Change You Have To Believe In

In Politico, there is a article that lays out the basic facts about the arrest of Illinois Gov Blagojveich. The things not emphasized in the article are the more interesting things about this case, which is all about corruption in Chicago. To believe in the Obama who ran for president, you have to believe the following:

  1. People who are not corrupt–Obama, Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Mayor Daley–can survive and flourish in a corrupt political environment.
  2. Obama’s initial silence about Gov Blagojveich’s behavior just reflects a cautious nature. But it is fair to note that if someone did have something to hide or was concerned about other things being leaked, silence would be their reaction as well.
  3. Cases of ‘misremembering’ are purely coincidental. The one day old Blagojveich case has already generated two Obama team clarifications. One involving David Axelrod and the other by Rahm Emanuel.
  4. Rahm Emanuel was either lying or exaggerating in a 2008 New Yorker magazine article that he and Obama were “the top strategists of Blagojevich’s victory” in 2002. Emaunuel is the incoming Chief of Staff. In a normal political environment, we should expect Mr Emaunuel to be asked how he got that so wrong? Emanuel now says that Obama had no connection to Blagojveich in 2002.

Like Don Corleone cautioning Michael about who the traitor would be, watch for commentators who want to give Obama credit for not negotiating with Blagojveich. Given that it was well known that the Blagojveich was under investigation, only people out of the loop would have risked dealing with him. As such, those who praise his restraint in this instance, mainly just reveal their political allegiances.

I have been pleasantly surprised by Obama’s cabinet picks and appointments, especially his economic team–although I don’t get the Clinton pick. It seems to signal his intentions not to pursue a tax increase in 2009, which I think is the most critical decision he will be making in the short term. But it is a sobering thought that he and the team he brings to power is a product of the most corrupt political environment in our country, Chicago.

All articles referenced are copied in full at end of post.

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Politico – In scandal, risks for Obama

By: Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin
December 10, 2008 08:16 AM EST

At first blush, Barack Obama comes out of the Rod Blagojevich scandal smelling like a rose. The prosecutor at a news conference seemed to give the president-elect a seal of approval, and the Illinois governor himself was caught on tape complaining that Obama was not interested in crooked schemes.

But make no mistake: The Blagojevich scandal is nothing but a stink bomb tossed at close range for Obama and his team.

Legal bills, off-message headlines, and a sustained attempt by Republicans to show that Obama is more a product of Illinois’s malfeasance-prone political culture than he is letting on—all are likely if the Blagojevich case goes to trial or becomes an extended affair.

Obama and his aides have so far mounted a tight-lipped defense, publicly distancing themselves from Blagojevich’s alleged plans to profit personally from his power to fill Obama’s newly vacant Senate seat with firm but vague denials of any involvement.

Privately, Obama allies are noting that the foul-mouthed governor and the president-elect, though both Democrats atop the Illinois power structure, are hardly close: Obama did not back Blagojevich in his 2002 primary race for governor, and Blagojevich did not back Obama in his 2004 Senate primary.

Republicans, though, plan to keep the pressure on. Republican National Chairman Robert “Mike” Duncan on Tuesday said Obama’s initial response to questions about the governor was inadequate. South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, seeking the national party post, went further. He called on Obama to release any records of discussions between his transition team and Blagojevich about Obama’s successor – citing Obama’s oft-repeated pledge for greater transparency.

And, in a Politico interview, Illinois state Republican chairman Andy McKenna, pressed Obama to commit to keeping U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in his post until the corruption cases run their course.

One prominent Chicago Democrat close to many of those named in the indictment suggested the risk for Obama is “Whitewater-type exposure.” That was a reference to an Arkansas real estate deal that produced a series lengthy and highly intrusive investigations in the 1990s that never proved illegality by the Clintons.

What this Democrat meant with his analogy—which on the facts so far seems a bit premature—was that Obama could suffer by being in the proximity of a back-scratching and deal-making culture, even if he was mostly a bystander. “What will splatter on to Obama is he is to some degree a product of this culture, and he has never entirely stood against it,” said the Democrat, who wanted anonymity for fear of antagonizing the president-elect.

Indeed, at a minimum it will be hard for a transition team that wants to shine a light on their plans to clean up Washington if the steaming compost pile of Illinois politics— and its florid tradition of bribes, extortion, and payback—is in the news.

But there are less obvious hazards. Anyone who has ever been near a public corruption case—and many of Obama’s top advisers have, thanks to their experience in the Clinton years—knows the hassles that can torment even innocent people. Even peripheral figures wind up hiring expensive lawyers. At trial, testimony by minor witnesses becomes a major news event if it is someone close to the president taking the stand.

Prosecutor Fitzgerald pointed out during questions and answers at his news conference that “there’s no reference in the complaint to any conversation involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it.”

Obama advisers argue that Blagojveich’s alleged crimes — extorting campaign contributions from a children’s hospital, demanding the firing of the top editors at the Chicago’s flagship newspaper in return for state assistance — are so over-the-top that they speak for themselves, and will only serve to taint the disgraced governor.

Obama aides see proof of his vindication in the fact that Blagojevich, in the secret tapes, complains that the president-elect’s team won’t give him anything. Obama emerged personally untarnished in the 78-page Blagojevich complaint. He was, to the allegedly deeply corrupt governor, the “mother***er” who was owed no favors and a lily-livered reformer who, instead of a bribe, wouldn’t give the disgusted Blagojevich “anything except appreciation.”

But there are enough unanswered questions to give his political opponents plenty of grist, starting with Obama’s curt denial that he had ever spoken to Blagojevich about how to fill Obama’s vacant seat.

His chief political adviser, David Axelrod, Tuesday corrected his own suggestion last month that Obama and Blagojevich had spoken about filling Obama’s vacant seat. Spokespeople did not respond to a question of when Obama and Blagojevich last spoke, and about what.

And there is the question of Fitzgerald’s future . Presidents can appoint their own U.S. Attorneys, but Republicans aim to all but dare Obama to remove the crusading Fitzgerald before he’s done cleaning out corruption in Chicago and Springfield.

“What he should do tomorrow is say, ‘Patrick Fitzgerald has a job and can have for as long as he wants,'” McKenna told Politico. “Some have wondered if Barack Obama would keep Fitzgerald [as U.S. Attorney]. It would be great if he confirms that he plans to.”

Meanwhile, the case is likely to turn reporters into students of Illinois political history, just as the Clinton presidency produced a generation of reporters and opposition researchers obsessed with turning over the rocks of Arkansas politics.

In 2002, when Blagojevich left the U.S. House (opening up a seat for Emanuel), Obama joined other black Chicago Democrats – including his one-time rival Bobby Rush and state Senate mentor Emil Jones –in supporting Roland Burris, an African-American former Illinois Comptroller and state Attorney General.

In a further effort to put distance between Obama and the governor, Obama allies are preemptively noting that incoming Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s claim this summer in a New Yorker article that he and Obama were “the top strategists of Blagojevich’s victory” in 2002 was inaccurate.

In a subsequent article in the Springfield political publication Capitol Fax this summer, now being circulated by Obama allies, Emanuel walked back his assertion.

“David [Wilhelm] and I have worked together on campaigns for decades,” Emanuel said, referring to the Democratic operative who was a top adviser to Blagojevich in 2002 and strongly denied that Obama had been involved in that race. “Like always, he’s right and I’m wrong.”

Further, the allies note that Blagojevich did not support Obama in 2004 in what was initially thought to be a hotly contested primary.

Still, as Obama emerged from the sheltered, reformist enclave of Hyde Park in the 1990s, he made valuable friends among the bosses of its political machine – Mayor Richard Daley, Emil Jones and many others. He bragged at times that Illinois had made him tough. He also campaigned on an ethics bill he helped pass in the Illinois State Senate.

And he seemed still to be in that Chicago straddle when asked about Blagojevich’s arrest yesterday, mustering only word that he was “saddened” and “sobered” at a time when even other Illinois Democrats were demanding Blagojevich resign.
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BLAGOJEVICH ARRESTED – He’s the clown, but joke’s on us

John Kass

December 10, 2008

Now that Gov. Dead Meat has been arrested at his home and charged with selling Illinois by the pound—and Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat by the slice—let’s just savor the aroma.

I love the smell of meat over coals in the morning.

It smells like . . . victory.

The people of Illinois needed some good news and they got it. Former Republican Gov. George Ryan is in prison, and the arrest of his successor, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, surely means that the Illinois Combine that runs this state can stop with the rumors that U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald will be leaving town.

And, as Blagojevich most likely prepares to be Ryan’s bunkmate, let’s not forget the scores of other politicos, of all parties, who’ve gone down on corruption charges—including some of Mayor Richard Daley’s guys who helped rebuild that Democratic machine the mayor says doesn’t exist.

At a news conference in the federal building in Chicago, authorities were asked about Illinois corruption.

“If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor,” said Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office.

Grant had the privilege of standing outside Blagojevich’s home about 6 a.m. Tuesday and calling the sleepy governor to say federal agents were outside, waiting to arrest him quietly.

“I could tell I woke him up,” Grant said. “And the first thing he said was, ‘Is this a joke?’ “

No, but standing before a federal judge wearing jogging pants, sneakers and a powder blue fleece sort of made the governor of Illinois look like a jester. Or a joker.

Political corruption in the state that has made corruption an art form isn’t funny, like a clown. The joke is on all of us, everyone who lives in Illinois. Because Blagojevich was elected governor on the reform ticket, promising to clean up the state and end business as usual.

Chicagoans aren’t really surprised. This is the state run by the Combine, with the Democratic machine on one side and the Republican insiders on the other, and the Chicago Outfit forming the base. That is the real iron triangle.

Blagojevich was supported by the machine and by the now-indicted Republican power broker Big Bill Cellini. If that’s not reform, what is?

The governor is alleged to have tried to sell Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder, used his leverage in attempts to oust Tribune editorial writers who didn’t play ball, and schemed to shake down the chief executive officer of Children’s Memorial Hospital for campaign cash in exchange for a state grant.

So though Illinois isn’t surprised—this is after all the home of the Chicago Way—the national media must be shocked.

They’ve been clinging to the ridiculous notion that Chicago is Camelot for months now, cleaving to the idea with the willfulness of stubborn children. It must help them see Obama as some pristine creature, perhaps a gentle faun of a magic forest, unstained by our grubby politics, a bedtime story for grown-ups who insist upon fairy tales. But now the national media may finally be forced to confront reality.

Even national pundits with tingles running up their legs can’t ignore the tape recordings in which Blagojevich speculated how he’d get the gold for picking Obama’s successor.

“I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain,” Blagojevich allegedly said on tape. “You hear what I’m saying? And if I don’t get what I want, and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself.”

Obama’s Senate seat, Blagojevich allegedly said, “is a [expletive] valuable thing. You don’t just give it away for nothing.”

Then, on Nov. 5, he allegedly said, “I’ve got this thing, and it’s [expletive] golden and, uh, I’m just not going to give it up for [expletive] nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And I can always use it, I can parachute me there.”

Parachute me?

If a jury hears that tape, it’s [expletive] over.

I figure Blagojevich most likely will start talking to the feds, blabbing about everyone he knows, in order to cut down his time, because what’s on the federal tapes is devastating.

Once he starts, the feds will have to slap him to shut him up.

Naturally, Obama didn’t have much to say.

Obama said he never talked to Blagojevich about the Senate seat. In this, his hands are clean.

But he also didn’t want to get involved, much like last week, when he didn’t want to get involved in the Democratic push led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Big Jim) to get Ryan out of prison.

“I had no contact with the governor or his office and so I was not aware of what was happening,” Obama told reporters at his transition office in Chicago. “It’s a sad day for Illinois; beyond that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment.”

I don’t think Obama would ever countenance paying Blagojevich for a Senate seat or allow others close to him to even consider it. I’m not saying Obama is corrupt here. He’s busy with all the great issues of the day, but at some point the president-elect must address the stench in his home state.

Because this is no fairy tale. This isn’t Camelot.

This is Chicago.

And a governor is on the grill.

jskass@tribune.com

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune
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About Jorge Costales

- Cuban Exile [veni] - Raised in Miami [vidi] - American Citizen [vici]
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