Thursday, December 11, 2008

For the Record, Blagojevich

For the record, here are some excerpts printed in the New York Times from a transcript of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s news conference following the complaint issued against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich:

Speakers:
Patrick Fitzgerald, United States attorney general for the Northern District of Illinois
Robert Grant, Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent in charge


Fitzgerald: In addition to the pay-to-play allegations, which are described in greater detail in the complaint, we also were surprised to learn of an extortionate attempt against the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

The Chicago Tribune had not been kind to Governor Blagojevich, had written editorials that called for his impeachment. And Governor Blagojevich and defendant Jonathan -- John Harris, his chief of staff, schemed to send a message to the Chicago Tribune that if the Tribune Company wanted to sell its ball field, Wrigley Field, in order to complete a business venture, the price of doing so was to fire certain editors, including one editor by name.

In the governor words -- governor's words, quote, "Fire all those bleeping people. Get them the bleep out of there. And get us some editorial support," close quote. And the bleeps are not really bleeps.

The defendant Harris tried to frame the message more subtly to get the point across to the Tribune that firing the editorial board members would be a good thing in terms of getting financing to allow the sale to go forward…

Grant: There is an editor that they'd like fired from the Tribune, and I laid awake at night, worried whether I'd read in the paper in the morning that when there were lay-offs, that we'd find out that that person was laid off.

The complaint -- the complaint lays out, in there in fact, when there were layoffs, there were conversations to find out whether the editor who should of -- they thought should be fired, and he wasn't. And the governor was asking whether there would be more layoffs. So we have a governor in this modern times, the only one who's looking for more layoffs. You take that, what's going on and add it to the fact that we have a Senate seat that seemed to be, as recently as days ago, auctioned off to, you know, to the highest bidder for campaign contributions. And Governor Blagojevich, own words, on the -- on the tape or the bug that set forth in the complaint, talked about selling this like a sports agent…

QUESTION: ... address one thing, and that is, when Rod Blagojevich walks out of here today, unless I'm mistaken about the constitution of Illinois, he will still be governor. He will still have the power to make the appointment to the Senate seat. He will still have the power whether or not he's going to sign the bill that you're concerned about.

Also, would you address the fact -- and I know you referred to this -- would you just address whether or not President-elect Obama was aware that any of these things were taking place?

MR. FITZGERALD: OK. I'm not going to speak for what the president- elect was aware of. We make no allegations that he's aware of anything. And that's as simply as I can put it…

I was not going to wait until March or April or May to get it all nice and tidy, and then bring charges, and then say, "By the way, all this bad stuff happened because no one was aware of it back in December."

I think that would be irresponsible.

(CROSSTALK)

So sometimes when there's ongoing criminal conduct, and this is a very different case than what we often see, we will expose the criminal conduct and bring charges to let people know we're on to it and to hopefully to put a stop to it.

QUESTION: Are you able to tell us if the Tribune scenario, it was the Tribune who came to you and said it's being extorted or you approaching the Tribune with this revelation?

MR. FITZGERALD: I don't -- that's not set forth in the complaint. What we can tell you is that that was conversations we intercepted on the governor's side, speaking to Mr. Harris about what they wanted to do.

QUESTION: So it's conceivable, then, that the Tribune at some level of management was considering -- a force to consider the governor's alleged extortion?

MR. GRANT: I'm not going to speak for the Tribune or what happened and what message got there. I think the complaint made clear that Governor Blagojevich, what he had in mind was basically a get rid of the editors for this.

The complaint also makes clear that Mr. Harris was one who wanted to be far more nuanced, and, basically, Governor Blagojevich delegated to him, "Well, you know what you got to do. Be careful."

So I can't describe to you what conversations Mr. Harris had, and I think it would be dangerous to do so. It goes to my point of -- it's one thing to attribute someone's own words to them. It would be another to attribute someone's own words to you.

And, you know, if I say something on tape, then I'm -- I'm charged with what I said. If someone says something on tape about me, that's a different story.

So I'm not going to speculate as to what, if any, conversations were had in the -- in the Tribune at this point. I don't think that be fair to them or anyone else, when we're just describing his mindset of what Governor Blagojevich wanted Mr. Harris to do. We're not describing what happened in the scheme beyond that…

QUESTION: (inaudible) when did you make the decision to actually arrest him rather than allow him to turn himself in, to sort of send a signal here?

MR. GRANT: It was exactly what Pat said earlier, and that was, we had a -- we have a lot of things we learned from the wiretap, a lot of things we learned from these microphones. There is a lot of investigation that still needs to be done. And there are critical interviews that we have to do and cooperation we need to get from different people.

So it wasn't about, as Pat said, tying this in a bow, waiting until spring, letting things be done that damaged the state of Illinois, damaged the United States Senate, hurt people.

It was about what is good for the investigation? What is good to find out the truth about what is going on? Because this goes beyond just the governor. It goes to other people who are involved in these schemes...

QUESTION: Mr. Fitzgerald, would you make clear just something about the timing here? When the Tribune ran its story a few days ago revealing that the governor was being taped, would you explain -- and I think some of this is laid out in the complaint -- did further taping take place or did that essentially terminate your ability to listen in?

MR. FITZGERALD: Well, what I would say is, to back up and to the extent that there have been articles, I'm not confirming or denying the accuracy of the articles. You can compare them against what happened.

I will say this, as you guys know, you guys are in the information business of getting it and publishing it, and we're in the information business of getting it and using it.

About eight weeks ago, before we had the bug installed and before we had the wiretap up, we were contacted by the Tribune to comment or confirm or deny on a story that they were going to run.

Had they ran that story, we thought we'd never have the opportunity to install the bug or place the telephone tap. And we made an urgent request for the Tribune not to publish that story.

That is a very rare thing for us to do and it's an even rarer thing for a newspaper to grant. We thought that the public interest required that the story not run.

It was a difficult conversation to have because we weren't allowed to describe what we doing, and I have to take my hat off that the Tribune withheld that story for a substantial period of time, which otherwise might have compromised the investigation for ever happening. And I think that's something that we should take note of.

And later, at a later point in time that story did run. I believe it ran on Friday morning. And we were recording after the story ran that said feds tape of Blagojevich, and as set forth in the complaint, days before, or even the day before that story ran, Governor Blagojevich was intercepted telling his fund-raiser to have that conversation about wanting to see campaign contributions up front and telling him to talk as if the whole world is listening; be careful, do it in person, not over the telephone.

And then, after the story ran, we got a different conversation the next day, which basically says, undo what you just did…

So it was clear that the reaction to the story was to think that they shouldn't proceed down that road. So to the extent that we had a number of weeks of interception (inaudible) the telephone, I do -- I do think we -- we ought to credit the Chicago Tribune that they agreed to that request…

QUESTION: You spoke before about if Senator -- you didn't know the awareness that Senator -- or President-elect Barack Obama knew about this. So is it safe to say he has not been briefed? And can you also tell us if any phone calls that were made to President-elect Obama that you intercepted, or to Rahm Emanuel?

MR. FITZGERALD: Anna, I'm not going to go down anything that's not in the complaint. And what I simply said before is, I'm not -- I have enough trouble speaking for myself, I'm never going to try to speak in the voice of a president or president-elect. So I simply pointed out that if you look at the complaint, there's no allegation that the president-elect -- there's no reference in the complaint to any conversation involving the president-elect or indicating that the president-elect was aware of it, and that's all I can say…

QUESTION: Mr. Fitzgerald, did you have a conversation with the attorney general or somebody close to him either regarding the ability for you to get the wiretaps (inaudible) on the home or is that the decision to file this complaint?

MR. FITZGERALD: I will say this. One, when it comes to wiretaps and bugs, I think the procedure we follow is a -- is well known. To file a wiretap, first of all, you need the FBI -- Boston, Chicago, whose people are doing all the work -- to be on board. You need my office to be on board. That gets you no where.

You got to go down to Washington to Office of Enforcement Operations, OEO. And you probably have never heard of OEO, and you'll see "CSI" on TV -- and the people in OEO do a fantastic job. They are the people who review, among other things, applications for wiretaps and bugs, and they scrub them. And they're very smart.

And what we like about OEO is they know how to say yes and they know how to say no. And if they don't think it meets the standards, they'll tell you that and you won't get your wiretap or bug. And they think it does, they'll say yes. And if it needs fixing, they fix it.

An effort is approved in the office of OEO. It then goes up through the chain to high-ranking officials in the criminal division who sign off on it. And once it's been signed off at main Justice which says you're allowed to go see it, you're still nowhere because you can't put a bug or a wiretap in without the approval of the chief judge in the district. So the chief judge takes an independent review and signs off on it.

We complied with all that, obviously. Beyond that, what I'll simply say is that no one -- the deputy attorney general, the FBI director or the attorney general -- aren't going to drop their coffee this morning to find out about this case for the first time. We've, obviously, kept them briefed and -- but beyond that, we'll -- we'll take responsibility for the decisions we made and leave it at that…

QUESTION: I got a question -- if you could also just clarify again, is discussing a quid pro quo where he, you know, acted criminally versus actually carrying out. I mean, if he's just having conversations about eliminating a member of the editorial board at the Chicago Tribune but nothing is actually carried out, how much of that is just someone trying to be a tough guy and how much of that is criminal behaviors?

MR. FITZGERALD: Well, you hit on two questions. One is a legal distinction. There is scheming or conspiracy to commit a crime and then there's a substantive crime. We've charged conspiracy or scheming in this complaint.

One of the things we want to do with this investigation is to track out the different schemes and conspiracies to find out which ones were carried out or not and who might be involved in that or not. And that's something we haven't done yet. Now that we've gone overt we'll be interviewing people and figuring that out.

But it is a crime in and of itself for people to scheme to violate the law. That's called conspiracy. Then there's a substantive crime.

As far as how much -- whether or not there people acting like a tough guy or not, I don't want to pre-try the case, but if you lean on someone and leave them to believe their bill is not getting signed unless they give you the money, that is what acting like a tough guy is, it's a crime.

And we can sort through it at any trial as to what was said, what was followed through, but it is a crime to conspire to shake someone down…

QUESTION: You talked about -- you talked about keeping your superiors informed as to what was going on, I'm assuming that means the attorney general.

In the briefings that President-elect Obama had had over the past week with various government departments, would it be possible for him to have been briefed on what was going on here with regard to this investigation?

MR. FITZGERALD: I -- I -- I -- I'm not going to comment on that. I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm not the briefer. I'm not at those meetings.

But I would simply say that this was very close hold in Washington, and on a need to know basis. So, I'm -- but I'm not going to -- I'm not the briefer, so I'm not going to represent what happens. But -- I'll leave it at that.

(CROSSTALK) …

QUESTION: This investigation has been going on for years now, (inaudible) -- what's been happening to the other lines of investigation (inaudible)?

MR. FITZGERALD: They will still be followed. If you look at the complaint, it cites back to wire-tapped conversations from the -- from the conversations we wire-tapped way back in 2004, and we've been filing charges based upon that wire-tap, up until quite recently. And we will take all the existing strands of the investigations that -- some of which you know about, some of which you don't, and we will take this and we will process it and figure out as much as we can. And what we'd really like to do is add a whole lot more information from the people out there who may know something...

QUESTION: (inaudible) matter of law, a question of law. If it's against the law to sell and trade a job or a contact, is it also against the law to try to buy one? In other words, if you're a politician offering the governor $500,000 in campaign cash in exchange for the Senate seat and discussing it, you might be willing to raise that kind of money (inaudible) -- are you culpable, or is that just horse-trading?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not -- I'm not...

QUESTION: Not mentioning names...

MR. FITZGERALD: ... OK. I'm not going to get into hypotheticals that you'll abstract from the complaint and start going down that road. I will say we charged Governor Blagojevich and Mr. Harris, that's all we're saying. And we'll do further investigation and we'll get behind what we can and different transactions, and I'm not going to prejudge any matter whatsoever…

QUESTION: I was just wondering if -- I haven't read the whole complaint either -- is Rezko -- is he going to be testifying in front of (inaudible) at all, and is -- is (inaudible)?

MR. FITZGERALD: I think there's a that Mr. Rezko, with a footnote, somewhere in the complaint, and I couldn't tell you the footnote number, but if you look there, there's a succinct summary of his status in that footnote that I won't try to repeat out loud.

And, yes, who's next?

Natasha?

QUESTION: (inaudible) talk about (inaudible) -- that you were checking it out and just trying to see what the status.

MR. FITZGERALD: And I think I'm not going to go beyond that footnote. We didn't rely upon his information in the complaint, but it doesn't -- give a definitive view on his status; it describes what his status is…

QUESTION: If a Tribune executive did agree to fire somebody in the editorial board as an exchange for this, would it be criminal behavior? And can you characterize at all how far the Tribune plot went?

MR. FITZGERALD: I'm not going to say how far the Tribute plot went, other than the person who was identified as a person to be fired was not fired and still works there today.

Beyond that, I'm not going to try and walk back where the -- where the scheme went, from a pretty explicit scheme by Governor Blagojevich, as described in the complaint, describing to Harris, and then Harris basically saying, I'm going to be more subtle about it, and Governor Blagojevich saying, well, do it -- do it the appropriate way.

We don't go beyond that. And I'm not going to opine on if, what and when, as to what happened once the conversation left the two people charged, Governor Blagojevich and Harris...

QUESTION: You spoke very directly about why these indictments had to come now.

Conversely, given the fact that all this is now out in the open, is it possible that anyone appointed to the Senate seat by Governor Blagojevich could do so and take office without there being a cloud over his or her head?

MR. FITZGERALD: First of all, there's not an indictment, realize. It's a complaint. So I don't want people to understand it's an indictment. We filed a criminal complaint.

And I'm not getting into where things stand in the Senate seat, other than that we've -- there's an ugly episode that we've aired. We've brought charges, will proceed, and the public discourse will go its way without our guidance…
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