Governor 'tried Obama seat sale'

US prosecutors have charged Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich with trying to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama.

Mr Blagojevich, as governor, has sole authority to select a successor to Mr Obama as junior Illinois senator.

FBI investigators said telephone intercepts showed he was trying to sell or trade the seat for personal benefit.

Prosecutors said Mr Obama, who is not close to Mr Blagojevich, was not involved in the alleged wrongdoing.

Mr Blagojevich, who was arrested on Tuesday, was released on bail after appearing before a federal judge and is reportedly planning to show up for work on Wednesday.

Federal investigators, who have been working on a case against Mr Blagojevich for several years, have now charged him with a number of offences including soliciting a bribe.

The charges relate to a variety of corruption schemes in which the governor was allegedly involved, including so-called "pay to play" deals - the doling out of jobs, contracts and appointments in return for campaign contributions.

Mr Obama said he was "saddened and sobered" by the case, but insisted he had had no contact with the governor over the Senate seat.

As fellow Democrats in the hothouse of Chicago politics, the two have had dealings with each other, but they are not personally close and there is no suggestion so far that anything will emerge to damage the president-elect, says the BBC's Kevin Connolly in Washington.


The US Attorney's Office released a 76-page FBI affidavit detailing the charges against Mr Blagojevich, which includes transcripts of his telephone conversations intercepted by court-authorised wiretaps over the last month.

In the conversations, the Democratic governor allegedly discussed offering Mr Obama's Senate seat in return for getting a well-paid position at a non-profit organisation or a group affiliated with trades unions, according to the affidavit.

In the transcripts, on 3 November Mr Blagojevich said the seat was a "[expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing".

The day after the presidential election, according to the affidavit, Mr Blagojevich was recorded as saying: "I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden, and uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing."

Illinois politicians have called for a special election to be held to fill Mr Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Mr Blagojevich also allegedly talked about getting his wife Patti placed on a corporate board.

In addition, he has been charged with illegally threatening to block state aid to the company that owns the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Mr Blagojevich allegedly demanded that the company fire members of its editorial board in return for financial assistance in the sale of Wrigley Field, a Chicago sports stadium.

The governor was elected on a pledge to clean up after his predecessor who has been under investigation by the FBI for some time.

His attitude to the federal agents has been defiant, almost cocky, says our correspondent.

Twenty-four hours before his arrest, he was challenging his critics to tap his phones and bug his offices, apparently unaware that the FBI was doing exactly that.

The governor's chief of staff, John Harris, has also been arrested.

'New low'

At a press conference, Patrick Fitzgerald, the US lawyer in charge of the investigation, described Mr Blagojevich's actions as a "corruption crime spree".

And he said that the allegations represented a "truly new low" and a "sad day for government" in Illinois.

"The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," he added.

Mr Fitzgerald has been involved in a number of high-profile prosecutions in recent years.

He led the case against the former vice-presidential chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as well as heading up the investigation into media tycoon Conrad Black.

The prosecutor was also involved in the corruption trial of Mr Blagojevich's predecessor as Illinois governor, George Ryan.

Three of the state's governors have been jailed on corruption charges in the last 35 years.

(Published by BBC News- December 10, 2008)

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