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Fitzgerald press conference on Blagojevich. Transcript.

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Courtesy Federal News Service

PRESS CONFERENCE WITH PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY, NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
TOPIC: THE ARREST OF GOVERNOR ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D-IL) AND JOHN HARRIS, HIS CHIEF OF STAFF, ON CORRUPTION CHARGES
ALSO PRESENT: THOMAS BRADY, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, CHICAGO OFFICE OF THE U.S. POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE ROBERT GRANT, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, CHICAGO OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION ALVIN PATTON, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION ASSISTANT U.S ATTORNEYS CARRIE HAMILTON, CHRISTOPHER NIEWOEHNER AND REID SCHAR

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
12:10 P.M. EST, TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2008


MR. FITZGERALD: Good morning. Joining me is -- to my far right, is Rob Grant, the special agent in charge for the FBI office here in Chicago. To his left is Al Patton, the special agent in charge of the IRS Criminal Investigative Division, and to his left is Tom Brady, the inspector in charge of the Postal Inspection Service in Chicago. Behind me, to my left, are Carrie Hamilton, Reid Schar and Chris Niewoehner, assistant U.S. attorneys.

This is a sad day for government. It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree. We acted to stop that crime spree.

The most appalling conduct Governor Blagojevich engaged in, according to the complaint filed today or unsealed today, is that he attempted to sell the Senate seat -- the Senate seat he had the sole right, under Illinois, to appoint to replace President-elect Obama.

Let me take you back eight weeks ago to set the allegations in context. Back eight weeks ago, we had the following environment. There was a known investigation of the Blagojevich administration that had been going on for years, involving allegations of pay-to-play conduct and corruption. There had been a recent trial of an associate of Governor Blagojevich in which allegations were aired where people testified that government -- Blagojevich was involved in corrupt conduct. And there was an Ethics in Government Act that was pending, that would go in effect January 1 of 2009, that would bar certain contributions from people doing business with the state of Illinois. You might have thought in that environment that pay to play would slow down. The opposite happened. It sped up. Government -- Blagojevich and others were working feverishly to get as much money from contractors, shaking them down, pay to play, before the end of the year.

I will give you one example. A month or so ago, a $1.8 billion tollway project was announced. While that tollway project was being announced, Governor Blagojevich was privately seeking to have a person benefitting from that contract raise $100,000 in contributions. And privately the government (sic) said, "I could have made a larger announcement, but wanted to see how they would perform by the end of the year. If they don't perform, bleep 'em." That's a quote, and the word "bleep" was not the word he used.

After being aware that actually the pay-to-play scheme had taken up greater steam and greater urgency, back eight weeks ago, after careful review, decision was made that more extraordinary means of investigation needed to be used.

After that point, a bug was placed in the campaign offices of Governor Blagojevich and a tap was placed on his home telephone. And that tap and that bug bore out what those allegations were.

I'll give you two examples set forth in the 76-page complaint. One involves Children's Memorial Hospital, a hospital that obviously takes care of children. At one point, the governor awarded funding -- reimbursement funding to that hospital to the tune of $8 million, but he also indicated privately that what he wanted to get was a $50,000 personal contribution from the chief executive officer of that hospital. In the ensuing weeks, that contribution never came, and Governor Blagojevich was intercepted on the telephone, checking to see whether or not he could pull back the funding for Children's Memorial Hospital.

A second example is legislation that is pending concerning horse racing. There is a bill that, I believe, sits on the governor's desk that would take money from casino revenues and divert a percentage of it to horse-racing tracks. While this was pending, the interceptions show that the governor was told that one person who he is seeking to have -- raise $100,000 also was working with a person who was seeking that money to have a -- a bill pending. And the governor was told that the person who wanted that bill, from whom they wanted money, was told the following, that he needed to get his contribution in.

And the quote was, "Look, there is a concern that there is going to be some skittishness if your bill gets signed because of the timeliness of the commitment," close quote. Then the person told the contributor, the money, quote, "got to be in now," close quote.

And when the governor was told this part of the conversation, his response was, "Good."

Shortly thereafter, the person who was trying to get the contribution from the person who had the bill pending suggested that the governor call the person directly, that it would be better to get the call personally from the governor, quote, "from a pressure point of view," close quote. And the governor agreed.

As we sit here now, as far as we know, that bill sits on the governor's desk. That $8 million in funding is still pending.

In addition to the pay-to-play allegations which are described in greater detail in the complaint, we also were surprised to learn of an extortionate attempt against the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The Chicago Tribune had not been kind to Governor Blagojevich, had written editorials that called for his impeachment. And Governor Blagojevich and defendant Jonathan -- John Harris, his chief of staff, schemed to send a message to the Chicago Tribune that if the Tribune company wanted to sell its ball field, Wrigley Field, in order to complete a business venture, the price of doing so was to fire certain editors, including one editor by name.

In the governor words -- governor's words, quote, "Fire all those bleeping people. Get them the bleep out of there and get us some editorial support," close quote. And the bleeps are not really bleeps.

The defendant Harris tried to frame the message more subtly to get the point across to the Tribune that firing the editorial board members would be a good thing in terms of getting financing to allow the sale to go forward.

But the most cynical behavior in all this, the most appalling is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama.

The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

The governor's own words describing this Senate seat, quote: "It's a bleeping valuable thing, thing. You just don't give it away for nothing," close quote.

Another quote: "I've got this thing. And it's bleeping golden. I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing. I'm not going to do it. I can always use it. I can parachute me there," quote.

Those are his words, not our characterization, other than with regards to the bleeps. The tapes reveal the Governor Blagojevich wanted a number of things, in exchange, for making the appointment to the Senate seat -- an appointment as secretary of Health and Human Services or an ambassadorship, an appointment to a private foundation, a higher-paying job for his wife or campaign contributions.

At one point, he proposed a three-way deal, that a cushy union job would be given to him at a higher rate of pay, where he could make money. In exchange, he thought that the union might get benefits from the president-elect. And therefore the president-elect might get the candidate of his choice.

I should make clear, the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever, his conduct. This part of the scheme lost steam when the person that the governor thought was the president- elect's choice of senator took herself out of the running. But after the deal never happened, this is the governor's reaction, quote, "They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them," close quote. And again, the bleep is a redaction.

What I should also talk about is that, in another event, somebody else approached the governor. And the governor's understanding of this approach was that in exchange for an appointment, to the Senate seat, he would receive campaign contributions. And the government's view of what was told, to him, through intermediaries was that, quote, "We were approached pay-to-play that, you know, he raised me 500 grand. Then the other guy would raise a million if I made him senator," close quote.

This is a conversation where the senator is describing how he perceived a message that came through multiple hands. His concern: Was he offended that, he thought, campaign contributions were being offered in exchange for a Senate seat? No. He was worried that the campaign contributions would actually be paid. He wasn't against the corrupt deal. He was against being stiffed in the corrupt deal.

His quote was, he wanted the money, quote, "tangible, up front," close quote. He told someone who was his intermediary, quote, "Some of this stuff has got to start happening now, right now. And we've got to see it," close quote.

Just last week, he was saying this to someone, to make sure that the money was going to be up front. And he said, quote, "You've got to be careful how you express that and assume everybody's listening. The whole world is listening. I would do it in person. I would not do it on the phone," close quote. That's the governor of Illinois.

After an article appeared in the Tribune, last week, indicating a belief that Mr. Blagojevich had been taped, then a message was sent for him to undo contact with the intermediary on that campaign contribution deal.

And finally we should also note that the government talked about appointing himself to the Senate seat, for reasons not having to do with the better welfare of the citizens of Illinois.

He wanted to do it to avoid impeachment in the Illinois legislature for his conduct. He wanted to do it to have access to greater financial resources if he were indicted. He wanted to do it to see if he could help his wife work as a lobbyist. He wanted to do it to remake his image, to run for office in 2016. And he wanted to do it to see if he could generate speaking fees.

At the end of the day, the conduct we have before us is appalling.

What I do want to note is that, at the end of the day, it's very, very important that how we proceed from here be the right way to proceed. We have a lot of information gained from a number of interviews and investigation over the years. We have a tremendous amount of information gained from the wiretap and the bugs that occurred over the last month and a half or so.

What we also know is that some of these schemes went pretty far, and some did not go far at all, but they had discussions about what they would do, who they would approach, and how they would phrase it. And we need to do the investigation, now that the investigation is overt, to find out from other people what happened: what they were told, how explicitly, what they understood, and what happened. That part of the investigation we intend to conduct responsibly.

We hope that people out there understand that this complaint only charges two individuals. These two individuals are presumed innocent. But we make no charges about any of the other people who are referenced in the complaint, most not by name. And people should not cast aspersions on people who are discussed on the wiretap or bug tapes for conduct when other people are scheming to figure out how to approach them for different things. We hope you'll bear that in mind and not cast aspersions on people for being named or being discussed, or if you learn they're being interviewed.

The other part is that I think this is a moment of truth for Illinois. In all seriousness, we have times when people decry corruption; and yet, here we have a situation where there appeared to be wide-ranging schemes where people were seeking to make people pay contributions to get contracts or appointments or do other stuff.

The FBI and their sister agencies at Postal, IRS and the Department of Labor have done a magnanimous -- a magnificent job. They will continue to work very, very hard. But what we really need is cooperation from people who are not in law enforcement, the people outside who heard or saw things or were approached in ways that felt uncomfortable. If they felt uncomfortable and they think, "This is not how you run a government," they ought to come forward and give us that information. It's very, very important that we get that information, so we can make the right decisions about where to proceed from here.

I can tell you we've been conducting interviews during the day, and we're already quite heartened to hear that there are a number of people out there who were appalled by this conduct who are willing to come forward and talk to us. So we encourage people to talk to us. We encourage people to work with us, to let us get to the bottom of what has happened here.

We remind people that there's a lot we don't know and need to know. We remind people that we -- there's an awful lot we do know, and we'll be able to verify what people tell us. But we ask that the press, in particular, recognize that we're not casting aspersions on people other than the two people we charged, and bear that in mind and be responsible.

And with that, I'd like to turn the microphone over to Rob Grant, the special agent in charge.

I want to thank the assistant U.S. attorneys who worked night and day on this case. We especially want to thank the FBI agents who monitored the bug and the wiretap and did all sorts of work over the last few months, on top of the work they've done for years, and their partners at IRS, Postal and Labor.

Thanks.

MR. GRANT: Thanks, Pat.

I know you all have a lot of questions, so I'm not going to -- I'm not going to make this long.

Today certainly is a new low for the state of Illinois. A little over two years ago, the U.S. attorney and myself stood up here and talked about the conviction of a former governor, and hoped that conviction would send a clear signal to elected officials in Illinois that business as usual will no longer be tolerated, that selling your office for personal gain is a -- is a practice of the past. It's obvious by this complaint and by today's charges that this current governor did not get that message.

I got here four years ago. A lot of you were in the audience asking the question of whether or not Illinois is the most corrupt state in the United States, and I didn't answer that question yes or no, and I can't answer that question today. I don't have 49 other states to compare it with. But I can tell you one thing: if it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor.

This wiretap I can tell you, from the FBI agents that participated in this wiretap investigation, were thoroughly disgusted and revolted by what they heard, and I think even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked. I want to thank them. They put a lot of -- countless hours in, as did the prosecutors -- a lot of weekends, a lot of holiday times away from their family. They worked tirelessly to bring this to a successful conclusion. To them goes the credit.

Thanks.

Q Mr. Fitzgerald, was this done today in an effort to head off the appointment of someone to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat? Was it so imminent that that's why you had to step in?

MR. FITZGERALD: I would say that we decided that this required unusual measures, and there were a lot of things going on that were imminent.

There's a bill sitting on the desk that we think a person who was supporting that bill has been squeezed to give $100,000. And to let that bill be signed to me would be very, very troubling.

There is a hospital -- Children's Memorial Hospital -- believing that it's getting $8 million, but its CEO has not coughed up a campaign contribution. And the thought that that money may get pulled back from a Children's Memorial Hospital is something that you cannot abide.

There is an editor that they'd like fired from the Tribune. And I laid awake at night worrying whether I'd read in the paper in the morning that when there were layoffs that we'd find out that that person was laid out. The complaint -- the complaint lays out, in there, in fact, when there were layoffs, there were conversations to find out whether the editor who should have -- they thought should be fired was fired, and he wasn't, and the governor was asking whether there'd be more layoffs. So we have the governors, in these modern times, the only one who's looking for more layoffs.

You take that, what's going on, add it to the fact that we have a Senate seat that seemed to be as recently as days ago auctioned off to the -- you know, to the highest bidder for campaign contributions. And Governor Blagojevich's own words on the tape with a bug that's set forth in the complaint talked about selling this like a sports agent.

Q Couldn't he just --

MR. FITZGERALD: So -- I'm just -- so we stepped in for a number of reasons.

Basically, as I said before, we're in the middle of a corruption crime spree and we wanted to stop it.

(Members of press shouting simultaneous questions.)

Okay. Can we --

Q Patrick, you said --

MR. FITZGERALD: Okay, just one second. No, no, let me just say one thing. We're going to stay here as long as this is productive. We will -- you're not on a clock. We want to dispel any misperceptions. So don't feel like you got to -- anyone's got to yell to get a question in.

Okay.

Q (Inaudible) -- you said twice that we shouldn't cast aspersions on people who we think we recognize within the complaint. Does that mean that all of these people are beyond blame in any way? I mean, some of the things in the complaint point a very kind of a tacky finger at some people, their willingness to play. And if pay to play is illegal, isn't the willingness to play also culpable, even if you didn't charge today?

MR. FITZGERALD: What I'm trying to say is this. Look, we never give -- you know, and I think anyone who's from Chicago knows -- you've heard it a thousand times -- we don't give clean bills of health. And what I've always been afraid of is if you say, you know, "Did Carlos or me -- are we in trouble?" I'm never going to say no, because that's just our practice. But I don't want people, when I answer those questions, to imply that someone is in trouble.

What I'm trying to do is explain caution about a complaint. When someone says something that's on tape, largely they're stuck with it. But when someone says something on tape about someone else, you usually want to do more investigation to verify what it is that happened. And we're going to do that investigation and verify what it is that happened, what didn't happen, and what the circumstances are.

There may be people who had no idea what was going on, had no idea they were being discussed. There may be other people who were involved in things they shouldn't have been involved in. And we're going to sort that out. And we're going to see -- you know, some things will be be black and white and some things will be shades of gray.

And what we wanted to make clear is that our complaint sets forth charges against the governor and Mr. Harris, and we've put in their mindset. So, what they understand when they're scheming is important to the, you know, probable cause of what they were planning to do when they schemed.

We'd like to see what schemes were carried out or not, who made contributions or didn't, that sort of thing. And for that, we don't draft complaints with that in mind, and we want people to take what we say with more than a grain of salt, with a whole lot of salt. What we're saying, we're going to go out and do an investigation, and if other people did wrong, we'll deal with that.

Yes?

Q Would you please address one thing? And that is, when Blagojevich walks out of here today, unless I'm mistaken about the constitution of Illinois, he will still be governor. He will still have the power to make the appointment to the Senate seat. He will still have the power whether or not he's going to sign the bill that you are concerned about.

Also would you address the fact -- and I know you've referred to this -- would you just address whether or not President-elect Obama was aware that any of these things were taking place?

MR. FITZGERALD: Okay. I'm not going to speak for what the president-elect was aware of. We make no allegations that he's aware of anything, and that's as simply as I can put it.

And the first part, my understanding is that he is the sitting governor of Illinois today, now, and that is not something we have any say in or control over. So at the end of the day, he will be the sitting governor.

Q (Inaudible) -- so that you can intervene because you were afraid something was going to happen with the Senate seat that would taint it. He still has the power to do that.

MR. FITZGERALD: Yes. And when there's a bunch of people scheming in private and they think no one's listening and no one's aware of it, they can do a heck of a lot more than when someone goes and basically raids the crime in-plot and airs what's going on. And people know what we're aware of.

And if I were someone who wanted to pay to play, I think this would be about the worst time to try to make a cash contribution to someone to get something illegal. And there's a lot to be said for exposing this to the sunlight.

So this is a criminal prosecution that we will see through the court system. He is presumed innocent.

But I was not going to wait until March or April or May to get it all nice and tidy and then bring charges and then say, "By the way, all this bad stuff happened because no one was aware of it back in December." I think that would be irresponsible. (Cross talk.)

So sometimes, when there's ongoing criminal conduct -- and this is a very different case than what we often see -- we will expose the criminal conduct and bring charges to let people know we're on to it, and to hopefully -- to put a stop to it.

Q In your view, in your view, Pat, in your view --

MR. FITZGERALD: Okay, this -- and then Carlos next.

Q In your view, Pat, should the governor, on his own volition, step aside while he fights these charges, or should the Illinois state legislature move ahead with what it's threatened to do and impeach him? What are your views on both of those?

MR. FITZGERALD: The Office of the United States Attorney has no view. We are not entitled to any view. And the view of what happens in the legislature of Illinois is not for us.

Q What do you --

Q Pat --

MR. FITZGERALD: Carlos. Carlos and then Carol (sp).

Q Pat, given the scope and the brazenness of this alleged conduct of Governor Blagojevich, what does it say that this happened despite the cautionary tale of George Ryan?

MR. FITZGERALD: I just -- I think it tells us certainly -- you know, I don't want to jump ahead of things. Again, the governor's presumed innocent.

But the -- if the charges set forth in the complaint are true, it is an appalling, appalling statement about what's been happening in Illinois government with Governor Blagojevich and his chief of staff. And what it tells us is that it's great to have the FBI and their colleagues working on this, but we need people in the public to stand up and say, "Enough." And if people start hearing things that they feel is untoward or improper, it -- we need them to come forward.

We're not going to end corruption in Illinois by arrests and indictments alone. I'm not minimizing the impact of charging people who commit crimes. What's going to make the difference is when people who are approached pay-to-play first say no, and second report it.

Carol (sp)?

Q Are you able to tell us if, in the Tribune scenario, it was the Tribune who came to you and said "We're being extorted," or you that went to the Tribune with this revelation?

MR. FITZGERALD: I don't -- that's not set forth in the complaint. What we can tell you is that that was conversations we intercepted on the governor's side, speaking to Mr. Harris about what they wanted to do.

Q So it's conceivable, then, that the Tribune, at some level of management, was considering, or forced to consider, the governor's alleged extortion.

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not going to speak for the Tribune or what happened, what message got there.

I think the complaint made clear that Governor Blagojevich -- what he had in mind was basically a "get rid of the editors for this." The complaint also makes clear that Mr. Harris was one who wanted to be far more nuanced, and basically Governor Blagojevich delegated to him: "Well, you know what you got to do; be careful." So I can't describe to you what conversations Mr. Harris had, and I think it would be dangerous to do so.

And it goes to my point of -- it's one thing to attribute someone's own words to them; it would be another to attribute someone's own words to you. And, you know, if I say something on tape, then I'm charged with what I said. If someone says something on tape about me, that's a different story.

So I'm not going to speculate as to what, if any, conversations were had in the -- in the Tribune at this point. I don't think that would be fair to them or anyone else, when we're just describing his mind set of what Governor Blagojevich wanted Mr. Harris to do. We're not describing what happened in the scheme beyond that.

Q Mr. Fitzgerald, what does this say about Senator Durbin's letter to the president requesting commutation of George Ryan's sentence, which has only been a year of the six-and-a-half-year sentence that was imposed for the -- for the crimes this office charged him with and convicted him of?

MR. FITZGERALD: And that's a different matter. I told you the office doesn't have a view on what happens in sort of Illinois government. We just don't have a stake in that. To the extent the office has a view in the Ryan pardon, if we're asked by the Department of Justice or the White House to express that view, we will do so privately. But we're not going to -- it's inappropriate for me, on behalf of the office, to express a view where the power of pardon and commutation rests with the president. And it's not our power -- our power, and we do not make a practice of commenting to other branches of government, what they ought to do unless asked by them in private.

Yes?

Q I've got two questions. What does the law say about the appointment process of the U.S. Senate, you know, as it relates to the governor before his arrest? And then I have another question, is how could the appointment process of the U.S. Senate, you know, change now that, you know, the governor's been arrested?

MR. FITZGERALD: And I'm not going to comment on any proposed legislative changes. I think we cite a statute -- I can't tell you the numbers offhand, but the bottom line is it's the sole call -- it's entrusted to the sole discretion of the governor of Illinois.

The way the Constitution works, it leaves it for the states to figure out how a senator is replaced if they leave office for any reason. And Illinois has a statute that puts it in the sole hands of the governor. And you can look up that statute, but I'm not going to comment on any proposed modifications.

Yes.

Q Pat, when politicians get together and cut deals -- and certainly appointing -- (off mike) -- a deal -- it's not uncommon for everybody to consider the self-interest of all the parties involved. Where is the line between cutting a normal political deal and selling a United States Senate seat?

MR. FITZGERALD: And I understand we're not -- you know, there's politics and there's crime. And sometimes, I think, when people get in trouble they try and blur those lines. I think when you start having quid pro quos, where there's a deal -- "If you give me this and I will give you that in exchange for awards" -- if you tell someone -- if you -- if you read the complaint carefully, one of the conversations describes how the job that Governor Blagojevich wanted for himself at a union couldn't be just given to him by the union because they already have people doing that job.

So when you say you want a job for four years, you want a salary of about $300,000 and you basically want to work on behalf of a union and cost them $1.2 million to basically add no value because people are already doing your job and part of that is an exchange where in exchange if you don't get that job no one's getting appointed Senate seat, we're comfortable in the law that someone who schemes to do that has broken the law.

And we're not trying to criminalize people making political horse trades on policies or that sort of thing, but it is criminal when people are doing it for their personal enrichment and they're doing it in a way that is, in this case, clearly criminal.

Yes.

Q Which advice would you give to anybody who would now take a senatorial appointment from Rod Blagojevich?

MR. FITZGERALD: Oh, I'm -- I'm going to duck that one on -- okay.

Yes, sir.

Q We understand the governor was taken to the FBI headquarters this morning.

MR. FITZGERALD: Yes.

Q Was he interviewed there? And did he make any kind of a statement?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not allowed to comment on whether anyone made a statement, but he was arrested and taken to the FBI.

Q Was he interviewed?

MR. FITZGERALD: I don't think I --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. FITZGERALD: I don't know if I can comment on whether we attempted an interview under the rules. I can't comment on that.

Q Has President --

Q Could Mr. Grant describe the arrest?

MR. FITZGERALD: Sorry?

Q Could Mr. Grant describe the arrest? There were no cameras there, no witnesses apparently. Can you explain how it happened?

MR. GRANT: It occurred about 6:00 in the morning, and it was a phone call from me to the governor advising him that we had a warrant for his arrest, that there were two FBI agents outside his door. Asked him to open the door so we could do this as quietly, without the media finding out about it, without waking the children. He was very cooperative, and that's it.

Q Was he handcuffed?

MR. GRANT: Yes, which is normal, standard practice for us.

Q Was his family there?

Q What did he say to you on the phone?

MR. GRANT: First question?

Q What did he say to you?

MR. GRANT: Well, I woke him up. So the first thing was, was this a joke? But I'll leave the rest -- you know, he tried to make sure this was an honest call, so --

Q How about his family? Was his wife there when the arrest happened, or his children? Did they wake up?

MR. GRANT: They did not wake up that I know of. They were beginning to stir as we left, but they were not awake and not aware. But his wife was awake.

Q There's a rumor that agents visited his house within the past couple weeks to talk to him about this ongoing case.

MR. GRANT: I can't comment on that.

Q How long were you at the house?

Q Mr. Grant, was the decision to -- why did you make the decision to arrest him rather than allow him to turn himself in? To sort of send a signal here, or?

MR. GRANT: It was exactly what Pat said earlier, and that was we had a -- we have a lot of things we learned from this wiretap, a lot of things we learned from these microphones. There is a lot of investigation that still needs to be done, and there are critical interviews that we have to do and cooperation we need to get from different people. So it wasn't about, as Pat said, tying this in a bow, waiting till spring, letting things be done that damaged the state of Illinois, damaged the -- damaged the United States Senate, hurt people; it was about what is good for the investigation, what is good to find out the truth about what is going on, because this goes beyond just the governor. It goes to other people who are involved in these schemes.

Q Mr. Fitzgerald, would you make clear just something about the timing here? When the Tribune ran its story a few days ago revealing that the governor was being taped, would you explain -- and I think some of this is laid out in the complaint -- did further taping take place, or did that essentially terminate your ability to listen in?

MR. FITZGERALD: Well, what I would say is to back up, and to the extent that there have been articles I'm not confirming or denying the accuracy of the articles. You can compare them against what happened.

I will say this. As you guys know -- you guys are in the information business, of getting it and publishing it, and we're in the information business of getting it and using it. About eight weeks ago, before we had the bug installed and before we had the wiretap up, we were contacted by the Tribune to comment, or confirm or deny, the story that they were going to run. Had they ran that story, we thought we'd never have the opportunity to install the bug or place the telephone tap.

And we made an urgent request for the Tribune not to publish that story. That is a very rare thing for us to do, and it's an even rarer thing for a newspaper to grant. We thought that the public interest required that the story not run. It was a very difficult conversation to have because we weren't allowed to describe what we were doing. And I have to take my hat off that the Tribune withheld that story for a substantial period of time, which otherwise might have compromised the investigation for ever happening. And I think that's something that we should take note of.

And later, at a later point in time, that story did run. I believe it ran on Friday morning. And we were recording after the story ran that said "Feds tape Blagojevich." And as set forth in the complaint, days before, or even a day before that story ran, Governor Blagojevich was intercepted telling his fundraiser to have that conversation about wanting to see campaign contributions up front and telling him to talk as if the whole world is listening; be careful; do it in person, not over the telephone. And then, after the story ran, we got a different conversation the next day, which basically says, "Undo what you just did."

So it was clear that the reaction to the story was to think that they shouldn't proceed down that road.

So to the extent that we had a number of weeks of interception, bugging the telephone, I do think we ought to credit the Chicago Tribune that they agreed to that request. They didn't agree to all our requests. As you might imagine, they saw differently than we did. But I appreciate that and respect what they did.

Q Patrick, you are always very careful to separate politics and law enforcement. But as you stand here and outline a case that's been described as shocking, disgusting, sickening, appalling, the worst ever; and Rob talking about if it's Illinois's not the most corrupt, it's in serious contention; we now have a governor facing these charges, and perhaps many, many more, who still has the power to appoint a U.S. senator. And I'm wondering, even though it's a statutory provision, would the people of Illinois be well served by a quick special session of the legislature to try to change the law? You're quick to make value judgments about good and bad behavior. How about weighing in on a matter of civic responsibility?

MR. FITZGERALD: I think there's enough people here who can weigh in on their opinions about things, and the citizens can weigh in with their opinions.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI do not have an opinion on what actions the legislature ought take. The only opinion we'll express is that we hope that people with relevant information will come forward and cooperate with us.

Q Well, do you trust the governor of Illinois to make this appointment --

Q (Off mike) --

MR. FITZGERALD: Yes. Okay.

Q You're a citizen of the state of Illinois.

MR. FITZGERALD: Okay --

Q You're -- you live here in Chicago. Do you trust this governor to make a good choice for the Senate, which is so important?

MR. FITZGERALD: I am a citizen of Illinois, and I do have opinions and beliefs. And what they are, are for me, because when I speak, I speak on behalf of that seal, and that seal has no opinion on that matter.

And in the back? Yes? And then you.

Q (Off mike) -- confirmed so many investigations -- (off mike) -- be additional counts added against these defendants and others?

MR. FITZGERALD: What we'll simply say is the investigation continues. We're not going to predict that other charges will or will not be filed.

Yes?

Q You spoke before about if Senator -- you didn't know -- no awareness that Senator or President-elect Barack Obama knew about this. So is it safe to say he has not been briefed? And can you also tell us if any phone calls were made to President-elect Obama that you intercepted, or to Rahm Emanuel?

MR. FITZGERALD: Okay. I'm not going to go down anything that's not in the complaint.

And what I simply said before is, I'm not going to -- I have enough trouble speaking for myself. I'm not going to try and speak in the voice of a president or a president-elect.

So I simply pointed out that if you look at the complaint, there's no allegation that the president-elect -- there's no reference in the complaint to any conversations involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it. And that's all I can say.

Q What will be your position -- what will be your position at this afternoon's hearing on detention or bond for the governor?

MR. FITZGERALD: I don't expect there's going to be a contentious issue about bond, but we'll -- Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan will be handling that proceeding. I think she can hear the specifics from us for the first time in court. But --

Q You won't oppose -- (off mike).

MR. FITZGERALD: I think Judge Nolan should hear what our position is, not through your excellent reporting but through our (assistants/assistance ?) telling him what it is.

Q How would you categorize this -- (off mike) -- compared to other things that you've seen? How would you categorize it?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not going to go beyond saying that just we -- the conduct we think is appalling. I'm not going to do a comparative to other cases, but I just think it's very, very disturbing that we have these pay-to-play allegations going on for years, and that they picked up steam after a conviction, they picked up steam after an ethics-in-government act, and that it would go so far as to taint the process by which the governor and his inner circle of advisers were choosing someone to take a seat in the United States Senate to represent Illinois.

Q (Off mike) -- said that Senate candidate number five took herself out of the running after this was made apparent to her? Can we gather that is Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not going to confirm or deny any names with numbers. I just can't.

Q You do name the governor's wife in this. And you quote her in the charges. Can you recount for us what she said and what her role was as it's laid out in the charge?

MR. FITZGERALD: Since I don't -- (inaudible) -- won't quote it accurately, there's a paragraph, I believe, that describes a situation in which she describes the interaction between the Tribune, who owns the Cubs, and the editorial board. And she is part of the conversation with the governor and others making suggestions as to what should happen. There may be another reference or two in the complaint. And since I can't call them up with precision and I don't want to start reading the complaint in front of all of you, I think I'll just leave you to looking at the complaint and --

Q If she what the governor has been charged with, why wouldn't she be charged if she's saying the same thing?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not going to comment on anyone not charged. I'll simply say that there's a description of a conversation that took place in the complaint and leave it at that.

Q Mr. Fitzgerald, did you have a conversation with the attorney general or somebody close to him either regarding the ability for you to get the wiretaps on the (campaign ?) office, on the home, or about the decision to file this complaint?

MR. FITZGERALD: I will say this. One, when it comes to wiretaps and bugs, I think the procedure we follow is a -- is well known. To file a wiretap, first of all, you need the FBI boss in Chicago whose people are doing all the work to be on board. You need my office to be on board. That gets you nowhere. You have to go down to Washington to Office of Enforcement Operations, OEO.

And you've probably never heard of OEO, and you'll see CSI on TV, and the people in OEO do a fantastic job. They are the people who review, among other things, applications for wiretaps and bugs, and they scrub them. And they're very smart. And what we like about OEO is they know how to say yes and they know how to say no. And if they don't think it meets the standards, they'll tell you that and you won't get your wiretap or bug.

If they think it does, they'll say yes. And if it needs fixing, they fix it.

And after it is approved in the office of OEO, it then goes up through the chain to high-ranking officials in the Criminal Division, who sign off on it. And once it's been signed off at main Justice, which says you're allowed to go see it, you're still nowhere, because you can't put a bug or a wiretap in without the approval of the chief judge in the district. So the chief judge takes an independent review and signs off on it. We complied with all that, obviously.

Beyond that, what I'll simply say is that no one -- the deputy attorney general, the FBI director, or the attorney general aren't going to drop their coffee this morning to find out about this case for the first time. We've obviously kept them briefed and -- but beyond that, we'll take responsibility for the decisions we made, and leave it at that.

(Cross talk.) Yes?

Q Mr. Fitzgerald, I have a question. If you could also just clarify again, is discussing a quid pro quo where he, you know, acted criminally, versus actually carrying it out? I mean, if he's just having conversations about eliminating a member of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, but nothing is actually carried out, how much of that is just someone trying to be a tough guy, and how much of that is criminal behavior?

MR. FITZGERALD: Well, you hit on two questions. One is a legal distinction. There's scheming or conspiracy to commit a crime, and then there's the substantive crime. We've charged conspiracy or scheming in this complaint.

One of the things we want to do with this investigation is to track out the different schemes and conspiracies to find out which ones were carried out or not, and who might be involved in that or not. And that's something we haven't done yet. Now that we've gone overt, we'll be interviewing people and figuring that out. But it is a crime in and of itself for people to scheme to violate the law. That's called conspiracy. Then there's the substantive crime.

As far as how much -- whether or not there are people acting like a tough guy or not, I mean, I don't want to pre-try the case. But if you lean on someone and lead them to believe their bill is not getting signed unless they give you the money, that is what acting like a tough guy is, it's a crime. And we can sort through at any trial as to, you know, what was said, what was followed through, but it is a crime to conspire to shake someone down.

(Cross talk.) Yes, sir?

Q Is Governor Blagojevich --

MR. FITZGERALD: Right -- sir. Sir.

Q Is -- oh, I'm sorry. Is the governor being held in a jail at the moment?

MR. FITZGERALD: I believe he's probably somewhere in the building, and he'll be presented in front of Judge Nolan.

Q Sir, yesterday, when asking about the taping, the governor said that -- he invoked the names "Nixon" and "Watergate." I mean, isn't essentially what the government did here, under the authority of a wiretap court order, the same thing? Didn't FBI agents have to break into the governor's office in order to plant these?

MR. FITZGERALD: And I'm not going to compare FBI agents enforcing the law -- trying to stop a senator (sic) from auctioning off a Senate seat, or shutting $8 million out of a children's hospital from being pulled back, or stopping people for greasing the skids to get a bill or get someone fired -- with Nixon. It just -- it doesn't fly. What we did was lawful.

Q Mr. Fitzgerald?

MR. FITZGERALD: Yes?

Q Sir, just to be crystal-clear on this point, you're not aware of any conversation, then, that took place between the governor and any member of Barack Obama's transition team at all?

MR. FITZGERALD: And what I simply said is you can read the complaint. I'm not going to sit here with a 76-page complaint and parse through it. You know, that's all we're alleging. And I'm just -- I'm not going to start going down and saying, "Did anyone ever talk to anyone?" You can read what we allege in the complaint. It's pretty detailed. Look in the 76 pages, and if you don't see it, it's not there.

Q Can you point out --

MR. FITZGERALD: Yes?

MORE

Q You talked about keeping your superiors informed as to what is going on, assuming that means the attorney general.

In the briefings that President-elect Obama has had over the past weeks with various government departments here, would it be possible for him to have been briefed on what was going on here with regard to this investigation?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not going to comment on that. I'm not the briefer. I'm not at those meetings. But I would simply say that this was very close-hold in Washington, and on a need-to-know basis. So I'm -- but I'm not going to -- I'm not the briefer, so I'm not going to represent what happens. But -- I'll leave it at that.

Q Pat?

Q Is there anything --

Q Will you quantify the number of calls that you've gotten --

MR. FITZGERALD: Sorry? Okay. After Carol (sp), we'll go do a ring around the back.

Q You said that this morning you -- already gotten calls that were heartening. Can you assign a number to that, in terms of meaningful individuals that you're really searching for as this thing goes forward fast?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'll just say that, you know, I'm not going to describe who it was or what it was. But you know, someone reported in as to a conversation, and I felt very, very happy. It was just sort of like, "Okay, good." You know, that one sort of brought it home.

I've -- you know, I've tried to speak at times about telling people that, you know, you look to the FBI to do a lot. You look to law enforcement to do a lot. But the real effort to clean up corruption's going to start with the citizenry, people who are going to speak up and say something when it's wrong. And when you reach out to contact someone to say, "Do you know anything?" and they say, "Oh, boy, do I. And let me tell you what I know, and I remember details," that tells you that there are people out there who are pretty damn angry and are willing to step up to the plate and say, "I'm not going to complain about it; I'm going to do something about it." Yes?

Q Pat, one of the things I think that people out there look at is, the governor's known he's been under investigation for several years now, and yet he would still engage, allegedly, in this kind of activity. What does it say about the audacity of the governor to do this while he's under investigation and knows it?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'll leave that for you to draw your own conclusions. It's a pretty audacious set of conversations set forth in the complaint, in the circumstances.

In the back? Yes.

Q Which union did the governor solicit in exchange for the Senate appointment?

MR. FITZGERALD: I think it's laid out in the complaint that it's -- that the person he discussed or the union he discussed getting a job with -- and again, I'm not going to describe more than is in the complaint -- but the scheme that he had in mind with codefendant Harris was a job with a coalition called Change to Win, which was affiliated with SEIU, which is the Service Employees International Union. And that was their, you know, their scheme to sell the seat in that three-way exchange.

That never happened; that scheme did not come to fruition. He curses later that it didn't happen. But the one being discussed was the SEIU union.

Anyone else in the back?

Q Pat, can I ask you one more?

MR. FITZGERALD: Sorry, I --

Q Can the FBI comment on at all on the search warrant that was executed for the governor's office at the Thompson Center?

MR. FITZGERALD: That's -- I don't think it's the governor's office at the Thompson Center. There's a search warrant -- can we say where?

MR. : (Off mike.)

MR. FITZGERALD: It's at the office of Deputy Governor -- a deputy governor. And there's a search warrant being executed at the Friends of Blagojevich campaign headquarters.

Q Right now?

Q Can I ask you one, Pat?

MR. FITZGERALD: Well, one more. I just want to get the -- I want to make sure --

Q This investigation has been going on for years now. With these new charges, what's going to happen to the other lines of investigation that you have going on?

MR. FITZGERALD: They will still be followed. If you look at the complaint, it cites back to wiretap conversations from the conversations we wiretapped way back in 2004. And we've been filing charges based upon that wiretap up until quite recently.

And we will take all the existing strands of the investigations that -- some of which you know about, some of which you don't. And we will take this, and we will process it and figure out as much as we can. And what we'd really like to do is add a whole lot more information from the people out there who may know something.

Yes?

Q Pat, I haven't read through the entire complaint yet, but I'm wondering if there's an indication that the governor was trying to secure employment for himself and for his wife -- (off mike) -- income because he thought he might get indicted, because he thought he might not win reelection. What was he thinking?

MR. FITZGERALD: I think he's -- there are quotes in there. He wants to make some money. He's got to think of his future. He did -- does talk about getting more income for himself, more income for his wife, and does talk about the prospect of appointing himself. That puts him in a better position, if he's indicted. And I won't go beyond the complaint. But all three issues are discussed in the complaint.

I'll get the person, if you're fixing a camera or raising your hand.

Q Can you help me with a matter of law, a question of law?

If it's against the law to sell or trade a job or a contract, is it also against the law to try to buy one? In other words, if you were a politician offering the governor $500,000 in campaign cash, in exchange for the Senate seat, discussing that you might be able to raise that kind of money, for him, are you culpable? Or is that just horse trading?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not going to --

(Cross talk.)

Okay, and I'm not going to get into hypotheticals that you'll abstract, from the complaint, and start going down that road.

I will say, we charged Governor Blagojevich and Mr. Harris. That's all we're saying. And we'll do further investigation. We'll get behind what we can in different transactions. And I'm not going to prejudge any matter whatsoever.

(Cross talk.)

Q I was just wondering, is -- I haven't read the full complaint either -- is Rezko going to be testifying regarding this case at all? (Off mike.)

MR. FITZGERALD: I think there's a discussion of Mr. Rezko, in a footnote, somewhere in the complaint. And I couldn't tell you the footnote number. But if you look there, there's a succinct summary of his status, in that footnote, that I won't try to repeat out loud.

And yes. Who's next?

Natasha.

Q That was my same question.

(Off mike.)

MR. FITZGERALD: And I think I'm not going to go beyond that footnote. We didn't rely upon his information in the complaint. But it doesn't, it doesn't give a definitive view on his status. It describes what his status is.

(Cross talk.)

Q If a Tribune executive did agree to fire somebody on the editorial board, as an exchange for this, would it be criminal behavior? And can you characterize at all how far the Tribune plot went?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not going to say how far the Tribune plot went, other than the person who was identified, as the person to be fired, was not fired and still works there today.

Beyond that, I'm not going to try and walk back where the scheme went, from a pretty explicit scheme by Governor Blagojevich, as described in the complaint, describing to Harris, and then Harris basically saying, I'm going to be more subtle about it, and Governor Blagojevich saying, well, do it, do it the appropriate way.

We don't go beyond that. I'm not going to opine on if, what and when, as to what happened, once the conversation left the two people charged, Governor Blagojevich and Harris.

(Cross talk.)

Q Pat, you spoke very directly about why the indictment had to come now. Conversely given the fact that all this is now out in the open, is it possible that anyone appointed to the Senate seat, by Governor Blagojevich, could do so and take office without there being a cloud over his or her head?

MR. FITZGERALD: First of all, there's not an indictment, I realize. It's a complaint. So I don't want people to understand it's an indictment. We've filed a criminal complaint. And I'm not going to get into where things stand, in the Senate seat, other than that we've -- there's an ugly episode that we've aired.

We've brought charges. We'll proceed. And the public discourse will go its way without our guidance.

Q State lawmakers said this morning they'd like to see impeachment proceedings within -- (off mike) -- January. Now, I understand impeachment is somewhat -- something like a trial. Would you assist them in any sense or with any of the evidence you've prepared -- (off mike)?

MR. FITZGERALD: I thought about a lot of things this morning. That one hasn't come up yet. And I'm not going to take it off the top of my head and spring. So we'll go from there.

STAFF: Thank you very, much folks.

END.

B

3 Comments

Theres no way you or anyone wirh any sense at all can convince a reasonablly sane person that Barrack Obama wasn't and or didn't have or engage in conversations with the Governor on this matter after all why wouldn't he want to be in the know about who filled his vacancy After all the governor could appoint a republican if as you allege the seat was up for sale to the highest bidder Don't pretend to think that fact wouldn't be looked at. He meaning the President Elect as well as every other democrat in the House or Senate would be very interested in guarantying that that seat go to a democrat. To think this is the only corruption in government is irresponsible. This is just the tip of the iceburg where corruption is concerned And people lets not forget the President elect hails from the great state of Illinois you do the math why do you think getting elected costs so much these days and if you accept campaign contributions you are going to owe someone especially if you raise 600 million dollars for yours. The media can't play favors with this and the only reason the Chicago Tribune held off on running the story is it involved one of it's own editors. This is just my take on things as a private citizen Remember all of you politicians out there some of us are informed citizens that actually pay attention to what goes on most young prople today don't even watch the news or read the paper these days They have no clue as to who they elect If they did things would not be like they are right now Just take time and think about the situation and ask yourself is this what our founding fathers would have tollerated hell no no only would he be tarred and feathered he would not now or forever more be acting in the capacity of Governor.unless he was elected speaker of the cell block

I was giving Obama a very wide margin of error here and whole heap of benefit of the doubt. After seeing how far and deep this scandal seems to seep into so many areas of Illinois politic it seems hard to believe Obama would be able to rise from this unaffected. Now more than ever I am concerned as to why Obama never claimed anything was dirty with politics as we know it. He railed for change focusing only on GWBush policies. I don't believe I ever heard any mention of how dirty the political machine is. In fact, Obama's campaigned on the idea that we should have more Government in our lives. He is a firm believer that the Government is here to fix all ills. How can someone so very idealistic have been in the Illinois Senate with having challenged these shady practices?

ROD...

don't fall on the sword to protect Caesar...FIGHT this till the end!!!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 9, 2008 3:21 PM.

Obama on Blagojevich says he never knew gov was trying to shake him down was the previous entry in this blog.

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