mugs for the cameras afterward. "If I'm on camera, even if the publicity is bad, it is a good thing," opined Fitzgerald recently. Okay, I might have made that up. Let's move on.

PruneheadFirst of all, I have to preface my remarks by stating that I did not always think Patrick Fitzgerald was a grandstanding nincompoop. I believe he worked very diligently and courageously back in the 1990s when he prosecuted members of the New York mafia and even more so later when he was part of the team prosecuting Omar Abdel-Rahman and other terrorists who were connected with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

Sometimes one gets carried away with one's own success. Sometimes one gets caught up with one's ability to turn a phrase and make a good argument, and gets egged on by the echo chamber around him. (Hell, that's happened to me before.) Sometimes the approach to solving a problem works so well that the problem solver starts applying it inappropriately to other areas of life. For example, suppose the success of jailing the 1993 WTC terrorists and Omar Abdel-Rahman was achieved by zealously applying anti-racketeering, anti-conspiracy, and anti-terrorism laws. This is a useful and appropriate application of the law, because the problem is terrorism, and therefore there is a need to protect the public from a virulent and mortal physical threat. But what if some of the same laws are applied the same way to politicians who have had their hands in the till or who have lied to the FBI about political decisions they made while in public office? One should reasonably argue that these politicians, if proved guilty, should be subject to punishment. But if the laws prescribe penalties that exceed the seriousness of the crime, should they be applied with the same zeal? Some would say yes, because politicians are just pigs at the trough, and should rot in jail. Others might say no - I would say jail time is appropriate, in some cases, but if there is no threat to the public from these guys, at some point there has to be a consideration for the questions of cost and justice in keeping them incarcerated. (And let’s bear in mind that the notion of justice should not be defined by emotion.)

In other words, a big part of the problem is the law itself. The hammer hits too hard. Rod Blagojevich's predecessor, Governor George Ryan, entered federal prison (after prosecution by Patrick Fitzgerald) at age 73 to begin a six-and-a-half year prison term for corruption. Is this a just outcome? I have no problem with Fitzgerald's conduct during the Ryan trial, by the way, but I ask the question sincerely. George Ryan deserved time in prison, but is six-and-a-half years appropriate? His reputation has been irretrievably destroyed and he has been ruined financially. Why does the taxpayer have to pay for his continued incarceration? If justice is being served, that could be a good reason. If his example serves as a deterrent to others, that could be a good reason. Bear in mind, though, that Mr. Ryan faced many decades in jail - the sentence handed down was seen as lenient. Should a politician convicted of a wide range of comprehensive charges of corruption - many of which overlap one another and cover the same crime from different angles using different wording - actually face the possibility of a hundred years in jail? That is what I mean by the law being part of the problem.

If you take these laws, with their overlaps, their punitive overkill and their statutory authorization to read unproved criminal activity into arguably lawful private or political conduct, and you put them in the hands of someone who has become zealous about his role as a prosecutor and proud of his ability to articulate a sense of justice, what do you end up with? You end up with Patrick Fitzgerald.

Scooter Libby, brother of Skateboard Libby.Mr. Fitzgerald kicked off a classic display of overstep on October 28th, 2005, when he announced that the District of Columbia Grand Jury had returned a five-count indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who had been Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. It was the culmination of Fitzgerald's investigation into the now-infamous Valerie Plame case. For those who were smart enough not to pay attention, Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador-to-Tiny-West-African-Nations Joseph C. Wilson, was a CIA employee whose employment with the CIA had been classified. On July 14th, 2003, she was identified in a column by Robert Novak as a CIA employee. Somewhere along the way, her status had been inappropriately or illegally divulged to Novak and possibly others, and an investigation followed. It lasted over two years.

The investigation was passed late in 2003 from the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, to the Deputy Attorney General, James Comey, who in turn gave Patrick Fitzgerald special prosecutor status. And after a very long investigation, no one was charged for illegally divulging Valerie Plame’s employment at the CIA.

But one would not know that by listening to Patrick Fitzgerald’s press conference when he indicted Libby with obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI. Let’s parse some large swaths of it:

Good afternoon. I'm Pat Fitzgerald. I'm the United States attorney in Chicago, but I'm appearing before you today as the Department of Justice special counsel in the CIA leak investigation.

Oh, oh! Did you see that? Blatant! Oh, wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself.

A few hours ago, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. The grand jury's indictment charges that Mr. Libby committed five crimes. The indictment charges one count of obstruction of justice of the federal grand jury, two counts of perjury and two counts of false statements.

So far, so good. But whether he intends to or not, Fitzgerald misleads everyone listening when he starts putting things into "context":

Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community.

Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life.

The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well-known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation's security.

Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column on July 14th, 2003.

But Mr. Novak was not the first reporter to be told that Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie, worked at the CIA. Several other reporters were told.

In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.

Oops! Now, raise your hands if by this point in time you would have 1) stopped listening to the windy press statement, and changed the channel, and 2) glazed over the first mention of Scooter Libby and concluded that he was being charged with knowingly and illegally divulging Valerie Plame’s classified status.

It's critical that when an investigation is conducted by prosecutors, agents and a grand jury they learn who, what, when, where and why. And then they decide, based upon accurate facts, whether a crime has been committed, who has committed the crime, whether you can prove the crime and whether the crime should be charged.


That's the way this investigation was conducted. It was known that a CIA officer's identity was blown, it was known that there was a leak. We needed to figure out how that happened, who did it, why, whether a crime was committed, whether we could prove it, whether we should prove it. And, given that national security was at stake, it was especially important that we find out accurate facts.

There's another thing about a grand jury investigation. One of the obligations of the prosecutors and the grand juries is to keep the information obtained in the investigation secret, not to share it with the public. And, as frustrating as that may be for the public, that is important because, the way our system of justice works, if information is gathered about people and they're not charged with a crime, we don't hold up that information for the public to look at. We either charge them with a crime or we don't.

And if you cannot charge them with a particular crime, you can always hold an over-the-top press conference and put the emphasis on the part of the story that is not even the object of the indictment.

That brings us to the fall of 2003. When it was clear that Valerie Wilson's cover had been blown, investigation began. And in October 2003, the FBI interviewed Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby is the vice president's chief of staff. He's also an assistant to the president and an assistant to the vice president for national security affairs.

The focus of the interview was what it that he had known about Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, what he knew about Ms. Wilson, what he said to people, why he said it, and how he learned it. And, to be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story.

Yikes. Fitzgerald’s “context” – while perhaps important to explain - still gives the impression that Mr. Libby was the crook behind the leak.

What he told the FBI is that essentially he was at the end of a long chain of phone calls. He spoke to reporter Tim Russert, and during the conversation Mr. Russert told him that, "Hey, do you know that all the reporters know that Mr. Wilson's wife works at the CIA?"

And he told the FBI that he learned that information as if it were new, and it struck him. So he took this information from Mr. Russert and later on he passed it on to other reporters, including reporter Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, reporter Judith Miller of The New York Times.

And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on on July 12th, 2003, two days before Mr. Novak's column, that he passed it on understanding that this was information he had gotten from a reporter, that he didn't even know if it was true.

And he told the FBI that when he passed the information on to the reporters he made clear that he didn't know if this were true. This was something that all the reporters were saying and, in fact, he just didn't know and he wanted to be clear about it.

Later, Mr. Libby went before the grand jury on two occasions in March of 2004. He took an oath and he testified. And he essentially said the same thing. He said that, in fact, he had learned from the vice president earlier in June 2003 information about Wilson's wife, but he had forgotten it, and that when he learned the information from Mr. Russert during this phone call he learned it as if it were new.

When he passed the information on to reporters Cooper and Miller late in the week, he passed it on thinking it was just information he received from reporters; that he told reporters that, in fact, he didn't even know if it were true. He was just passing gossip from one reporter to another at the long end of a chain of phone calls.

It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away, if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.

In fact, Mr. Libby discussed the information about Valerie Wilson at least half a dozen times before this conversation with Mr. Russert ever took place, not to mention that when he spoke to Mr. Russert, Mr. Russert and he never discussed Valerie Wilson or Wilson's wife.

He didn't learn it from Mr. Russert. But if he had, it would not have been new at the time.

Let me talk you through what the indictment alleges.

Finally! Yes, for goodness sake, talk about what the indictment actually alleges. Up until this point, Fitzgerald is throwing around the impression that Libby is being indicted for something else – namely, the leak itself.

The indictment alleges that Mr. Libby learned the information about Valerie Wilson at least three times in June of 2003 from government officials.

Let me make clear there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson or his wife and imparting the information to Mr. Libby. But in early June, Mr. Libby learned about Valerie Wilson and the role she was believed to play in having sent Mr. Wilson on a trip overseas from a senior CIA officer on or around June 11th, from an undersecretary of state on or around June 11th, and from the vice president on or about June 12th.

It's also clear, as set forth in the indictment, that some time prior to July 8th he also learned it from somebody else working in the Vice President's Office.

So at least four people within the government told Mr. Libby about Valerie Wilson, often referred to as Wilson's wife, working at the CIA and believed to be responsible for helping organize a trip that Mr. Wilson took overseas.

In addition to hearing it from government officials, it's also alleged in the indictment that at least three times Mr. Libby discussed this information with other government officials.

It's alleged in the indictment that on June 14th of 2003, a full month before Mr. Novak's column, Mr. Libby discussed it in a conversation with a CIA briefer in which he was complaining to the CIA briefer his belief that the CIA was leaking information about something or making critical comments, and he brought up Joe Wilson and Valerie Wilson.

It's also alleged in the indictment that Mr. Libby discussed it with the White House press secretary on July 7th, 2003, over lunch. What's important about that is that Mr. Libby, the indictment alleges, was telling Mr. Fleischer something on Monday that he claims to have learned on Thursday.

In addition to discussing it with the press secretary on July 7th, there was also a discussion on or about July 8th in which counsel for the vice president was asked a question by Mr. Libby as to what paperwork the Central Intelligence Agency would have if an employee had a spouse go on a trip.

So that at least seven discussions involving government officials prior to the day when Mr. Libby claims he learned this information as if it were new from Mr. Russert. And, in fact, when he spoke to Mr. Russert, they never discussed it.

But in addition to focusing on how it is that Mr. Libby learned this information and what he thought about it, it's important to focus on what it is that Mr. Libby said to the reporters.

In the account he gave to the FBI and to the grand jury was that he told reporters Cooper and Miller at the end of the week, on July 12th. And that what he told them was he gave them information that he got from other reporters; other reporters were saying this, and Mr. Libby did not know if it were true. And in fact, Mr. Libby testified that he told the reporters he did not even know if Mr. Wilson had a wife.

And, in fact, we now know that Mr. Libby discussed this information about Valerie Wilson at least four times prior to July 14th, 2003: on three occasions with Judith Miller of The New York Times and on one occasion with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.

The first occasion in which Mr. Libby discussed it with Judith Miller was back in June 23rd of 2003, just days after an article appeared online in The New Republic which quoted some critical commentary from Mr. Wilson.

After that discussion with Judith Miller on June 23rd, 2003, Mr. Libby also discussed Valerie Wilson on July 8th of 2003.

During that discussion, Mr. Libby talked about Mr. Wilson in a conversation that was on background as a senior administration official. And when Mr. Libby talked about Wilson, he changed the attribution to a former Hill staffer.

During that discussion, which was to be attributed to a former Hill staffer, Mr. Libby also discussed Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, working at the CIA - and then, finally, again, on July 12th.

In short - and in those conversations, Mr. Libby never said, "This is something that other reporters are saying"; Mr. Libby never said, "This is something that I don't know if it's true"; Mr. Libby never said, "I don't even know if he had a wife."

At the end of the day, what appears is that Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true.

It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And then he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.

Hang on, Patrick. If Scooter Libby was the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter, why was he not charged for doing this? Why is it okay for a prosecutor to tell the press that a man is guilty of the object of a long investigation if the same man is not under indictment for this offense? I thought you were going to get to the point of the indictment, which was one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and two counts of uttering false statements to the FBI. Oh, wait, here’s a brief bit in the next paragraph:

But I think what we see here today, when a vice president's chief of staff is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, it does show the world that this is a country that takes its law seriously; that all citizens are bound by the law.

That’s it?
But what we need to also show the world is that we can also apply the same safeguards to all our citizens, including high officials. Much as they must be bound by the law, they must follow the same rules.

So I ask everyone involved in this process, anyone who participates in this trial, anyone who covers this trial, anyone sitting home watching these proceedings to follow this process with an American appreciation for our values and our dignity. Let's let the process take place. Let's take a deep breath and let justice process the system.

Sniff, sniff... I’m touched. What office are you running for, Patrick? I thought prosecutors were supposed to, you know, prosecute. You know, in court. Not before the press. Save it for the jury, and stop behaving like you enjoy being a pontificating blowhard before the TV cameras.

The entire business was over the top. The press conference was over the top, and the investigation – particularly the rough way it treated the reporters – was over the top. I wonder how happy the press is that a special federal prosecutor essentially set a new precedent for coercing reporters to testify under oath about their confidential sources. And after an investigation of two years, Fitzgerald could not find evidence of a criminal leak of Valerie Plame’s status. That sure as hell didn’t stop him from giving the opposite impression when he charged Libby, though.

And before anyone jumps on me for defending Scooter Libby, I’m not. He was convicted of four of the five counts in the indictment, and they were serious matters. I am glad he did not go to jail, because as I mentioned above, the sentences handed out for political crimes are very heavy. I have gone on record here in the past as being somewhat (but not completely) unsympathetic when a government official goes to jail. It goes with the territory when you wander the halls of power. You may overstep your role and break the law, either intentionally or unintentionally. Your boss’s political enemies may find a way to paint you into a corner with trumped up charges. It is shitty, but it is a risk that should be assessed by anyone asked to serve at high levels of political power.

I do admit a high level of unsympathy for Joe Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame. Here’s a bit of advice for other Washington power couples:

Do not write an op-ed for the New York Times talking about your trip to Africa, if your being asked by the US government to make the trip depended on your wife’s employment with the CIA, and your wife’s employment with the CIA is supposed to be secret.

* * * * * * * *

And now the same Patrick Fitzgerald has Rod Blagojevich in his sights.

Blago is in very deep crap. The indictment has 19 counts, of which I believe 16 apply to Blago, and they’re going to be harder than hell, if not impossible, to beat in court. The indictment was announced on April 2nd, 2009. The accusations against Blago, as enumerated in an Associated Press story on April 3rd:

  • Directing billions of dollars in bond business to a company whose lobbyist secretly agreed to give them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  • Having convicted developer Tony Rezko give the governor's wife, Patti Blagojevich, tens of thousands of dollars in real estate fees and salaries that she didn't really earn.

  • Arranging job interviews for Patti Blagojevich with financial institutions doing business with the state. When no jobs materialized, the governor allegedly said he didn't want the companies to get any further state business.

  • Handing out a high-level state job in exchange for $50,000 in donations to Blagojevich's campaign.

  • Telling a lobbyist that it would take a $50,000 donation to get his client on the list of recommended investment funds for the Teachers' Retirement System.

  • Threatening to block a $220 million TRS investment with Capri Capital unless Capri's owner arranged substantial donations to Blagojevich.

  • Threatening to withhold a $2 million state grant to a public school unless a U.S. congressman arranged a political fundraiser for Blagojevich.

  • Demanding a $50,000 donation from the head of Children's Memorial Hospital in return for approving increased state support children's health care.

  • Extorting $100,000 in donations from two horse racing tracks and a racing executive in exchange for quick approval of legislation the tracks wanted.

  • Extorting $500,000 in donations from a construction-materials company and a company executive in return for action benefiting the road construction industry.

  • Withholding state aid sought by the Tribune Co. unless the company fired unfriendly editorial writers at the Chicago Tribune.

  • Scheming to get personal benefits, such as a Cabinet post or a lucrative union job, in exchange for Blagojevich's decision on who would replace Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

  • Soliciting help from national fundraiser Joseph Cari in exchange for state business and contracts.

  • Using improper influence to block efforts to consolidate several retirement funds.

  • Discussing the possibility of getting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald removed in an effort to block his investigation.

  • Lying to the FBI.

The second to last one sounds like reasonable behaviour to me. (All right, I’m kidding!) But the issue I have with Patrick Fitzgerald again stems from his comments to the press. And in this case, the comments made to the press were made fully four months prior to the indictment. Not the date of the indictment, but four months prior.

Quick now: how many of you reading this would like a United States Attorney to make accusations against you in public regarding alleged offenses for which you have not even been charged? And if you think it’s okay because Blago is a politician, why do you think this is okay? If a politician’s reputation or his chance for a fair trial later on can be destroyed by the words of a prosecutor who is not yet ready to indict but is yapping anyway, why not yours too? And if you think it’s okay because Blago is clearly guilty, ask yourself if you think you would like to live in a country where what the acceptability of what the government says about you is based on a presumption of guilt prior to the same damn government even having its charges ready to file against you. Against you. First they came for the sleazy douchebag politician with the helmet hair....

Don’t think it’s any big deal? Well, let's see what Fitzgerald said back in December 2008, when Governor Blagojevich was arrested – the arrest was necessary, I assume, because Fitzgerald could not simply pick up the telephone and inform the governor or the governor’s lawyer that he was under investigation. Sometimes those damn telephones do not work well, and an arrest is the only way to go.

Oh, wait – there was a compelling public interest at stake here. The public ought to have the right to know that the governor is under investigation. If that’s the case, then perhaps a less political and more reasonable approach would be to release a statement informing the public that the governor is under investigation, and outline – in broad, general terms – what the investigation is all about.

Sorry for the lengthy buildup. Here is what Patrick Fitzgerald actually said:

This is a sad day for government. It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree. We acted to stop that crime spree.

Hold on a second, Pat. You’re not the dang jury. You’re the prosecutor. You prosecute in court, and you prove your case. And before you even get there, you indict. Am I the only one who finds it a little unseemly that a federal prosecutor is accusing a politician of taking “us to a truly new low” via a “crime spree” months before he is ready to file charges?

The most appalling conduct Governor Blagojevich engaged in, according to the complaint filed today or unsealed today, is that he attempted to sell the Senate seat -- the Senate seat he had the sole right, under Illinois law, to appoint to replace President-elect Obama.

I am not excusing this if it is true, but I seriously doubt it is the first instance of a state governor doing something like this.

Let me take you back eight weeks ago to set the allegations in context. Back eight weeks ago, we had the following environment. There was a known investigation of the Blagojevich administration that had been going on for years, involving allegations of pay-to-play conduct and corruption. There had been a recent trial of an associate of Governor Blagojevich in which allegations were aired where people testified that government -- Blagojevich was involved in corrupt conduct. And there was an Ethics in Government Act that was pending, that would go in effect January 1 of 2009, that would bar certain contributions from people doing business with the state of Illinois. You might have thought in that environment that pay to play would slow down. The opposite happened. It sped up. Government -- Blagojevich and others were working feverishly to get as much money from contractors, shaking them down, pay to play, before the end of the year.

Does this sound like a prosecutor to you? Or does this sound like a political opponent?


After being aware that actually the pay-to-play scheme had taken up greater steam and greater urgency, back eight weeks ago, after careful review, decision was made that more extraordinary means of investigation needed to be used. After that point, a bug was placed in the campaign offices of Governor Blagojevich and a tap was placed on his home telephone. And that tap and that bug bore out what those allegations were.

Why would a prosecutor say all of these things in public before he is ready to indict? Is it because he feels he has to justify an unnecessary arrest?

I'll give you two examples set forth in the 76-page complaint. One involves Children's Memorial Hospital, a hospital that obviously takes care of children. At one point, the governor awarded funding -- reimbursement funding to that hospital to the tune of $8 million, but he also indicated privately that what he wanted to get was a $50,000 personal contribution from the chief executive officer of that hospital. In the ensuing weeks, that contribution never came, and Governor Blagojevich was intercepted on the telephone, checking to see whether or not he could pull back the funding for Children's Memorial Hospital.

Shame! It was for the children! Won’t someone please think of the children?

A second example is legislation that is pending concerning horse racing. There is a bill that, I believe, sits on the governor's desk that would take money from casino revenues and divert a percentage of it to horse-racing tracks. While this was pending, the interceptions show that the governor was told that one person who he is seeking to have -- raise $100,000 also was working with a person who was seeking that money to have a -- a bill pending. And the governor was told that the person who wanted that bill, from whom they wanted money, was told the following, that he needed to get his contribution in.

And the quote was, "Look, there is a concern that there is going to be some skittishness if your bill gets signed because of the timeliness of the commitment," close quote. Then the person told the contributor, the money, quote, "got to be in now," close quote.

And when the governor was told this part of the conversation, his response was, "Good."

Shortly thereafter, the person who was trying to get the contribution from the person who had the bill pending suggested that the governor call the person directly, that it would be better to get the call personally from the governor, quote, "from a pressure point of view," close quote. And the governor agreed.

As we sit here now, as far as we know, that bill sits on the governor's desk. That $8 million in funding is still pending.

In addition to the pay-to-play allegations which are described in greater detail in the complaint, we also were surprised to learn of an extortionate attempt against the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The Chicago Tribune had not been kind to Governor Blagojevich, had written editorials that called for his impeachment. And Governor Blagojevich and defendant Jonathan -- John Harris, his chief of staff, schemed to send a message to the Chicago Tribune that if the Tribune company wanted to sell its ball field, Wrigley Field, in order to complete a business venture, the price of doing so was to fire certain editors, including one editor by name.

In the governor words -- governor's words, quote, "Fire all those bleeping people. Get them the bleep out of there and get us some editorial support," close quote. And the bleeps are not really bleeps.

The defendant Harris tried to frame the message more subtly to get the point across to the Tribune that firing the editorial board members would be a good thing in terms of getting financing to allow the sale to go forward.

But the most cynical behavior in all this, the most appalling is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama.

The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

This may seem like no big deal, fans and friends, but I think it is. This is Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney, talking. He is not in court, trying for a bit of dramatic flair to impress the pretty girl with the nice brown eyes sitting on the jury. He is in public. The guy he is talking about had not even yet been charged when he said this. Fitzgerald is doing this only to impress the reporters covering his statement, and to impress the grannies sitting home watching the news. And that’s not what a federal prosecutor is supposed to do. He is supposed to know the law, describe the law to the jury, and argue how the facts of someone’s conduct transgress the law. His role is not to engage in dramatic political speech on television.

The governor's own words describing this Senate seat, quote: "It's a bleeping valuable thing, thing. You just don't give it away for nothing," close quote.

Another quote: "I've got this thing. And it's bleeping golden. I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing. I'm not going to do it. I can always use it. I can parachute me there," quote.

Those are his words, not our characterization, other than with regards to the bleeps. The tapes reveal the Governor Blagojevich wanted a number of things, in exchange, for making the appointment to the Senate seat -- an appointment as secretary of Health and Human Services or an ambassadorship, an appointment to a private foundation, a higher-paying job for his wife or campaign contributions.

At one point, he proposed a three-way deal, that a cushy union job would be given to him at a higher rate of pay, where he could make money. In exchange, he thought that the union might get benefits from the president-elect. And therefore the president-elect might get the candidate of his choice.

I should make clear, the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever, his conduct. This part of the scheme lost steam when the person that the governor thought was the president- elect's choice of senator took herself out of the running. But after the deal never happened, this is the governor's reaction, quote, "They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them," close quote. And again, the bleep is a redaction.

I bet – I just bet – Rod Blagojevich is the first governor in the history of the United States to use off-colour language.

What I should also talk about is that, in another event, somebody else approached the governor. And the governor's understanding of this approach was that in exchange for an appointment, to the Senate seat, he would receive campaign contributions. And the governor's view of what was told, to him, through intermediaries was that, quote, "We were approached pay-to-play that, you know, he raised me 500 grand. Then the other guy would raise a million if I made him senator," close quote.

This is a conversation where the senator is describing how he perceived a message that came through multiple hands. His concern: Was he offended that, he thought, campaign contributions were being offered in exchange for a Senate seat? No. He was worried that the campaign contributions would actually be paid. He wasn't against the corrupt deal. He was against being stiffed in the corrupt deal.

His quote was, he wanted the money, quote, "tangible, up front," close quote. He told someone who was his intermediary, quote, "Some of this stuff has got to start happening now, right now. And we've got to see it," close quote.

Just last week, he was saying this to someone, to make sure that the money was going to be up front. And he said, quote, "You've got to be careful how you express that and assume everybody's listening. The whole world is listening. I would do it in person. I would not do it on the phone," close quote. That's the governor of Illinois.

After an article appeared in the Tribune, last week, indicating a belief that Mr. Blagojevich had been taped, then a message was sent for him to undo contact with the intermediary on that campaign contribution deal.

And finally we should also note that the governor talked about appointing himself to the Senate seat, for reasons not having to do with the better welfare of the citizens of Illinois.

He wanted to do it to avoid impeachment in the Illinois legislature for his conduct. He wanted to do it to have access to greater financial resources if he were indicted. He wanted to do it to see if he could help his wife work as a lobbyist. He wanted to do it to remake his image, to run for office in 2016. And he wanted to do it to see if he could generate speaking fees.

I am dreadfully sorry if I do not see how the conduct in the previous paragraph is criminal, or how it is any of Patrick Fitzgerald’s business. All of the allegations here are purely political in nature. A governor wants to get a new job before the legislature tries and fires him? No wonder. A governor wants to get a higher-paying job because he anticipates he shall fall under indictment, and find himself in need of money for legal fees? No damn wonder. The government has unlimited resources to prosecute. A governor wants to see if he could get a lobbying job for his wife? Politically, you may not like it, but it is not criminal. A governor wants a change of venue to try to repair his damaged public image? No wonder. A governor thinks a certain political move may, in the future, generate higher speaking fees? So bloody what? How is this the business of a federal prosecutor?

At the end of the day, the conduct we have before us is appalling.

What I do want to note is that, at the end of the day, it's very, very important that how we proceed from here be the right way to proceed. We have a lot of information gained from a number of interviews and investigation over the years. We have a tremendous amount of information gained from the wiretap and the bugs that occurred over the last month and a half or so.

What we also know is that some of these schemes went pretty far, and some did not go far at all, but they had discussions about what they would do, who they would approach, and how they would phrase it. And we need to do the investigation, now that the investigation is overt, to find out from other people what happened: what they were told, how explicitly, what they understood, and what happened. That part of the investigation we intend to conduct responsibly.

We hope that people out there understand that this complaint only charges two individuals. These two individuals are presumed innocent. But we make no charges about any of the other people who are referenced in the complaint, most not by name. And people should not cast aspersions on people who are discussed on the wiretap or bug tapes for conduct when other people are scheming to figure out how to approach them for different things. We hope you'll bear that in mind and not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed, or if you learn they're being interviewed.

"These two individuals are presumed innocent." What? Is Fitzgerald kidding? After all the accusations, hyperbole, drama and grandstanding, Patrick Fitzgerald has the audacity to say, “Oh, yeah, it is my duty to mention that these two people are presumed innocent, and I have to proceed the right way, and prove my case in court, etc. etc.” What a bunch of nonsense.

The other part is that I think this is a moment of truth for Illinois. In all seriousness, we have times when people decry corruption; and yet, here we have a situation where there appeared to be wide-ranging schemes where people were seeking to make people pay contributions to get contracts or appointments or do other stuff.

The FBI and their sister agencies at Postal, IRS and the Department of Labor have done a magnanimous -- a magnificent job. They will continue to work very, very hard. But what we really need is cooperation from people who are not in law enforcement, the people outside who heard or saw things or were approached in ways that felt uncomfortable. If they felt uncomfortable and they think, "This is not how you run a government," they ought to come forward and give us that information. It's very, very important that we get that information, so we can make the right decisions about where to proceed from here.

Translation: “Uh, some of what I’m saying is me talking through my ass. I have suspicions only but cannot prove them all. Someone please come forward and help me.”

I can tell you we've been conducting interviews during the day, and we're already quite heartened to hear that there are a number of people out there who were appalled by this conduct who are willing to come forward and talk to us. So we encourage people to talk to us. We encourage people to work with us, to let us get to the bottom of what has happened here.

We remind people that there's a lot we don't know and need to know. We remind people that we -- there's an awful lot we do know, and we'll be able to verify what people tell us. But we ask that the press, in particular, recognize that we're not casting aspersions on people other than the two people we charged, and bear that in mind and be responsible.

Getting to the bottom of things shall hopefully include the discovery that much of what went on in Rod Blagojevich’s tenure was of a political, not a criminal, nature. I actually do believe that the governor broke the law and I also believe he is going to pay dearly for it. In fact, he already has.

But Patrick Fitzgerald continues to colour outside the lines because of his zealotry for the law. He continues the unhappy American trend known as the criminalization of politics. He has become a grandstanding blowhard who presents the appearance of a man obsessed with enhancing his small acre of fame.

And I appear to be the only person in Christendom calling him on it.


Katie said...

Wow, now I know why you've been gone so've been working on this post!

I promise to read it, just need to find the time...I'm liking it just from the tags alone. :o)

sporkless said...

My first highly ignorant opinion is that the USA in general gives out ridiculously long jail sentences for nonviolent crimes.

My second highly ignorant opinion is that in modern politics, there are all kinds of people with power that are always looking to expand their influence to areas outside of their responsibilities. It's a most foul trend, and we are particularly susceptible to this in Canada. But Canadians have pretty much completely tuned out of the boorish politics we have here, so the guys in charge get to do whatever the hell they want.

Thanks for your most interesting commentary.

Danny Wright said...

Great piece. I’ll start with a disagreement. I don’t think over zealousness for the law is at the heart of Fitzgerald’s zeal as much as it is his over zealousness for himself that he has so discredited himself and his office. To revere not only the law, but what it hopes to accomplish, should be at the heart of the person who holds that office. Unfortunately in these times of prevailing existential thought, and especially after the cheerleading press during the Bush administration witch hunt, it’s easy to see how someone could loose sight of his duties due to the blinding image he sees of himself.

You made some very good points about his conduct unbecoming of his office and especially about the psychotic pleasure some experience seeing a politician go to jail. My cynical reaction to all of this was shock because he was a Democrat. Party is everything to these people so why were they willing to take the corruption hit while taking this guy out? My guess is he was either stepping on the wrong person’s toes or worse yet (I’m not a conspiracy theorist) this had the potential to light fuse that might blow something up in the White House. I sadly agree with sporkless however, but I don’t think Canada has cornered the market on tuning out. I think this has been a luxury enjoyed by the West for some time-tuning out that is-with no drastic consequence as of yet. I do believe that they is drawing nigh however.

Possibly being guilty of tuning out myself I honestly didn’t pay very much attention to any of this because it involves the Democrat Party, so of course it involves corruption. But Blagojevich is only a symptom of a much larger problem which is the people who will ultimately simply replace him with another Blagojevich with a different hair or skin color and name; and who have no clue that Fitzgerald is using this whole pathetic mess to make a name for himself.

Z said...

Am coming back after a wedding, a friend who's asked me to sing AND read (Corinthians) today! (wish me luck!) read this post..

first, wanted to stop by and THANK you for following and to tell you I don't much FOLLOW but I're there now!
Thanks for the honor of following..great blog here! Blessings, z

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Sporkless: My first highly ignorant opinion is that the USA in general gives out ridiculously long jail sentences for nonviolent crimes.

No kidding. Does anyone believe that the US prison population per capita is six times higher than Canada's because there are more criminals in the United States? Hell no. It's higher because you're more likely to get chucked in the slammer if you go before a judge in the US, and you're more likely to be sent there for a longer time.

I remember when Stephen Page "got into a bit of trouble", as Jesse Jackson would say, last year in New York when he was found in possession of cocaine. An editorial in the Globe and Mail said something along the lines of "Dude, what were you thinking? You were doing coke in the United States? They throw people in jail for jaywalking down there, for goodness sake."

A bit of an over-generalization, for sure, but there's an undercurrent of truth to it.

Not that we do criminal justice right in Canada. Not by a long shot. I am sick, sick, sick of judges who administer slaps on the wrist to repeat offenders, or who send violent criminals to the penitentiary for summer, when they should go for ten or fifteen years. There's a guy who walks freely around my town who, along with his brother, broke into a home a number of years ago to commit a burglary, encountered the homeowner, and the homeowner ended up dead. The brothers were sent to jail for manslaughter, but they didn't stay too long. Same dude was just convicted of trafficking cocaine, and sentencing is to occur in a few weeks' time. I wonder what kind of joke of a sentence he'll get? Fifty bucks says he'll be free again in less than eight months.

My second highly ignorant opinion is that in modern politics, there are all kinds of people with power that are always looking to expand their influence to areas outside of their responsibilities. It's a most foul trend, and we are particularly susceptible to this in Canada.

Agreed - but I don't understand this. I have a job with certain responsibilities myself, and there are areas where I could probably expand my influence, if you will, and take over some tasks or decision making currently handled by others. But why the hell would I want to do this? When one tries to do or oversee too much at once, things usually go sideways. Just look at the US and Canadian federal governments for examples.

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Dan: I’ll start with a disagreement. I don’t think over zealousness for the law is at the heart of Fitzgerald’s zeal as much as it is his over zealousness for himself that he has so discredited himself and his office.

You may be right at this point. My belief is that zealotry for the law is what lead Fitzgerald down this path to begin with, but it could easily be true that he has moved on to more Macbeth-like tendencies.

Yes, that was a little unkind.

Possibly being guilty of tuning out myself I honestly didn’t pay very much attention to any of this because it involves the Democrat Party, so of course it involves corruption. But Blagojevich is only a symptom of a much larger problem which is the people who will ultimately simply replace him with another Blagojevich with a different hair or skin color and name; and who have no clue that Fitzgerald is using this whole pathetic mess to make a name for himself.

No wonder we're all tuning out. However, the corruption in Chicago is a bipartisan affair - former Governor George Ryan (presently in a medium security prison near Terre Haute, Indiana) was a Republican. Otto Kerner (governor during 60s) and Daniel Walker (70s), both of whom went to jail for corruption themselves, were Democrats.

Z said...

OH, lazy bloggers who don't back up your statements with facts get to me..this should have been REALLY comprehensive in order to convince us (KIDDING! this is UNBELIEVABLY well done..WOW)

And yes. I have had similar thoughts, though not 1/100th as complete and well thought out!
It should get interesting with Blogo...
Now if we could only get Fitzgerald working on thawing out Wm Jefferson's money!

So much got dismissed and ignored in the Plame case which shouldn't have, it's always puzzled me.

Thanks for's a real thought provoker.

Danny Wright said...

I know that corruption exists in the Republican ranks as well but there is a difference, Republicans have to deal with a real "watch dog" media. That's probably more the reason I'm more likely to believe that Republican's are less corrupt than their counter parts, than that they are just plain ol good folk. They are after all fallen human beings which is why we have freedom of the press and separation of powers in the first place. Now, if we can only convince the press of this we will all benefit greatly.

Mike said...

Can I get a signed copy?

Muy well done! I´ll just second Sporkless´ second, Dan´s first and your Macbeth-like summation.

It´s a cacophonous symphony of vacuous sycophants, and Obama is the conductor-in-chief. The media is his Baton. Fitz fits in well.