BY CHRIS FUSCO AND DAVE McKINNEY
As a federal probe into Gov. Blagojevich's administration heated up in late 2004, there were discussions between GOP powerbroker Robert Kjellander and Bush White House insider Karl Rove to oust corruption-busting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald from his job, according to a man whom prosecutors want to testify at Rezko’s trial.
Those alleged efforts were disclosed in federal court this morning, as prosecutors sought to have them introduced into the corruption trial of Rezko, who is accused of seeking kickbacks and campaign contributions to Blagojevich from companies seeking state business.
Judge Amy J. St. Eve is considering the prosecution’s request to allow Ali D. Ata to testify about talks he had with Rezko that included discussion of Fitzgerald’s future. Ata — former director of the Illinois Finance authority under Blagojevich — on Tuesday pleaded guilty to federal charges in a separate case involving Rezko.
“With respect to Mr. Ata, what I anticipate Mr. Ata would testify to would be that he did actually have direct conversations with Mr. Rezko about the fact that ... Mr. Kjellander was working with Karl Rove to have Mr. Fitzgerald removed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie E. Hamilton told St. Eve.
“Mr. Rezko’s explanation, according to Mr. Ata, is that Mr. Kjellander is working with Mr. Rove to have Mr. Fitzgerald removed so that someone else can come in to the U.S. Attorney's Office, and invididuals who have been cooperating in this investigation will be dealt with differently.
“This isn’t verbatim Mr. Ata’s statements. This is my summary based upon ... my understanding.”
Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, acknowledged his client’s long friendship with Kjellander but denied any role in the alleged scheme to dislodge Fitzgerald as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor.
“I can tell you Karl has known Kjellander for many years, does not recall ever being approached by him or anybody else about the removal of Pat Fitzgerald. And certainly, Karl did not talk to anyone at the White House or anywhere else to try and bring that about,” Luskin said.
Luskin said Rove doesn’t ever recall meeting Rezko nor Ata and has not been contacted by investigators handling Rezko’s case.
The Sun-Times is attempting to reach Kjellander and the White House.
Rezko — a former top fund-raiser for Blagojevich, a Democrat, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama — also has been a big supporter of Bush, helping host a major fund-raiser for the GOP president in 2004.
Sources have placed Kjellander at a party at Rezko’s Wilmette house shortly after Blagojevich won election in 2002, and Kjellander received a controversial $809,000 fee through a $10 billion state pension bond deal Blagojevich pushed through the General Assembly in 2003.
St. Eve did not decide this morning whether Ata will be allowed to tell Rezko’s jury about what Rezko told him about Kjellander and Rove.