Politics

“Blagojemess” gets even messier

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zIllinois Governor

“Hell no, I won’t go” was Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s answer to calls by Barack Obama, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, Senator Dick Durbin, the Illinois State Legislature, various Madigans, and almost everyone else who lives in Illinois that he resign. Instead, Blago hired a hot-shot criminal lawyer who told the legislators convening in Springfield to get the impeachment ball rolling that he would fight the charges, fight impeachment, and generally tell everyone to [expletive] off. For reasons that escape this New Yorker, some Chicago pols seems genuinely flummoxed by Rod’s failure to fold, as if they expected him to give up his one really valuable asset — his office — in exchange for their appreciation when all this started because, well, you know.

Meanwhile, the phalanx of high-level Democrats who last week called on the Illinois Legislature to swiftly expunge Blago’s Senate appointment power in favor of a prompt special election have all backed off that silly good government idea, apparently because they figured out that whichever Democrat they personally favored might not win a special election. Or worse, OMG, a Republican might even win!

An election ruled out, to step up the pressure on Blago to resign, the state’s Attorney General Lisa Madigan — who is herself a leading prospect for either the Senate seat or the Governor’s slot, whichever comes first — asked the Illinois Supreme Court to rule Blago unfit to serve, relying on a statute designed to replace comatose governors, and toss him out. Unless the fix is in on the Supreme Court (always a possibility, I suppose), the judges are probably having a good laugh over it.

So Lisa’s pop, Michael Madigan, the kingpin of the Illinois House, gathered his troops Monday to begin the impeachment process. No sooner did they start than they hit a big, apparently unanticipated snag — to wit, the need for evidence of Blago’s misconduct. Lacking any of their own, they asked U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, for some of his. Fitzgerald told them to write him a letter and he’d see what he could see (I loved that response). 

Madigan the Elder is reported to be less than keen anyway on tossing Blago, only to have Quinn get the Governor’s office, because Quinn would then have both the power to appoint the Senator and a leg up on Madigan the Younger running for a full term as Governor. Pop may just as soon let the whole thing drag out in the hopes something good will happen, like getting a better look at other people’s cards or a deal coming his way.

Get this: the crafty Governor is rumored to be interested in offering his support for a special election to fill the Senate seat in exchange for something (perhaps the leeway to remain as Governor and fight the charges). His willingness to sign a bill is crucial, since the law enables him effectively to kill a special election bill simply by sitting on it. In the meantime, of course, Blago still has the power to fill the Senate seat!

As if all this were not enough, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. revealed that he has been dropping dimes to the Feds on his fellow office holders for the past five years. This may help him with folks who wonder about all that stuff on tape involving “Senate Candidate 5″ (or not). It does seem, though, that it will also give him a bit of a reputation among his colleagues as a rat. This would not be a hindrance to his future career, if Illinois politics were to be suddenly and totally reformed. I wouldn’t bet money on his getting the Senate seat, if and when it is ever filled.

Finally, even as the press has reported that Obama chief of staff-designate Rahm Emanuel appears 21 times on prosecutor Fitzgerald’s tapes, Obama has back-tracked on his earlier promise to investigate thoroughly and disclose everything. While he has a plausible excuse — Fitzgerald asked him not to talk about it right now — the potential for this Chicago mess to disrupt and distract his new administration is not going away. Suspicion and cynicism is growing in a press corps that likes Obama immensely but does not like being stonewalled on a matter of this magnitude until some time late on Christmas Eve.

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, for example, who has been more than fair to Obama for the past year, is troubled by the foot-dragging and by the fact that Emanuel has retained a lawyer to help him deal with the Feds: 

Still, however justifiable the silence and caution, Emanuel (and, by extension, Obama) could pay a price for both as the Chicago mess simmers on. Emanuel already has blown up at members of the Chicago press corps—a newspaper reporter and a cameraman. Obama’s transition team, eager to show its openness and focus on naming cabinet nominees, has been forced to spend day after day dealing with the Blago story. There’s too much focus on Emanuel, whose naturally abrasive personality clashes with his boss’s cool demeanor. 

And Republicans are now piling on Emanuel—and are likely to continue to do so. At this point, there seems little doubt that Emanuel will survive, and will take his place on Jan. 20 as chief of staff in the Oval Office. But he is already a bigger story than is good for either him or his boss—and delay, however legally justified, just makes it bigger. 

The man has a point.

(Visit me at The Purple Center)