Aide: Blago asked what he could get for seat

July 21, 2010 8:13:58 AM PDT
In court Tuesday, Rod Blagojevich was heard on tape mulling over whom he should appoint to a U.S. Senate seat left open by President Barack Obama.

Listen to the tapes or read the transcripts- as they become available- by clicking here. (NOTE: You must open the PDF file of the transcript to find the audio file. The recordings contain some obscenities.)

The recordings- made by the FBI in 2008- were heard at the former governor's corruption trial Tuesday. They coincided with the testimony of his former chief of staff, John Harris.

Harris, Blagojevich's former chief of staff, is testifying for the prosecution in return for leniency. He has pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges related to the case. He described his former boss as a man willing to punish those who would not do his bidding.

Harris says in 2008 Blagojevich turned to him and said, "What do you think I can get for the Senate seat?" Harris replied, "What do you mean for you? Get a new ally or award an ally."

Harris says at first he thought Blagojevich was referring to obtaining political allies. But in another conversation, Harris said Blagojevich wanted money for his campaign fund in exchange for the Senate seat. Blagojevich mentioned Blair Hull and JB Pritzker as good candidates, according to Harris.

On November 2, 2008, Harris received a call from Rahm Emanuel, asking if the Senate position were filled and to recommend President Obama's preference. Harris testified, "Although he didn't mention her name, he was referring to Valerie Jarrett."

Two tapes entered into evidence

Before breaking for lunch Tuesday, the prosecution played two recordings of phone conversations between Harris and Blagojevich.

On November 3, 2008, Harris tells Blagojevich that Emanuel called. Blagojevich is heard asking, "What do I have a shot at getting?"

Blagojevich is heard saying he wants President Obama to appoint him Secretary of Health and Human Services.

"Do you think he promised it to anyone else?" Blagojevich asks Harris. Then Blagojevich muses about other possible positions. "What position, you know, would be not stupid? ... How about UN ambassador?"

"I don't think so," said Harris on the tape.

Then Blagojevich started laughing and said, "Sure that'd be cool."

They also discussed alternative candidates-- Bill Daley and Lisa Madigan -- to show Obama they had other options. He talked about leaking those names to the media. Blagojevich and Harris rehearse some scenarios.

"Negotiating with Madigan and suggesting his daughter, and then can't make a deal with him that I'm going to be satisfied with, right?...Then I end up using my ace in the hole and I send myself, right?" said Blagojevich.

In a second tape, from a conversation later that same day, Blagojevich is heard saying, "Do they think I'd just appoint Valerie Jarrett for nothing? Just to make him happy?"

Blagojevich Campaign low on cash

Harris also testified that in late 2007, the governor had paid $1 million in legal bills and had just received a bill for $700,000 from a law firm. The money was paid out of his campaign fund, which made raising money even more important.

Harris also talked about how Blagojevich allegedly tried to shake down contractors for campaign funds in association with a passage of a capital funds tollway improvement bill.

Harris discusses ethics bill

Harris also testified about the ethics bill and former Ill. Senate President Emil Jones' desire to be appointed to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama if then-candidate Obama won the presidency.

The ethics bill legislation, which started in late 2007, imposed limits on the governor's ability to raise funds with those that did significant business with the state. The bill passed both the House and Senate-- but was vetoed by the governor. As Senate president, it was Jones' job to call the bill up for an override vote. Harris said Jones was pressured by lawmakers to do so, but Blagojevich told Harris that Jones would hold because "he knew something we didn't."

Harris testified that Jones wanted the Senate seat should Obama be elected and had made that known to Governor Blagojevich.

However, in early September 2008, Jones called the ethics bill for an override vote at Obama's urging.

Harris testified that Blagojevich later said, "No way he's getting the seat now," about Jones.

According to Harris' testimony, the first discussion regarding Obama's Senate seat came up after Obama won the Iowa caucus. At that time, the governor talked about appointing himself or Emil Jones. He called Jones a fallback saying, "the best Jones could do for me is raise money for me."

Harris testified in early conversations between Jones and Blagojevich, the governor would say, "Emil, if you want it. It's yours." And Emil would jokingly decline, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Harris said later he was surprised to learn of the deal between Jones and Blagojevich because of these conversations.

Later on Election Day, Blagojevich talks with his wife about possibly pursuing an ambassadorship to India.

"India's good. You'd like that. Look, it'd be a big change in our lives. You know, poor Amy and Annie, but I think it'd be tremendously enriching," said Blagojevich on tape.

On the tapes played Tuesday, Blagojevich talks about ambassadorships, naming himself Senator, even running for his old congressional seat, but at one point he tells Harris he doesn't want to be governor.

"I'd like to get out, [expletive] outta here?the objective is to get a good gig over there," said Blagojevich.

Harris will continue to testify throughout the week and through next week, with prosecutors are hoping that Harris will lay the groundwork to prove that Blagojevich for years had been trying to shake people down.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges.


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