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BEING ROD BLAGOJEVICH: It Just Gets Weirder

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WALL STREET JOURNAL: Among the hundreds of hours of conversations involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich secretly recorded by the FBI since Oct. 22, one phone call is drawing particular scrutiny among politicos, journalists and others in Washington. It was a marathon conference call on Monday, Nov. 10. The call lasted about two hours. On the phone were Mr. Blagojevich, his wife, his general counsel, an unnamed adviser, and John Harris, the governor’s chief of staff and his co-defendant in this week’s case. But what’s drawing the most interest is who was on the line from Washington, and the sequence of political events that followed that same night and in the ensuing days regarding Barack Obama’s close friend and adviser, Valerie Jarrett. According to the FBI, there were blago_maincropped_1.jpg“various Washington, D.C., based advisers” on the call with Mr. Blagojevich & Co., although the Washington callers are not named. The FBI also said participants popped on and off the line throughout the conversation. MORE

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Callers discussed the possibility of ambassadorships, which are made by the president. They talked about an appointment for Mr. Blagojevich as head of the Department of Health and Human Services, also made by the president. They explored the idea of getting Mr. Obama to use his clout to put the governor’s wife on corporate boards. And they discussed a deal involving the Service Employee International Union, which would be asked to install Mr. Blagojevich over one of its top political groups in exchange for the union getting to tell Mr. Obama that it was delivering the open U.S. Senate seat to his favorite candidate. That candidate, Mr. Blagojevich believed, was Valerie Jarrett, according to sources familiar with this part of the probe. MORE

valeriejarrettaxelcropped.thumbnail.jpgWALL STREET JOURNAL: That candidate, Mr. Blagojevich believed, was Valerie Jarrett [pictured left, with David Axelrod], according to sources familiar with this part of the probe. There is no inference that Mr. Obama knew about or encouraged any of this alleged scheming, and he has explicitly denied it. But the big question today is this: Were any members of his transition team among the “Washington advisers” on the line during this marathon conference call, or did one of the participants fill them in about these wild ideas?

Mr. Obama’s people are not commenting on details about the case. But the reason that question is on so many minds blago_maincropped_1.jpgtoday is because of what happened that very same Monday night. At 7:56 p.m. Eastern Time, CNN reported that “two Democratic sources close to President-elect Barack Obama tell CNN that top adviser Valerie Jarrett will not be appointed to replace him in the U.S. Senate.” That was an abrupt turnaround. While we can’t vouch for CNN’s reportage, the network had reported that same weekend that Ms. Jarrett was Mr. Obama’s top choice. At a bare minimum, the timing of Team Obama’s decision to remove Ms. Jarrett’s name from contention, or at least to remove her name from the public speculation about the post, seems extraordinarily lucky. MORE

WALL STREET JOURNAL: It came on the very same day the FBI secretly recorded Mr. Blagojevich telling a huge conference call loaded with politicos, in Illinois and Washington, that he wasn’t about to give the Senate spot away for nothing. It’s also the same recorded conversation in which Mr. Blagojevich uses an obscenity to refer to Mr. Obama, before the governor makes clear he won’t give the president-elect the seat for free. “F— him. For nothing? F— him.” MORE

blagorahm.jpgCHICAGO BUSINESS: In conversations taped by the feds, Mr. Blagojevich repeatedly gripes that Mr. Obama isn’t offering him anything for picking Mr. Obama’s choice to the Senate.  The choice, referenced only as “Senate Candidate 1,” almost certainly refers to Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Obama friend and associate. Numerous sources confirm that Ms. Jarrett indeed wanted the seat — and Mr. Obama wanted her to have it — until she abruptly pulled her name out of the running in mid-November. Mid-November is when Mr. Blagojevich is roundly griping on the tapes that Team Obama won’t give him anything for a Jarrett pick. No Cabinet job, no ambassadorship, no nothing, Rod complains, according to the feds. “They’re not wiling to give me anything except appreciation. F–k them.” MORE

GREG HINZ: Moreover, Mr. Blagojevich likely did not figure out on his own that the Obama folks were going to stiff him.  Someone told him, someone who talked to them.  And neither Mr. Emanuel nor Ms. Jarrett is the type to take kindly to being extorted or being pushed around.  From my experience, either is quite capable of sending a message to Pat Fitzgerald.So, at a minimum, it looks like Mr. Blagojevich literally tried to shake down the president-elect, and the president-elect and/or his folks wisely walked away from any transaction.  The question is, did his folks do more? MORE

MEDIA MATTERS: Disregarding prosecutor and U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s warning to “not cast aspersions blago_maincropped_1.jpgon people for being named or being discussed” in the criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), several media figures and outlets have used the Blagojevich scandal as an opportunity to engage in suggestions of guilt-by-association against President-elect Barack Obama. This guilt-by-association has taken the form of rehashing Obama’s purportedly “questionable associations,” or suggesting that Obama is a product of corrupt “Chicago politics.” A number of these media figures have linked Obama to Blagojevich or convicted Chicago businessman Antoin Rezko but ignored the fact that Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing with regard to either case. Other media outlets, like the Associated Press, have used the Blagojevich scandal to revisit Obama’s associations to controversial figures who have not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing, such as Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi and Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. MORE

jessejacksonjr.thumbnail.jpgNEW YORK TIMES: Mr. Jackson was described in an affidavit filed in Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest as one of at least six people being considered by the governor to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s unfinished term in the United States Senate in exchange for money or a new job. Specifically, federal authorities said, Mr. Jackson is “Senate Candidate 5,” associates of whom, the governor said in a wire-tapped conversation, were willing to raise money for Mr. Blagojevich in exchange for the seat. Mr. Jackson, an ambitious Democrat elected to Congress 13 years ago and the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, made a defiant appearance before reporters in Washington on Wednesday, denying unequivocally that he had offered Mr. Blagojevich anything in exchange for the Senate seat or had sanctioned any offer by an intermediary, as Mr. Blagojevich seemed to suggest in recordings. MORE

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TALKING POINTS MEMO: It’s looking increasingly like Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., was truly uninvolved in Rod Blagojevich’s alleged Senate-seat-for-sale scheme, other than expressing the usual interest in getting the appointment. Most telling was the report from Jackson’s lawyer today that the feds called Jackson as Blagojevich was being arrested to give him a heads up that the arrest was happening and that Jackson might see his name in the news. If this all bears out and Jackson turns out to be a victim here, too, it’s hard not to feel pretty bad for the guy. Yeah, yeah, he’s an experienced pol and a big boy and all that. But still a pretty a raw deal thanks to Blagojevich. MORE

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: In wiretapped phone conversations, Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, blago_maincropped_1.jpgallegedly discussed a proposal to transfer Wrigley to the Illinois Finance Authority that would save Tribune at least $100 million. The plan, according to the complaint, was advanced by Tribune executives as a way to avoid taxes in the sale of the Cubs and the ballpark. “One hundred million is nothing to sneeze at. That’s still worth something, isn’t it?” said Blagojevich. The “something” the governor allegedly wanted were Tribune firings, with Blagojevich focusing his wrath on McCormick, the deputy editorial page editor. In an FBI wiretap the governor told Harris to approach principals of Tribune and say “our recommendation is fire all those f – – – – – – people, get ‘em the f – – – out of there and get us some editorial support,” the U.S. attorney’s office said. MORE

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