Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It

The circus that surrounds Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is only going to get worse, and the questions are going to get a whole lot more uncomfortable for far more people in a hurry. That includes Barack Obama's expected Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. In fact, Emanuel may have tipped off the feds as to Blagojevich's antics.

David Axelrod stepped in it as well, claiming that Blagojevich and Obama talked about who would replace Obama in the Senate, but the Obama campaign now says that Axelrod misspoke. Where did Axelrod get the idea that the two talked? That's going to require subpoenas and phone records to see who talked to whom and what was said.

There's also questions about just how close Obama and Blagojevich are. I'd say that the two Democrats are pretty close, and to believe that the two men didn't discuss who would be appointed to Obama's seat even in passing must believe in pixie dust and unicorns. Something must have gotten Blagojevich's dander up by claiming that Obama wasn't going to give him anything in exchange for the Senate seat. Who passed that along, and why was nothing said to the authorities about a quid pro quo for the seat.

Some in the media are trying to increase the distance between Obama and Blagojevich. Blagojevich supported Obama's presidential campaign, but even at that time the Obama campaign may have been trying to distance him from the swirling corruption talk, particularly in regards to Tony Rezko.

Still, there is one thing that catches my attention though through all the analysis and reports today.

Patrick Fitzgerald serves at the pleasure of the President. He may be asked to resign when Barack Obama becomes President in January although the Senior Senator from Illinois Richard Durbin, a Democrat, has suggested keeping him on.

Should he send Fitzgerald packing, it would pose a real thorny issue for Obama. If he does anything that potentially derails the ongoing investigation into his friend Blagojevich, it's going to cause serious political problems for him down the line. If Fitzgerald is allowed to serve out and complete his investigation and prosecution, it could mean plenty of convictions and opportunities for Obama to grant pardons down the road.

From a legal perspective, Obama of course has an absolute right to send Fitzgerald packing (but it might be entertaining to see how the Left contorts itself on the legal grounds that they claim cost Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales when he fired a bunch of federal attorneys).

Still, that wouldn't necessarily mark the end of the investigation. It could just slow it down. Obama would more likely wait and let the criminal justice system run its course and find Blagojevich guilty of multiple crimes relating to the ongoing corruption investigation, and pardon or commute his sentence.

That too is within Obama's absolute legal right as President. Obama would have to wait until a criminal sentence is passed before considering commutation. Obama cannot act before that point, if he wanted to. If Blagojevich is indicted on state crimes, those would have to be acted upon by whoever succeeds him as Governor.

However, the political fallout from such actions could be extreme. It could seriously affect Democrats chances in 2010 and Obama's reelection efforts for 2012. This situation puts Obama on the defensive right off the bat since so many of his closest political allies are involved, associated, or implicated in the growing scandal. It's a huge distraction for the Obama campaign at a time when they need to be focusing on transitioning to the White House and getting up to speed on the economy, foreign policy, and all the other daily issues that the President must address.

Instead, the Obama team has to deal with damage control from before day one. That's not a good place to be in, and it's only going to get worse.

Of course, Blagojevich may have cost himself a pardon by cursing out Obama in the wiretaps, but Obama may be the kind of guy who pays back those who help him get to the top, even if he's had to run them under the bus from time to time.

Here's a primer to those suggested as candidates to replace Obama.

The crimes alleged or alluded to also includes shaking down Warren Buffet and putting the screws to the Chicago Tribune for posting unflattering stories about Blagojevich.

There's still the unfinished business relating to Tony Rezko.

For his part, Blagojevich has no intention of resigning.

So, how close were Obama and Blagojavich? Well, Obama and Emanuel seemingly ran Blagojavich's run for governor. Of course, now that the mess has hit the fan, everyone is running for the exits, including Emanuel, who's now clarifying his prior statements. Figures. Either he exaggerated his position in Blagojavich's inner circle, or he's lying about just how close he was to Blagojavich. I'm leaning towards the latter, but Emanuel's lying no matter how you dice it.

Jesse Jackson Jr is wise to be lawyering up. It looks like he's the one who allegedly offered Blagojavich money for the Senate seat. Dumb. Real dumb.

Look, just because Obama and Blagojavich were meeting to discuss who would replace Obama doesn't mean that Obama's in on the criminality. It does make Obama look stupid for claiming that the two men didn't talk, or didn't talk about the seat when it has been reported by multiple outlets and multiple sources indicate that they spoke.

It's not the crime, it's the coverup, and in his attempt to distance himself from Blagojavich, Obama's going to run afoul of the law. It will be interesting to see all the subpoenas flying at everyone involved - including Obama to get to the heart of who was involved and what was being discussed. Obama better get his story straight, or he too will find out what it means to enter a perjury trap or obstruct justice. From what I can tell, Obama really wanted nothing to do with Blago's heavy handed tactics and demands for quid pro quo, but that too indicates that the two men talked or had their underlings talking - all of which goes against what Obama has been saying.

This mess is about to get a whole lot messier, and it also will be entertaining watching all those folks who thought that Scooter Libby should fry now facing a situaiton where The One and his flacks, including Axelrod, Emanuel, and a whole host of Chicago cronies is about to engage the same guy who nailed Libby for the perjury trap.

This might be the most damning and dangerous part of Blagojavich's schemes. He wanted pay to play with the Tribune Company and demanded firing journalists who were not to his liking in order for the Tribune Company to get tax breaks on a possible sale:
While the selling of the senate seat and pay to play complaints got the most headlines, perhaps the most incredible of all the charges alleged against Blagojevich is his attempted shakedown of the Chicago Tribune.

The Trib not only owns the Chicago Tribune but also the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Owner Sam Zell (who has just filed for bankruptcy) is trying to sell the team and, more importantly, one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in Chicago: Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs.

But the sale of Wrigley field will involve massive taxes -- something on the order of $100 million dollars in capital gains. Zell had a approached the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) in order to strike a deal where, according to the criminal complaint, the IFA would take title to Wrigley Field thus saving Zell a lot of cash.

Enter Blagojevich, who told his chief of staff John Harris (also arrested today) to make it clear to Zell that no help from the IFA would be forthcoming unless some members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board were fired.

In a November 4 phone call with Harris, Blagojevich told his aide ""our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get ‘em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support."

Harris reported back on November 11 that Zell "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue." Later, Harris told Blagojevich that there were "certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming and, reading between the lines, he's (Zell) going after that section."

No firings have taken place yet and it is doubtful that Zell will make a move now that this deal is in the open. I suppose he saw it as a cost of doing business and $100 million is a lot of cash. But the thought that he would buckle to the whims of this strutting peacock of a politician who wanted journalists, who were only doing the job they were being paid to do, axed because they were telling the truth about his corruption stinks of rank cowardice.

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