Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, who was arrested last Tuesday on federal corruption charges, sought to enhance his political stature by trading an appointment to the Senate seat formerly held by President-elect Obama for a Cabinet position, with secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) being one of the posts mentioned.
According to a complaint filed in district court in northern Illinois, Blagojevich viewed his appointment of a successor to Obama in the Senate as a quid pro quo arrangement. In return, he wanted to be appointed either secretary of Heath and Human Services (HHS) or an ambassador. However, a deputy governor, who was unnamed in the complaint, recommended that Blagojevich consider another Cabinet post in an Obama administration -- DOE secretary.
The deputy governor told Blagojevich that "the cabinet position of secretary of energy is 'the one that makes the most money.' [The] deputy governor stated that it is hard not to give the secretary of energy [post] to a Texan, but with Rod Blagojevich's coal background it might be a possibility," the complaint said.
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But Blagojevich subsequently rejected the idea of DOE secretary, saying instead he was willing to "trade" the vacated Senate seat for the position of HHS secretary in an Obama administration.
Obama last week joined a chorus of other Democrats calling for Blagojevich to step down as governor. "I do not think that the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois...I hope that the governor himself comes to the conclusion that he can no longer effectively serve and that he does resign." Blagojevich has not given any indication that he plans to resign. The Illinois legislature could impeach him and remove him from office, but that will take time. In the meantime, the Illinois attorney general Friday took an unprecedented step and asked the state Supreme Court to temporarily remove Blagojevich from office.
The president-elect last Thursday said that neither he nor his office had any involvement in the governor's alleged "pay-to-play" conspiracy to cash in on his authority to appoint a successor to fill Obama's Senate seat.
"I had no contact with the governor's office. I did not speak to the governor about these issues. That I know for certain," Obama told reporters during a briefing in which he announced the selection of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota as HHS secretary.
"I have not been contacted by any federal official" about the criminal complaint filed against Blagojevich, Obama said. Blagojevich was taken into federal custody last Tuesday in Chicago on influence-peddling and bribery charges. He was later released on his own recognizance.
Moreover, "what I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That would be a violation of everything this campaign has been about," Obama said.
Still, "I've asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the governor's office about this vacancy so we can share them with you over the next few days," Obama told reporters.
Both Blagojevich, 51, and aide John Harris, 46, were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. In exchange for Obama's former Senate seat, Blagojevich was accused of seeking either a substantial salary for himself at a nonprofit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions; placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might have received as much as $150,000 a year; obtaining campaign funds; or being named to the Obama administration. Harris resigned Friday.
"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald for the Northern District of Illinois. "They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign in the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."
The probe was part of a five-year-old public corruption investigation of the pay-to-play schemes.
Blagojevich still retains all of his powers as governor, including the right to choose Obama's successor, CQ Today reported. The Illinois House is expected to convene a special session on Monday (Dec. 15), at which time the state House Elections Committee will meet to consider a bill to amend state law to strip Blagojevich of his appointment power and provide for a special election to fill the Senate seat, it said.
Blagojevich, who is in his second term, was elected as a reformer to clean up the mess of former Gov. George Ryan, who is serving 6 1/2 years for corruption, fraud and other charges.
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