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Corruption Charges Surround Ill. Gov. Blagojevich

Officials arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday on allegations of soliciting bribes for President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat and other claims. Reporters detail the charges.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Those stunning corruption charges against the governor of Illinois. Ray Suarez has our story.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The two-term Democratic governor was the subject of an ongoing federal probe into influence-peddling in Illinois politics. Just yesterday, Gov. Blagojevich was asked about reports that he was under surveillance.

    GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), Illinois: If anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead. Feel free to do it. But I'd appreciate it, if you want to tape my conversations, give me a heads-up and let me know.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The arrest was made before sunrise this morning at Blagojevich's home on Chicago's North Side.

    The chief of the FBI's Chicago office called to advise the governor that agents were at his front door. The governor reportedly answered, "Is this a joke?"

    His chief of staff, John Harris, was also taken into custody. Both are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and solicitation of bribes.

    The investigation apparently heated up after the election of Barack Obama. The governor was tasked with appointing a replacement senator, an opportunity that Blagojevich allegedly saw as a potential profit center.

  • PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. Attorney:

    Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who sent Blagojevich's predecessor, George Ryan, to prison, spoke at a Chicago news conference. He said Blagojevich's home phone was tapped and his campaign office was bugged.

  • PATRICK FITZGERALD:

    The tapes revealed that Gov. Blagojevich wanted a number of things in exchange for making the appointment to the Senate seat: an appointment as secretary of health and human services or an ambassadorship; an appointment to a private foundation; a higher-paying job for his wife; or campaign contributions.

    At one point, he proposed a three-way deal: that a cushy union job would be given to him at a higher rate of pay where he could make money. In exchange, he thought that the union might get benefits from the president-elect, and therefore the president-elect might get the candidate of his choice.

    I should make clear that the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever, his conduct.

    This part of the scheme lost steam when the person that the governor thought was the president-elect's choice of senator took herself out of the running.

    But after the deal never happened, this is the governor's reaction: Quote, "They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them," close quote. And, again, the bleep is a redaction.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Fitzgerald said his office moved to cut off what he called a political corruption crime spree.

    The criminal complaint also alleged that Blagojevich and Harris were trying to strong-arm the Tribune Company as part of an effort to influence its flagship paper's editorial stance, which was highly critical of the governor.

    Tribune, which filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday, owns the Chicago Cubs. The company is trying to sell the team and had approached the governor's office for possible financial help.

  • PATRICK FITZGERALD:

    Gov. Blagojevich and defendant John Harris, his chief of staff, schemed to send a message to the Chicago Tribune that 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'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 were not really bleeps.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    President-elect Obama spoke briefly with reporters this afternoon.

    BARACK OBAMA, President-elect of the United States: I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not — I was not aware of what was happening. And as I said, it's a sad day for Illinois.