Putting the same question a slightly different way: Could anyone believe, at this stage, that those flashy dawn arrests and raids in Chicago and North Carolina on Dec. 9, 2008, were essential?
Here is the basic chronology, cross-referencing with the public record what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office in Chicago is laying down:
1. U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald began investigating Blagojevich before Blagojevich was elected to the Illinois governorship. [public record]
2. Blagojevich and his compeers allegedly started plotting to sell things in 2002, soon after he was elected. [Fitzgerald's office]
3. Blagojevich was not indicted in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 or at any time while Blagojevich was in office. From 2002 to 2008, including the date of that daring dawn raid on Blagojevich’s house, they were never indicted. [public record]
4. Between Nov. 4, 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, and Inauguration Day, the Bush White House issued the following memorandum on Dec. 1, 2008, posted on government websites. [public record]
The memo went to all cabinet and executive agency heads:
"To provide the President-elect maximum flexibility in assembling his Administration, and consistent with past practice, President Bush is requesting letters of resignation from all non-career appointees except Inspectors General and those individuals who hold termed positions.
Please transmit the attached "Memorandum for Non-Termed Presidential Appointees" to each non-termed Presidential Appointee in your organization.
Please also collect letters of resignation from non-career SES and Schedule C appointees. These letters should be addressed to you and should indicate an anticipated departure date of no later than noon, January 20, 2009. A sample letter is attached.
Non-career SES and Schedule C appointees at independent and regulatory agencies headed by termed appointees are not being asked to submit letters of resignation at this time."
5. The Bush White House memo requesting all political appointees to submit letters of resignation was published in the National Journal on Dec. 8, 2008.
6. Then-Governor Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested at their homes at dawn on Dec. 9, 2008, without an indictment but with a charging document signed by a judge over the weekend.* The same day, federal prosecutors led by Fitzgerald and FBI agent Robert Grant held a nationally televised press conference at which they delivered highly charged and widely criticized comments about the defendants.
If they had not carried out the arrests--cashing in the hapless Blagojevich like a saved-up poker chip, pulled out from under the table--it is a certainty that Pat Fitzgerald and his press spokesman, Randall Samborn, would have been fielding questions about whether Fitzgerald would submit a letter of resignation. The rightwing blogosphere was alive with speculation, before and after the election, over whether Obama would keep Fitzgerald.
Samborn declined to say, in answer to questions, whether Fitzgerald had submitted such a letter or had been asked to submit one. He also declined to answer questions about any possible connection between the Bush White House memo and the Blagojevich arrests. He also declined to say whether the judge who signed the arrest warrants—on a Sunday afternoon—had been shown the White House memo.
Returning to the question up top: Could any 'reasonable man,' as the term is used in law, believe that the governor was going to sell a senate seat before 9:00 that morning? Or before noon? Or even before the close of that day?
Not to dignify the 'auction' claim more than it deserves, but any good auction requires time. A successful auction requires a set time to end, announced beforehand—a deadline. Any bidding war requires time. Bidding is done incrementally, step by step, with each bidder cognizant of what someone else is offering; otherwise it would not be a competitive process. Etc. The implied claim that Blagojevich was going to carry out anything resembling such a process so early, Dec. 9, as to necessitate immediate arrest is false on its face.
Back to that infamous press conference: Does any sensible person believe that FBI agents came to Blagojevich's home at dawn to avoid waking the governor's children?
Side note: I wrote about that press conference before, mentioning among other things the feds’ shifting explanations for those arrests and the key word SCHOOL (as in, does anyone remember that the governor's children go to school?) The day one of my articles came out, poor Randall Samborn rushed out a 50+-page release on another case that, in all the haste, included a list of (witness) names not supposed to be released. Samborn had to email reporters on his mailing list and request them all, individually, not to publish the names.
Back to the press conference, the non-indictment charging document, and the arrests: Again, does any sensible person think Blagojevich was going to 'auction' a senate seat from his home? Before even going to work? Without help from his office?
The answer is no.
This could be funny. That is, it could be funny if not for the damage done to our justice system, where courts openly kowtow, in Chicago, to dishonest aggression.
It could be funny if not for the severe damage done to our press. The bankrupt Chicago Tribune is in bed with the NDIL, and the Chicago Sun-Times, also bankrupt, is pummeled from the prosecution of former owner Conrad Black and its unsavory association with late columnist Robert Novak in the Plame leak. Neither paper has adequately addressed the issues raised above.
Neither newspaper reports on the other life-and-death justice issues in Chicago:
1) the fact that for more than eight years, the NDIL has failed to prosecute clergy abuses in the large Chicago-region archdiocese**;
2) for more than eight years, the NDIL has taken a similarly see-no-evil attitude toward all of the most heinous sex-based crimes in the Chicago area, including forcible rape with weapons, inmate abuses, and assaults on minors;
3) for more than eight years, the feds have failed to take up the slack on lax reporting of crime data in sex-based crimes in and around Chicago;
4) similarly, the NDIL has failed to prosecute most firearms offenses—it has the lowest rate of firearms prosecutions of any big-city district--and has not taken up the slack in reporting gun crime data, even in the wake of horrendous gun crimes.
Amid widespread criticism or suspicion about the office of Chicago's mayor, furthermore, neither newspaper reports the fact that one of Mayor Daley's top aides happens to be a cousin of U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald.
So much for choosing a federal prosecutor from ‘outside,’ from outside what local columnist John Kass calls “The Combine.” Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (no relation), interviewed by telephone, says he did not know of the relationship when he recommended Fitzgerald for the job. Ms. Brown, the relative, became licensed to practice law in Illinois back in 1992; according to Sullivan's law directory, she was already a city of Chicago employee for several years in the 1990s, in the Chicago Department of Environment, before George W. Bush nominated Fitzgerald to be U.S. Attorney in Chicago in 2001. Mayor Daley has promoted her several times since 2001--first to Deputy Chief of Staff, then to Acting Chief of Policy, then to her current position as Chief of Policy. (After some initial back-and-forth Q-&-A, Daley's office has ceased to communicate on the appointment.) Fitzgerald’s office has not prosecuted Daley’s office since the ‘Hired Trucks’ scandal, which was prosecuted by the Democratic predecessor in the U.S. attorney’s office.
*There is at least one death penalty case in the U.S. where the defendant’s attorneys petitioned unsuccessfully for the judge to keep the court open a little past 5:00 p.m. They lost. Fitzgerald and his hand-picked band of political prosecutors never again sought such an extraordinary after-hours warrant—until I mentioned this previously. They have since applied for one, in a different case.
**It may be noted that the NDIL has managed to find jurisdiction in other offenses crossing state lines, reaching far into the past, but seems not to have found any evidence regarding clergy transferred to or from the Chicago area; the recent outbreak of new reports about the clergy abuses may partly explain why these NDIL documents against Blagojevich are being released just now.
Margie Burns is a freelance journalist in metro D.C. with a blog on government, law and politics, and Hill credentials through the Austin-based Progressive Populist. Her articles have appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Evening Sun, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Detroit Free Press,Legal Times, the Madison Capital Times, the Miami Herald,Salon.com, the St. Louis Journalism Review, the San Antonio Current,Style Weekly, and the Waco Tribune Herald among other periodicals.
She has written for the Baltimore Chronicle, Chronicles Magazine, the Washington Spectator newsletter, bradblog, and onlinejournal, edited by Bev Conover. Her columns appeared in The Prince George’s Journal (Md.) 1996-2004 and The Prince George’s Sentinel 2004-2006.
Her doctorate is in Renaissance English literature. She teaches English as an adjunct at UMBC.
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