Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

September 2009 Archives

In the days following President Obama's election, his now-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel
wanted then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to appoint a longtime ally to fill his 5th Congressional District seat. There was also discussion of a possible cabinet position. Emanuel didn't know at the time that Blagojevich didn't have authority to make the appointment.

Click here to read today's story.

Case of Rod Blagojevich fund-raiser Chris Kelly dismissed

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At the request of prosecutors, a federal judge this morning dismissed the case pending against Christopher Kelly, a onetime fund-raiser and adviser to Rod Blagojevich, who died earlier this month.
U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle agreed to dismiss the case against Kelly as well as Kelly's BCI Commercial Roofing.
Kelly, 51, of Burr Ridge, died after an apparent suicide. He had been indicted three times since 2007, including in the case involving BCI.
That case was set to go to trial in early September before Kelly pleaded guilty to charges of bid-rigging at O'Hare.
In court on Sept. 8, Kelly told the judge he felt pressures "in my life." He later died of an apparent overdose.
Earlier this week, Kelly's case before U.S. District Judge James Zagel was dismissed. In that case, he faced racketeering and extortion charges with Blagojevich. Kelly had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The dismissal of the O'Hare charges means that Kelly's agreement to turn over $450,000 in cash and home equity to the government is now voided out.
Kelly's guilty plea is wiped clean because he wasn't sentenced before his death.
But the prosecution could have pursued a case against BCI because it still exists as an entity, defense lawyer Tom Leinenweber said. The government chose to drop the case, he said.
"I think the government really did the right thing," said Leinenweber, who represents BCI Commercial. "The assets of the company will be used for his wife and children."

The Rod Blagojevich media blitz continued Thursday night as the embattled former governor appeared on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

Blagojevich ensured host Jon Stewart that he's been falsely accused of trying to sell President Obama's vacated Senate seat for financial gain.

After Stewart made a few hair jokes, he asked Blagojevich point-blank about the now-infamous line that came out in the indictment: "I've got this thing and it's f****** golden."

"My accusers, who had a press conference while I was locked up in a jail cell, said that I said that. They have since gone to court and have gotten a court order that prevents me from finishing out that conversation and telling you exactly the next sentence or the next paragraph."

In the second part of the interview, Blagojevich said Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan "may have some criminal culpability."

"He was holding back a jobs bill, not expanding health care," Blagojevich said. "If he was leveraging that for [his daughter, Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan's] Senate seat then you have to ask yourself if that's legitimate or not."

Blagojevich reiterated his assertion that third parties were involved, including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who wanted Blagojevich to appoint Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool to his vacated 5th Congressional District seat, according to an article in today's Sun-Times.

Comedy Central posted the entire, unedited, three-part interview on the show's Web site.

A lawyer for Rod Blagojevich said outside of court today that the recently deceased friend of the former governor will "speak ... from the grave," at Blagojevich's trial next year.
Wasting no time in spinning the death of Christopher Kelly, who died of an apparent suicide last week, Sam Adam Jr. told reporters today that Kelly's refusal to plead guilty in Blagojevich's case serves as proof that the ex-governor did no wrong.
At next June's trial: "Chris Kelly's voice will speak louder from the grave," Adam said. Chris Kelly pleaded guilty to two criminal cases in federal court involving income tax fraud and fraud at O'Hare Airport.
Kelly faced an extraordinary amount of pressure by federal prosecutors to cooperate in federal court. He was indicted three times in two years.
But Kelly's refusal to plead guilty in Blagojevich's case shows Blagojevich was not involved in wrongdoing with Kelly, Adam said.
"He told the truth in the first case. He told the truth in the second case," and he told the truth in Blagojevich's case by not pleading guilty, Adam argued.
Kelly's guilty pleas in two separate fraud cases each came on the eve of trial.
Kelly was to face trial on racketeering and extortion charges with Blagojevich next June.
Asked if the government can be accused of "piling on" charges against Kelly, another lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky said: "It would be inappropriate to do any post-mortem" on who is at fault.
A confidant of Kelly's told the Sun-Times last week that Kelly was prepared to go to trial in the second case he faced involving bid-rigging at O'Hare. But Kelly, 51, of Burr Ridge,
changed his mind at the last-minute when the government moved to revoke his bond, according to the confidant. Kelly came up with a compromise to turn himself into jail a week later. He killed himself in the interim.
Kelly, who was angered with the government for playing hardball with him, was steadfast in his refusal to cooperate against Blagojevich, those close to him have said.
Meanwhile, in court this morning, U.S. District Judge James Zagel formally dismissed charges against Kelly.
There was little formal talk of Kelly in the courtroom except for prosecutors asking to dismiss the counts against Kelly.
"On suggestion of death?" Zagel asked. "Motion granted."
Kelly's lawyer, Michael Monico, was not in court.

Tour de Rod 2009 ...

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continues. From his PR people:

(PRNewsChannel) / Chicago, Ill. / Rod Blagojevich is scheduled for the following interviews for Monday, Sept. 21, 2009, according to The Publicity Agency, the PR firm that represents the former Illinois governor.

Blagojevich's new book THE GOVERNOR was released last week.

8:10am CENTRAL, WIYY-FM Baltimore MD
8:20am CENTRAL, WJFK-FM Washington DC
8:35am CENTRAL, CFYI-AM Toronto Ontario
9am CENTRAL, KPOJ-AM Portland OR
9:15am CENTRAL, KMOX St. Louis MO
10:05am CENTRAL, KABC-AM Los Angeles CA
10:20am CENTRAL, WEBE-FM Bridgeport / NYC CT / NY
10:30am CENTRAL, KSLG-FM Humboldt County CA
9:00pm CENTRAL, Westwood One, 60 min, Live, with Late Night The Jim Bohanon Show

Village Voice, NYC

Patti: I didn't swipe list from charity to promote hubby's book

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In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Patti Blagojevich took issue with public criticism that she had absconded with a list of contacts from her former employer so she could help bolster sales of the former governor's new book.

Feds turn up heat on Jesse Jackson Jr.

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The feds asked a congressional ethics committee to back off its probe of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. That's because the panel's work started overlapping a federal probe, the Chicago Sun-Times reported today.
The ethics office said Wednesday it was investigating whether Jackson used tax-backed resources -- in the form of his Chicago and Washington, D.C., staffs -- to vie for the U.S. Senate seat appointment last year. The now-indicted ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the time was in charge of appointing a replacement to the seat vacated by President Obama.
"Rep. Jackson may have violated federal law and House rules concerning the proper use of the member's representational allowance," the panel indicated.
Among the areas of inquiry in an ongoing federal probe tied to the case of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, is whether Jackson's congressional staff had authored letters of support for Jackson, then distributed those letters to different interest groups. The groups then are alleged to have put their organization names and signatures on the letters and sent them to Blagojevich.

'Christopher Kelly is at peace.'

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Photo by Jean Lachat Grace Kelly (center, with hand on her stomach) is consoled by family at her father's funeral.

In his final hours, Christopher Kelly called his brother, Charlie, with a request: keep his funeral service short, keep his eulogy brief.
Above all, he wanted his family and friends to know one thing, his brother said this morning:
"Christopher Kelly is at peace," Charles Kelly said. "Nothing more. Nothing less."
At a funeral service this morning at St. John of the Cross Church in Western Springs, there was no talk of Rod Blagojevich, of federal prosecutors or of a suicide investigation of the onetime political insider that has dominated the news in recent days.

Photo by Jean Lachat Pallbearers, led by one of Chris Kelly's brothers (right) and nephew (left) carry Kelly's casket from the church Wednesday.

Charles Kelly said his brother in no uncertain terms told him he was at peace and that he wanted that communicated to his family.
Charles Kelly said his brother was blessed with a loving and devoted wife, Carmen and that the entire Kelly family was proud of his brother.
Charles spoke of his brother's intense love for his three daughters: his first-born, Grace, his middle daughter Jacqueline, who is named after the Kelly patriarch, John "Jack" Kelly and the youngest, Claire, whom Chris Kelly liked to call "Claire Bear."
Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, as well as their two daughters attended the funeral. They did not speak publicly afterward. Also in attendance was Kelly's lawyers and Chicago Ald. Ed Burke.

Photo by Rich Hein Chris Kelly's girlfriend, Clarissa Flores, leaves Kelly's funeral Wednesday.

Kelly died Saturday morning after overdosing on a bottle of aspirin, according to police. In recent years, Kelly was under the weight of three federal indictments.
Authorities said Tuesday that Kelly made a first attempt at suicide just hours after he pleaded guilty in federal court last week. That day in federal court, Kelly told reporters: "My life is over."
In court, Kelly told the judge he faced pressures "in my life."

Chris Kelly -- in his own words

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The Chicago Sun-Times has obtained a transcript of Christopher Kelly's court hearing the day he pleaded guilty last week. Country Club Hills Police say that hours after entering his guilty plea, he attempted suicide.
Friends rushed to his aid and Kelly vowed he'd get help.
But three days later, Kelly once again walked down that dark path, downing a bottle of aspirin. He was dead the next day. Kelly had been indicted three times since 2007. The day he pleaded guilty he spoke of pressures "in my life."

Here are excerpts:
U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle: Are you being threatened in any way?
Kelly: No, sir.
Norgle: Are you being pressured or forced or shoved into pleading guilty?
Kelly: "I would be remiss if I didn't say that there was a great deal of
pressure in my life right now. But I'm doing it freely, and willingly,
understandingly, knowingly, conscious of the ramifications of my actions,
and I'm accepting responsibility here in front of you today, Judge Norgle."
Norgle: Is it fair to say you have had enough time to think about all of
Kelly: Yes, your Honor, I have.
Norgle: All right. This is an important question: Then what is it that
you have decided to do?
Kelly: To plead guilty to the charges as outlined by the

Click here for the full transcript: Kellyplea.pdf

Kelly attempted suicide hours after guilty plea: police

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Country Club Hills Police today said former gubernatorial fund-raiser and adviser Christopher Kelly killed himself, ruling out suicide.
They also revealed that Kelly had attempted suicide days earlier -- on the same day that he had pleaded guilty in federal court.

The Sun-Times reported today that Kelly pleaded guilty after the feds moved to have a judge revoke his bond.

Rod, Patti Blagojevich to attend Chris Kelly's funeral

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Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, plan to attend Wednesday's funeral of
Chris Kelly, the former governor's one-time fund-raiser and close aide.
The indicted former governor, through his publicist, announced his plans to
attend the funeral in Western Springs.
There was no word if he would attend tonight's wake in Roselle.
Kelly died Saturday following an apparent overdose.

More details on his death are expected to be released by Country Club Hills officials this

Kelly: "Some day, the whole truth will come out."

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Just four days before his death, Christopher Kelly spoke those words while at the federal courthouse downtown.

Today, investigators continued to try unraveling details of what happened during the final hours of Kelly's life. Country Club Hills investigators interviewed Kelly's girlfriend, Clarissa Flores.

They reported Flores was cooperative with their probe and her lawyer, Terry Gillespie, said there wasn't a question she didn't answer.
Investigators say they found prescription medication and over-the-counter pills in Kelly's SUV. They want Kelly and Flores' cell phones to review the texts they exchanged before his apparent overdose death.

Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch is expected to hold a news conference tomorrow and lay out a timeline of events surrounding Kelly's final hours.

Kelly dead of apparent overdose. Probe underway.

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Country Club Hills police are investigating the death of Chris Kelly, the longtime loyal friend, adviser and fund-raiser of Rod Blagojevich.
Hours before Kelly was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital, he called a friend to tell her he was going to kill himself, the Sun-Times is reporting.
A source familiar with the investigation said that Kelly, who is married, called a friend and told her he took some pills and was going to kill himself.
She found Kelly and drove him to Oak Forest Hospital, dropped him off and called police to report she did so, the source said.
Oak Forest Hospital does not have a trauma unit and was unable to treat Kelly, who then was rushed to Stroger Hospital in an ambulance.
Kelly, 51, had been indicted three times but refused to cooperate against the ex-governor. He pleaded guilty last Tuesday was set to turn himself in to prison on Friday.


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Sources say that a key figure in the case of Rod Blagojevich -- Christopher Kelly -- was found dead this morning.
The news comes just days after Kelly pleaded guilty to a scheme involving $8.5 million in fraud at O'Hare airport.
He was to report to jail by Friday and was on a curfew, which he agreed to, until he turned himself into court.
On the day he pleaded guilty, Kelly, 51, told a judge he'd be remiss if he didn't say he felt pressures in his life. The onetime adviser to Blagojevich had been hit with three federal indictments and refused to flip on his friend.
He faced nearly eight years in prison from two guilty pleas.

Update: A law enforcement source is saying Kelly died of an aspirin overdose.

Blago regrets "every day" involving brother in his affairs

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The ex-governor gave me a few minutes of his time in an interview by phone from Los Angeles yesterday while on a whirlwind tour promoting his new book.
Rod Blagojevich told me he regrets "every day" his decision to ask his older brother to join on as his campaign fund chief last year. The move eventually led to a dark path for his brother, Rob, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., and, unlike his kid brother, has stayed out of politics his whole life. Robert Blagojevich now faces two wire fraud counts and plans to go to trial with the former governor.
Rod Blagojevich's comments came in response to a pair of stories the Sun-Times ran over the weekend, in which Rob Blagojevich and his wife, Julie, for the first time about the criminal case facing their family.
To read today's story click here.

Rod Blagojevich 2.jpgThe Rod Blagojevich Book Tour continues today as the embattled former Illinois governor joins fellow Chicagoan Bonnie Hunt for an interview.

In the interview, which airs this afternoon, Hunt calls Blagojevich a "smooth operator." She says after reading his book, The Governor, "I would describe you as a perpetual victim of circumstance. Could that possibly be true?"

Hunt also asks him whether his position of power ever tempted him to exchange the Senate seat for personal gain, if he accepts any responsibility for mistakes that he has made and why there aren't more people coming to his defense if he is truly innocent.

Blagojevich tells her, "They're lying. These are false accusations and there are taped conversations that will set the record straight. That's the truth. I'm the one that wants you all to hear them. My accusers don't.  Now what does that tell you?"

"The Bonnie Hunt Show" airs at 2 p.m. CST on NBC.

Rod Round two: L.A.

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After embarking on a media tour in New York to promote his new book The Governor , Rod Blagojevich is now in Los Angeles for round two.
That includes an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Here's the ex-gov's itinerary according to his PR firm;

Los Angeles, Calif. / The former governor of Illinois, controversially ousted from office in January and now out with a new book that sets the record straight in his case, will do interviews with Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, the syndicated 'The Bonnie Hunt Show' and 'Chelsea Lately' on E! along with The Associated Press TV, according to his PR firm, The Publicity Agency.

The governor also has a full slate of radio interviews lined up.

AP Television
The Bonnie Hunt Show
Chelsea Lately (E! - to air at a later date)
Jimmy Kimmel LIVE

Bill Press on Sirius
Gordon Deal, WSJ Today, Wall Street Journal radio
Bob an Sheri show, Bob and Sheri Network (national)
Money & More Radio, David Latko and Earl Merkel (national)
Dennis Miller, Westwood One Radio

Rod and Patti do "The View."

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Our Kara Spak writes today that audience members of "The View," walked away with copies of the ex-governor's new book, but little new insight into Illinois' former first couple.
Blago tossed out some of stale lines he's repeated on TV, proclaiming his innocence.
He and Patti fielded mostly softball questions from the panel, including from guest host Meghan McCain, daughter of former Republican presidential nominee John McCain.


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One of the biggest players in Rod Blagojevich's criminal saga pleaded guilty in federal court today and agreed to turn himself in to jail by next week.
Christopher Kelly, a longtime friend, adviser and fund-raiser to the ex-governor, pleaded guilty to a kickback scheme involving contracts at O'Hare Airport and his roofing company, BCI Commercial Roofing, Inc.
By doing so, he evades a trial that was scheduled to begin tomorrow.
Kelly told the judge he pleaded guilty after enduring "a great deal of pressure."
"I'm doing it knowing the ramifications of my actions," said Kelly, whose plea deal calls for a 57-month sentence, almost five years, to run after he serves three years in a separate tax fraud case.
Kelly will voluntarily surrender to the federal lock-up on Sept. 18. He will also pay a $450,000 in forfeiture.
There was no talk of Kelly cooperating against Blagojevich, despite the government taking the rare move and charging Kelly three times in two years.
Kelly still faces trial on racketeering and extortion charges with the former governor next June.
Wearing a blue dress shirt in court, Kelly stood with his hands folded before him and, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar read the charges aloud in court, Kelly looked up at the ceiling or down at the floor.
Upon swearing in Kelly, U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle asked the Burr Ridge man to speak up.
"Is there a reason why you're whispering?" Norgle asked.
Schar said as part of the kickback scheme, Kelly used criminally-derived profits to pay off personal debts, including to convicted businessman Tony Rezko, as well as gambling debts.
"Is that what happened and is that what you did?" Norgle asked.
"Yes," Kelly replied.
Kelly still faces trial on charges with the ex-governor -- his third indictment. Kelly pleaded guilty in a separate tax scheme earlier this year.
The plea deal was finalized at the last minute, with Kelly initialing portions of it outside the courtroom minutes before court. At one point, Norgle recessed because Kelly said he hadn't read the whole document.
Kelly and his lawyer, Michael Monico, left the courthouse without comment.

Kelly in courthouse. Closed hearing.

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Chris Kelly and his lawyers, as well as federal prosecutors, were just up inside a federal courtroom in a closed session.

U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle told the parties to return at 2:15 p.m.
Neither side would discuss what was going on. Are they discussing a plea?
No one would say.

Jury selection in Kelly's case is supposed to begin tomorrow. But Kelly's lawyer, Michael Monico, filed a motion to move the trial to October.
But that's not a matter that would be closed.
Earlier today, Monico wouldn't answer when asked if he was absolutely sure his client would go to trial tomorrow.
"We're going to trial," Monico said initially. But when pressed, Monico abruptly ended the conversation.
Kelly is a longtime, loyal friend to Rod Blagojevich, and was also of his top advisers and fund-raisers. His trial tomorrow is about contract fraud at O'Hare. He pleaded guilty to tax charges earlier this year and as of now faces trial along with the ex-governor next June.

Will Chris Kelly's trial happen tomorrow?

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*** Update: Chris Kelly and his lawyers, as well as federal prosecutors, were just up inside a federal courtroom in a closed session. Are they discussing a plea?
No one would say. U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle told the parties to return at 2:15 p.m. ***

Christopher Kelly is supposed to go to trial tomorrow.
Will he? His lawyer wouldn't exactly give a straight answer.
Kelly, one of Rod Blagojevich's closest friends, his ex-adviser and fund-raiser, is accused in an alleged contract corruption scheme at O'Hare Airport.
He's just filed a motion asking that his trial be moved because of publicity surrounding the release of the ex-governor's book.
"We've filed a motion for a continuance because of pre-trial publicity because of Blagojevich's book," Kelly's lawyer, Michael Monico said.
Is this just a delay for Kelly to weigh whether he should flip on his old friend or will he plead guilty in the case?
Monico wouldn't give a definitive answer.
"We're going to trial," Monico said initially. But when pressed, Monico abruptly ended the conversation with this Chicago Sun-Times reporter.
In a filing today, Monico asks for an October court date, arguing it would distance Kelly from media attention surrounding Blagojevich. The former governor appeared on the "Today Show" this morning and has other New York talk show appearances planned this week.
"This barrage of media attention has the significant potential to poison the jury pool against Mr. Kelly, who was Mr. Blagojevich's campaign finance chair and close
associate for many years," a filing in federal court today states. "Due to this overwhelming media attention we do not believe that Mr. Kelly can receive a fair trial at this time."
Monico is asking that additional questions be asked of jurors to uncover any Blago taint.
Kelly pleaded guilty earlier this year in a tax case. Then he was hit with two more indictments, including having been charged along with the governor.
Kelly has repeatedly said he would not cooperate against Rod Blagojevich. But, over the summer, he had some preliminary talks with the government, sources said.
Those talks broke down at some point.
It's no secret that the government would see a Kelly deal as a coup. They've wanted him badly enough that they've charged him three times.

Blago on Today: Shout it from the mountaintop.

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Appearing on the "Today Show" this morning, Illinois' disgraced ex-governor said when you're an innocent man: "you look for the highest mountaintop where you can shout out: 'it ain't so.'"

Since no one can actually hear you while you're on top of a mountain, Rod Blagojevich lamented this morning, you write a book. The former Illinois governor is on a media tour -- his second such blitz this year -- to promote his new book, "The Governor," in which he chronicles his political rise and fall.

While The Governor, published by Phoenix Books, was released today, it hit some bookstores in the Chicago area last week. Blagojevich is scheduled to appear on "The View," tomorrow and "Jimmy Kimmel Live," on Thursday.

During his morning talk show appearance, Blagojevich admitted he can be heard on FBI recordings telling others that the U.S. Senate seat is "(Bleepin') Golden," and he wasn't going to give it up for "(Bleepin') nothing."

"I did say that, I said it in the context of politics, helping the people of illinois, health care ..." Blagojevich said this morning.

He then lashed out at prosecutors for only telling part of the story.

"The very people who made those accusations are the ones who went to court and stopped the tapes from being released," Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich said prosecutors released only portions of secret recordings that captured him talking about President Obama's vacant senate seat last fall.

He said when the tapes are played at trial: "The simple truth is what will vindicate me."

He is scheduled to go on trial next June.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on charges that he tried selling the seat, among other allegations.

He denied the government's contention that he on the brink of selling the U.S. Senate seat when he was arrested. Instead, he said he was setting plans in motion to cut a deal with politically powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to push through a legislative package in exchange for naming the speaker's daughter, Lisa Madigan, to the post. The Madigans have said they have no idea of what plan Blagojevich is speaking.

"This is a story that is completely upside down," Blagojevich said this morning. He said it is a "lie and a mutilation of the truth," for the government to say it was stopping a crime spree.

"Not only is (naming Madigan) on the up and up," Blagojevich said. "It's the best deal I could get for the people of Illinois."


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Photo by Jean Lachat

A longtime military man and successful businessman, Rob Blagojevich -- the brother of our controversial ex-governor -- lived in relative obscurity.
But just four months after reluctantly agreeing to act as the fund-raising chair to the former governor, Rob Blagojevich was an unnamed co-schemer in a federal complaint. By the next spring, he was indicted.

For the first time, Rob and his wife, Julie have agreed to break that silence in a wide-ranging interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. Read today's story

Rob and Rod in more innocent days.

Is Blago book a peek at Blago's defense?

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In his new book, The Governor, ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich said the day before his arrest, he called his chief of staff, John Harris, and told him to get the ball rolling on the appointment of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat.

He hoped to strike a deal with her politically powerful father who would have to agree to advance a legislative package that would expand health care, create 500,000 new jobs and put a hold on foreclosures.

The notion that Blagojevich would have chosen Lisa Madigan appears to lay the groundwork for a defense strategy that would attack the government's sexiest allegation: that Blagojevich aimed to sell the Senate post for personal gain.

Whether the contention will hold up is in question in a case that is grounded in a substantial number of secret conversations caught on FBI wiretaps.

Read more in today's story: How Blagojevich did business

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