Two days ago, a half-dozen Democrats were considered candidates to be the next U.S. Senator from Illinois.
Today, most are likely to need legal representation to answer questions from federal investigators about what they knew of allegations that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was trying to sell that seat to the highest bidder.
Former federal judge and White House counsel Abner Mikva mentor to President-elect Barack Obama and other reform-minded Illinois Democrats said Tuesday, I would be very concerned if I was a candidate ... thinking, What did I say during my interview with [Blagojevich] that could be construed differently than it was intended?
The Justice Department on Tuesday arrested Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, accusing both of a bribery scheme. According to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the FBI recorded telephone conversations in which the two men plotted to trade the open Senate seat for financial considerations that would to benefit Blagojevich. The Senate seat was part of a broader pay to play conspiracy involving the governor and other state officials that law enforcement authorities have been probing for years.
Blagojevichs attorney told reporters in Chicago that the governor didnt do anything wrong.
According to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, Blagojevich was trying to sell the Senate seat that Obama recently vacated. Until Tuesday, Blagojevich was expected to appoint someone in the next few weeks to serve the remainder of Obamas Senate term, which expires at the end of 2010. Fitzgerald said the governor was in the midst of a political corruption crime spree.
Several white-collar lawyers said the announcement of the charges against Blagojevich is likely only the beginning of an FBI investigation into whether the governor actually made or received any offers to exchange the Senate seat for personal benefits.
According to an affidavit filed by the FBI, federal agents eavesdropped on telephone calls beginning Nov. 3 one day before Election Day in which Blagojevich discussed his belief that he deserved to get something of value in exchange for appointing a candidate that Obama preferred. The seat is a f---ing valuable thing, you just dont give it away for nothing, Blagojevich allegedly said.
The government alleges that immediately after the election, Blagojevich considered appointing the person that he assumed was Obamas favored candidate if Obama would make him an ambassador or name him secretary of Heath and Human Services. Although the person is not named in the charges, it appears to be Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago businesswoman and close confidante of Obama who the president-elect has since announced will be a senior adviser in his White House.
Blagojevich and Harris also discussed other candidates and other options for himself, including the possibility of taking a senior position at the union organization Change to Win in exchange for the appointment. The organization said in a statement Tuesday, No one connected with Change to Win ever considered, discussed or promised any position at Change to Win to Governor Blagojevich, his staff or his advisers.