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Blagojevich in Custody; Did Obama Blow the Whistle?

9:14 AM, Dec 9, 2008 • By BRIAN FAUGHNAN
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The Chicago Tribune leads with a stunner: Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been taken into custody by the Federal government:

Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.

Blagojevich and Harris were accused of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy that included Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama in exchange for financial benefits for the governor and his wife. The governor was also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for other official actions.

Blagojevich was taken into federal custody at his North Side home this morning.

A Blagojevich spokesman said he was unaware of the development. "Haven't heard anything -- you are first to call," Lucio Guerrero said in an e-mail.

The stunning, early morning visit by authorities to the governor's North Side home came amid revelations that federal investigators had recorded the governor with the cooperation of a longtime confidant and had begun to focus on the possibility that the process of choosing a Senate successor to President-elect Barack Obama could be tainted by pay-to-play politics.

The complaint against Blagojevich and Harris is a fascinating read. It alleges that the Governor attempted to trade the designation of Obama's Senate successor both to the Obama White House -- in exchange for a nomination as Secretary of HHS, and to a union, in exchange for 'a lucrative job:'

Defendants ROD BLAGOJEVICH and JOHN HARRIS, together with others, attempted to use ROD BLAGOJEVICH's authority to appoint a United States Senator for the purpose of obtaining personal benefits for ROD BLAGOJEVICH, including, among other things, appointment as Secretary of Health & Human Services in the President-elect's administration, and alternatively, a lucrative job which they schemed to induce a union to provide to ROD BLAGOJEVICH in exchange for appointing as senator an individual whom ROD BLAGOJEVICH and JOHN HARRIS believed to be favored by union officials and their associates.

Whom did Blagojevich approach about the HHS job? Was it Senator Obama himself, or someone on the transition team?

The complaint also features a return to prominence by Tony Rezko, who acted as a go-between for Blagojevich, and a supporter who agreed to raise money for Blagojevich's campaign in exchange for a high-level appointment:

Later that year, Rezko approached Ata for additional monetary support for ROD BLAGOJEVICH. Ata agreed to contribute $25,000 in additional monies to the campaign of ROD BLAGOJEVICH. Ata, subsequently and by prior arrangement with Rezko, brought a check in this amount to Rezko's offices on Elston Avenue in Chicago. After he arrived at Rezko's offices, Ata was greeted by Rezko to whom he handed the check in an envelope. Rezko, carrying the check, ushered Ata into a conference room where he met with Rezko and ROD BLAGOJEVICH. Rezko placed the envelope containing Ata's $25,000 check to ROD BLAGOJEVICH's campaign on the conference room table between himself and ROD BLAGOJEVICH and stated to ROD BLAGOJEVICH that Ata had been a good supporter and a team player and that Ata would be willing to join ROD BLAGOJEVICH's administration. ROD BLAGOJEVICH expressed his pleasure and acknowledged that Ata had been a good supporter and good friend. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, in Ata's presence, asked Rezko if he (Rezko) had talked to Ata about positions in the administration, and Rezko responded that he had.

A footnote in the complaint makes clear that Rezko himself was one source for this information.

Check back to the Standard for more as this story develops.