Blagojevich arrested, charged
CHICAGO (WLS) -- After posting a $4,500 bond Tuesday afternoon, the governor of Illinois was released from federal custody. He then returned to his Ravenswood Manor home.
Accused of trying to sell the Senate seat left open by Pres-Elect Barack Obama, Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges Tuesday morning. He appeared in court this afternoon and was released on his own recognizance.
ABC7 News Video:
The Court Appearance
U.S. District Judge Nan Nolan said "Good afternoon, governor" in greeting Blagojevich, who was wearing sweat pants and gym shoes, at the bond hearing.
The bond specifies that Blagojevich will forfeit $4,500 on bond if he fails to make his next court appearance. He was also ordered to turn in his passport and firearm owner's identification card.
"The governor believes he didn't do anything wrong and asks that the people of Illinois have some faith," said Sheldon Sorosky, Blagojevich's attorney.
"Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald while outlining the allegations against the Illinois governor at a news conference Tuesday morning.
According to Fitzgerald, Blagojevich tried to sell President-elect Obama's open Senate seat.
On Tuesday, Pres.-Elect Obama said he had no contact with the governor about the open Senate seat.
"That would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said the governor was heard on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or trade Obama's vacant seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife. The bugs were placed on Blagojevich's campaign offices and a tap was placed on his home phone.
"There was a known investigation of the Blagojevich administration that has been going on for years involving pay-to-play and corruption. There had been a recent trial of an associate of Governor Blagojevich in which allegations were aired and it was testified to that Governor Blagojevich was involved in corruption in government," said Fitzgerald. "You might have thought in that environment that pay-to-play would slow down. The opposite happened. It sped up."
Gov. Blagojevich was taken into federal custody at his home on Sunnyside around 6 a.m. His chief of staff, John Harris, was also arrested Tuesday morning.
"There was no advance notice given to either individual," said Ross Rice, FBI.
"It was a phone call from me to the governor advising him that we had a warrant for his arrest and there were two F.B.I. agents outside his door and if he could open the door and let them in and do it as quietly and without the media and/or alerting his children, and he did so," said Robert Grant, FBI chief.
Grant said Blagojevich thought it was a joke at first. "So he tried to make sure this was an honest call."
His children remained asleep during the arrest.
"They were beginning to stir as we left but not awake and not aware, but his wife was awake," said Grant.
After the governor was handcuffed and brought to FBI headquarters on the West Side, teams of federal agents swarmed his home and his campaign office.
This afternoon authorities carried out boxes and filing cabinets labeled as "evidence" from the Friends of Blagojevich office.
The affidavit was unsealed around 8:30 a.m. That affidavit accused Gov. Blagojevich of, among other things, trying to obtain campaign contributions up front in consideration of an appointment to the Senate seat left open by Pres.- Elect Barack Obama.
"The most appalling conduct Governor Blagojevich engaged in according to the complaint filed or unsealed today is that he attempted to sell the senate seat. The senate seat has he had a sole right to replace due to President-elect Barack Obama," said Fitzgerald. From the affidavit:
Later on November 3, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with Advisor A.By this time, media reports indicated that Senate Candidate 1, an advisor to the President-elect, was interested in the Senate seat if it became vacant, and was likely to be supported by the President-elect. During the call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated, "unless I get something real good for [Senate Candidate 1], s--t, I'll just send myself, you know what I'm saying."
ROD BLAGOJEVICH later stated, "I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I'm saying. And if I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself." Later, ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that the Senate seat "is a f-ing valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing."
He is also accused of threatening to withhold state assistance to the owner of the Chicago Tribune in the sale of Wrigley Field. The charges contend that -- in return for state assistance -- Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.
Blagojevich also allegedly used his authority as governor in an attempt to squeeze out campaign contributions.
Blagojevich and Harris made a court appearance at 1:30 p.m.
Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, reached by phone at home, tells ABC7 News "I've heard the reports but I don't know whether it's true or not."
Illinois' lieutenant governor says he has not been told of Governor Blagojevich's arrest by federal authorities "through any official channels" but is heading to the Thompson Center now to await more information.
"The Governor remains the Governor... The presumption is you're always innocent until proven guilty," said Quinn.
The governor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
"I've got nothing but sunshine hanging over me," Blagojevich said Monday.
The governor's black, state-owned SUV remained parked in his driveway. An Illinois State Police car as well as Chicago police were on the corner. It's unclear whether Illinois' first lady or the couple's two daughters were home.
A member of the governor's security detail declined comment outside Blagojevich's home. When pressed by a reporter as to the status of the governor's state police protection details, he said "there's no change in our status."
"We do have other, capable leadership in the state," said Congressman Danny Davis. "We should try to put this matter behind us as soon as we can."
The Governor's office issued a statement saying, "today's allegations do nothing to impact the services, duties, or function of the state. Our state will continue to ensure health, safety, and economic stability for the citizens of Illinois."
Blagojevich confident Monday
The arrest follows an interview on Monday in which Gov. Blagojevich spoke about reports that federal investigators had recorded him as part of their corruption probe. Blagojevich said his conversations were "always lawful."
His confidant, John Wyma, reportedly cooperated with the federal agents.
"I should say if anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it," said Blagojevich Monday. "I appreciate anybody who wants to tape me openly and notoriously, and those who feel like they want to sneakily and wear taping devices, I would remind them that it kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate."
Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko awaits sentencing on a federal corruption conviction in which he was charged with shaking down businesses wanting to do state work for campaign contributions.
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