TPM News

A great nugget from the Fitzgerald statement:

Later on November 5, Blagojevich said to Advisor A, "I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I'm not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there."

More from Fitzgerald's statement:

Throughout the intercepted conversations, Blagojevich also allegedly spent significant time weighing the option of appointing himself to the open Senate seat and expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, including: frustration at being "stuck" as governor; a belief that he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor; a desire to remake his image in consideration of a possible run for President in 2016; avoiding impeachment by the Illinois legislature; making corporate contacts that would be of value to him after leaving public office; facilitating his wife's employment as a lobbyist; and generating speaking fees should he decide to leave public office.

Here's a bit more from the statement, which goes some way to explaining why Blagojevich might have been reckless enough to put a Senate seat up for sale even while knowing that he was under federal investigation:

The charges focus, however, on events since October when the Government obtained information that Blagojevich and Fundraiser A, who is chairman of Friends of Blagojevich, were accelerating Blagojevich's allegedly corrupt fund-raising activities to accumulate as much money as possible this year before a new state ethics law would severely curtail Blagojevich's ability to raise money from individuals and entities that have existing contracts worth more than $50,000 with the State of Illinois. Agents learned that Blagojevich was seeking approximately $2.5 million in campaign contributions by the end of the year, principally from or through individuals or entities - many of which have received state contacts or appointments - identified on a list maintained by Friends of Blagojevich, which the FBI has obtained.

More from Pat Fitzgerald's statement on the Blagojevich charges:

A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois' U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife. At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich discussed obtaining: - a substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions; - placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year; - promises of campaign funds - including cash up front; and - a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.

Just last week, on December 4, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might "get some (money) up front, maybe" from Senate Candidate 5, if he named Senate Candidate 5 to the Senate seat, to insure that Senate Candidate 5 kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election. In a recorded conversation on October 31, Blagojevich claimed he was approached by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: "We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know, he'd raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator."

Who's Senate Candidate 5? Sounds like we'll find out...

From a statement from US Attorney Pat Fitzgerald...

Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois' U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife.

It's also alleged that Blagojevich wanted to purge Chicago Tribune editorial board and in return help them sell Wrigley Field.

After the jump is the full statement...

Read More →

Beleaguered Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was taken into custody by law enforcement authorities at his home this morning, reports the Tribune Company, sourcing a US Attorney's office spokesman. The governor's chief of staff, John Harris, was also arrested.

Hours earlier, the Chicago Tribune reported that the federal probe of pay-to-play politics in the Blagojevich administration had expanded to include the question whether the process of filling Barack Obama's US Senate seat -- for which the governor is responsible -- had become tainted.

Earlier this week, the same (also beleaguered!) paper reported that the feds had secretly taped Blagojevich as part of their investigation.

Yesterday, the governor told reporters: "I don't believe there's any cloud that hangs over me. I think there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me".

Late Update: Prosecutors have filed a criminal complaint.

That didn't take long.

Yesterday, as we noted, the Wall Street Journal reported that Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain was seeking an annual bonus of as much as $10 million -- after seeing his company lose over $11 billion this year.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were both quick to express their outrage, noting that Bank of America, which has completed a deal to buy Merrill, received $15 billion from the bailout fund this fall. And Merrill's board appeared reluctant to go along.

And sure enough, at the company's board meeting yesterday afternoon, Thain announced that he, along with other senior execs, would forgo bonuses this year, "given current economic and market conditions."

Given the level of outrage that Thain's request had provoked so quickly, the board's apparent opposition, and the broader public mood against excessive CEO pay, Thain may have seen the writing on the wall.

And given that he got a $15 million bonus when he joined the firm last fall, we think he should be fine.

Last week, the Bernie Kerik Legal Defense Trust held a $75-a-plate-minimum beefsteak dinner in honor of the man himself.

First, a quick reminder of why the former New York City Police Commissioner needs the money:

Kerik became mired in muck in late 2004 after President Bush unsuccessfully nominated him to be Homeland Security Secretary. The national scrutiny helped to result in a 16-count indictment filed late last year, for charges that included lying to White House officials during the nomination process, accepting mob-tied money for renovations to his apartment, and tax fraud. Last Friday, federal prosecutors accused him of having embarked on a "crime spree." His trial begins in January.

The beefsteak dinner fundraiser, which attracted 200 people to Kerik's hometown of Paterson, NJ, was detailed by The New Yorker, which described "thick-necked" men tucking into their steaks. The program celebrated both Kerik's Jersey roots and his now infamous New York career. It culminated in a fifteen minute long "soundtrack of strings and a video of still images from the World Trade Center site played--like an extended Giuliani campaign commercial."

And it looks like Kerik's colorful personal life apparently hasn't alienated some members of the religious community. The magazine reports:

"...Monsignor David Cassato, an N.Y.P.D. chaplain, had made the trip from Bensonhurst to offer a blessing. "Tonight, I was supposed to meet Cardinal Martino," Cassato said. "He lives in Rome, and he's very, very close to our Holy Father. I got a call and they said, 'There's this function going on for Bernie.' I said, 'I'm skipping the Cardinal and I'm coming.'"

Kerik ended the night with a speech met by a standing ovation.

The news that John Thain, the CEO of Merrill Lynch, has requested a $10 million bonus isn't sitting well with some prominent political figures.

A statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid notes that in October, Merrill received $10 billion in bailout money. Reid then declares:

The TARP program, from which Merrill Lynch has taken billions of taxpayer dollars, was designed explicitly to limit executive compensation, bonuses and golden parachutes. While American families struggle to keep their jobs and their homes, I question the chutzpah of asking for a $10 million taxpayer-subsidized bonus. Americans deciding which bills to pay this month just to make ends meet do not want their hard-earned money even indirectly spent rewarding executives from banks that are largely responsible for the economic crisis. I sincerely hope that Merrill Lynch rejects this request.

Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is conducting an investigation of executive pay on Wall Street, has written a letter to Merrill board members that makes similar points. Cuomo writes:
Paying executives at Merrill millions each in "performance" bonuses in this context [of a taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall street firms] would be oxymoronic to say the least and certainly a thumb in the eye to taxpayers. Enough is enough.

Earlier today we reported that Newt Gingrich had recently been on Fox denouncing Democatic lawmakers for ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- despite himself having worked as a consultant for Freddie back in 2006, helping to fight off potential regulation.

But it turns out that the Newt-Freddie relationship goes even deeper.

A July 1999 story in the American Banker, a banking trade publication (via Nexis), reports that the former House Speaker had recently been hired by Freddie "to provide strategic counsel on a range of issues," according to a company spokesman.

The same story adds that Gingrich's former chief of staff, Arne Christenson, was hired that year by Fannie Mae as senior vice president for regulatory policy.

Just to remind you, Gingrich is the guy who was saying in September:

what you have today is that the rich in Wall Street and the powerful at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had so many politicians beholden to them that, in fact, nobody was going to check them. And so they got away with things that were absolute bologna, and it's a tragedy.