The spirit of American entrepreneurialism was found alive and well yesterday when Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, as well as soliciting bribes — specifically: he was caught trying to sell off Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

In a press briefing after the arrest, Illinois attorney general Patrick Fitzgerald described Blagojevich’s actions as a “political corruption crime spree”, which have taken Illinois politics “to a truly new low” (a not insubstantial charge in the notoriously grimy world of Chicago politics) and gave an account of how things went down:

Blagojevich — who is no stranger to charges of corruption and scandal — was already being watched closely by the FBI, and once a tap was placed on his phone on 29 October, his plans to sell Obama’s seat, plus a host of other dodgy dealings, bubbled to the surface.

Full transcripts of the taped conversations aren’t available (yet. The internet will no doubt provide in due course), but The Smoking Gun has highlights from the 76-page FBI affidavit (or you can download the full thing here), replete with profanity-laden quotes from Blagojevich as he appears to haggle for a good price on the vacant seat. Under local law, Blagojevich has the sole right to appoint Obama’s successor, which he was recorded as noting is a “f-cking valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”

According to the affidavit:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH has been intercepted conspiring to trade the Senate seat for particular positions that the President-elect has the power to appoint (e.g. the Secretary of Health and Human Services). ROD BLAGOJEVICH has also been intercepted conspiring to sell the Senate seat in exchange for his wife’s placement on paid corporate boards, or ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s placement at a private foundation in a significant position with a substantial salary. ROD BLAGOJEVICH has also been intercepted trying to sell the Senate seat in exchange for millions of dollars in funding for a non-profit organization that he would start and that would employ him at a substantial salary after he left the governorship.

If a good enough offer couldn’t be found, Blagojevich was also interested in appointing himself to the seat: “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.”

During the taped conversations, Blagojevich mentions six possible Senate candidates — other than himself — whose names have been removed from the quotes. The American Prospect has had a stab at guessing who they are. Of most interest is ‘Candidate 5’, who allegedly offered half-a-million dollars in exchange for the seat, with both Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson Jr and Illinois State Legislator Emil Jones Jr named as possibilities for the pseudonym.

For his part, Obama has stated he is “saddened” by the events, but claims to have had no involvement in the affair. However, there is some speculation that his soon-to-be Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, may have tipped-off the Feds (others are pretty sure that’s incorrect, though).

Blagojevich apparently has no plans to resign.

Peter Fray

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