Blago Judge Letters: Did aide minimize dysfunctional governor?

April 2, 2012 3:22:08 PM PDT
Letters written in support of the former Illinois governor's chief of staff paint a less than flattering picture of Rod Blagojevich.

Written by some political heavyweights, the letters were sent to the judge presiding over the corruption trial of John Harris, who served as chief of staff for Blagojevich. Harris and Blagojevich were both charged with corruption. Harris, who worked with the government after his arrest, received a 10 day sentence compared to Blagojevich's 14 years.

In July 2008, then Gov. Blagojevich said "violent crime in Chicago is out of control." Though he'd had very little communication with Chicago police, the governor was offering to bring in state troopers and the National Guard to crackdown on the violence.

The Chicago Sun-Times had a bit of fun dressing up Blagojevich in a cowboy outfit suggesting there was a new sheriff-in-town with a photo on its front page. That cowboy theme, it turns out, was not too far-fetched, according to a now-released letter from Larry Trent, who was director of the state police in 2008.

Trent writes that Blagojevich wanted "an elite state police group" that would "instantly respond to the violence."

He also wrote Blagojevich himself "wanted to ride with the group (which he prematurely named the "Rough Riders")." And, according to Trent, Blagojevich wanted to give them special outfits. Trent thought that to be delusional thinking. It never happened, Trent says, because Harris interceded.

After Blagojevich was arrested, Clayton Harris - no relation to John- became Blagojevich's last chief of staff. He wrote, "I was directed to fire the entire legal department because they lacked the professionalism that the governor believed they should have exhibited." Clayton Harris said the governor then "directed [him] to hire an out of work attorney that he met in line at Starbucks to be Chief Legal Counsel of the State of Illinois!"

These windows to Blagojevich come by way of some of the dozens of letters written to Judge James Zagel on behalf of John Harris. A common theme is that Harris was instrumental in minimizing collateral damage caused by a dysfunctional governor.

"When you read these little anecdotal things that went on you can only sympathize with his staff," Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said. Topinka, who challenged Blagojevich for governor and lost, says nothing anymore surprises her.

"The taxpayers of Illinois really did it to themselves on this one because we are going to be living with this man's tomfoolery for a decade or more." Topinka said.