Politics

Inside USA vs. Rod Blagojevich

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
In this courtroom artists drawing, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich stands before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan Nolan in Chicago, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008. Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday by the FBI in Chicago which alleged he sought favors to influence his choice for President-elect Barack Obamas vacant Senate seat. (AP Photo/Verna Sadock)

In this courtroom artist's drawing, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich stands before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jan Nolan in Chicago, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008. Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday by the FBI in Chicago which alleged he sought favors to influence his choice for President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. (AP Photo/Verna Sadock) (AP Photo)

It was near dawn on the morning of December 9, 2008, and federal agents had just made a high-profile arrest on the North Side of Chicago, the culmination of a case they made in near-record time.

"How many governors have you arrested before?" their target asked of his newly acquired federal handlers. If Rod Blagojevich was concerned about the seriousness of the charges against him he certainly did not show it on that cold and wet December day, according to law enforcement sources who were present.

The unusual antics of the former Governor of Illinois are now known to the millions who watched him get fired by Donald Trump and pick and roll like the former boxer he is when faced with serious questions about serious charges. "He didn't seem to understand the seriousness of the charges against him," said a member of the arrest team who was with Blagojevich from the time he was taken into custody, through fingerprinting and photographing and into a holding cell at the Dirksen Federal Building. "This cell isn't big enough for me to do my morning exercises," Blagojevich quipped of the confines where he awaited his first appearance before a federal judge.

How the federal government was able to record the brothers Blagojevich in near record time is either a case study in the cooperation of law enforcement or a lesson in the old adage: be careful who you alienate. FBI bosses says Illinois State Police brass deserve significant credit for turning on the man who controlled their budget and could hand pick their leader. In political circles, it was no secret then-State Police director Larry Trent was often at odds with his boss Blagojevich. In October of 2009 agents assigned to the FBI Chicago's public corruption squad had a cooperating witness who told them of a meeting set to take place a few days later in which Rod and Robert Blagojevich were expected to meet with a campaign contributor who felt he was being given a choice: Pay or don't play.

Armed with a court order and time, the FBI's technical wizards can listen in on almost any conversation. They usually like to have several weeks to identify the best items to bug, defeat any alarm systems and learn the comings and goings at the targeted location. Unfortunately for the feds, time wasn't on their side. They had 36 hours to get their listening devices planted before the meeting was scheduled to take place.

That's when FBI Chicago Special Agent in Charge Rob Grant made the risky decision to ask his counterparts at the Illinois State Police for help bugging the Governor's campaign office. Sources say State Police, with the blessing of former Director Trent and a top deputy, were instrumental in making the most incriminating records possible. They gave the FBI detailed accounts of the security in place in the Friends of Blagojevich office, details on when and which rooms were swept for listening devices and even dispatched a state police tech from Springfield to help the FBI surveillance team gain access to set up the listening devices. It was those bugs that yielded the now infamous tape recordings of Rod Blagojevich bemoaning everything from his job to the people who elected him.

A top law enforcement source tells ABC 7 federal agents had originally hoped Rod Blagojevich might cooperate and share with them knowledge of government contracting, fundraising and any corruption he may have witnessed coming up through Chicago's system of ward politics, serving as a Congressman in Washington or as governor of the nation's fifth largest state. The hope that Blagojevich might play ball with the feds was spawned from an undercover recording in which Blagojevich was heard threatening to 'take everyone down with me' should he be criminally charged.

On the morning of his arrest, agents brought Blagojevich to a first floor holding room in the FBI's Chicago office on the near west side. The the 20 foot by 10 foot room is nicer than most police interrogation facilities but equally spartan. The steel rod attached to the wall quickly dispels any notion that this is a simple conference room. It's where an arrestee's hand is connected to the wall via metal handcuffs. There's no word if Rod was attached to the rod but since at this point the feds were still trying to see if he'd talk, probably not.

Rather than divulging any secrets about the inner-workings of the Illinois political machine, a source says Blagojevich frequently cracked jokes while awaiting his transfer to the Dirksen Federal Building for a hearing. Agents offered him the opportunity to trade the track suit he was arrested in for one of the expensive business suits he favored. Blagojevich said "no." Later that morning, the media would get its first post-arrest glimpse of the Governor. He was wearing a running suit, and he's been running from the charges ever since.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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rod blagojevich, politics, ben bradley
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