Tuesday, December 9, 2008

EXTRA: Blagojevich now a natl. figure

In his own mind, Rod Blagojevich was always a potential president or some other sort of official on the national political scene.

So in a sense, Blagojevich’s aspirations came true. He was the dominant story on all the national newscasts when people woke up Tuesday morning. Of course, I don’t think a criminal indictment was the way he had in mind for becoming nationally known.

THE 21st CENTURY successors of the G-men of old picked up Blagojevich at his Ravenswood neighborhood home (along with his chief of staff), and Illinois’ governor will have to spend a part of his day making an initial appearance in U.S. District Court.

The feds claim that Blagojevich was using subtle methods of extorting potential replacements for Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate to get them to make contributions to help create a non-profit foundation that he hopes to someday run.

In short, a bribe. The U.S. Senate seat from Illinois was for sale, although I couldn't help but notice Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., telling MSNBC that Blagojevich never brought up any such talk when he interviewed her for the appointment. Is this evidence that Blagojevich did nothing wrong, or that Schakowsky was never seriously in the running for the post?

Now I am hesitant to write those last two paragraphs, because I’m sure that nothing in Blagojevich’s actions are so cut and dried as his many critics want to believe. I’m sure in his own mind, he complied with the letter of the law (since the spirit of the law as applied in Illinois is often so loose, he definitely complied there as well).

THIS IS GOING to be something for a jury to decide. Was the governor soliciting bribes? Or do we have a U.S. attorney whose ongoing investigation of Blagojevich’s activities has been so lengthy that he is willing to put a sinister spin on anything Gov. Milorod does?

We’ll hear a little later in the day, when Patrick Fitzgerald gets up behind his podium at the Dirksen Federal Building and gives us the speech about how government corruption costs us all, and how no one is above the law.

It may be all true enough. But this is far from a typical prosecution in the name of “good government.”

I just find it odd that the U.S. attorney’s investigation of state government has been going on for years (and there have been many jokes made about Blagojevich’s alter ego as “Public Official A” throughout the era) and yet the only activity solid enough to warrant prosecution is something that has happened in the past couple of weeks?

DOES THAT MEAN all the other activity doesn’t qualify as illegal, and was possibly just harassment? Or is this charge some sort of minor deal (sounds worse than it is because we can indirectly bring up the name of “Barack Obama”) that will be used to put pressure on Blagojevich himself with regards to other activity?

In short, are they taking advantage of the fact that this is a governor with such low public approval ratings (32 percent or 13 percent, depending on who you want to believe) that much of the general public will not get offended at anything bad done to Blagojevich?

I have no doubt that Blagojevich himself believes this. It is why I am convinced he’s not about to resign his post (as some national television pundits suggested Tuesday morning). He will be stubborn enough to remain in office while an indictment is pending. And quite frankly, he would not be the first Chicago politico to do so.

So Pat Quinn had better not start planning on moving into the governor’s mansion in Springfield anytime soon. The lieutenant governor will be the “lite gov” for the time being. And I must give Quinn a bit of praise for showing restraint in NOT calling for Blagojevich to resign his post. Any attempt to call for his resignation would come off as sounding like a coup d'etat, or Quinn greedily licking his chops at the thought of moving up to Illinois government's top job.

BEYOND THAT, I don’t know what to think about this case. This is really going to be one instance where I’m going to reserve judgment on until it gets to the courtroom.

Adding to the level of trash talk on the Internet benefits nobody.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Rod Blagojevich’s last “moment of glory” could very well be his appearance Monday at Republic Windows (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/08/AR2008120803409.html) & Doors, where he offered to have state government quit doing business with Bank of America, which is now considering giving the window manufacturer a loan to allow the company to make payments on severance owed to its now out-of-work employees.

The Chicago Tribune managed to shift attention rather quickly from its corporate owner’s bankruptcy declaration (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-rod-blagojevich-illinois-governor-2,0,4785755.story) to the latest tribulations of Blagojevich by getting this story first.

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