Lots of emails today in response to my story, “The Blagojevich Case: Why Did Fitzgerald Act Now?” It’s about how the Chicago Tribune’s decision to publish a front-page story on December 5 — last Friday — reporting that law enforcement authorities were eavesdropping on Blagojevich caused Blagojevich to stop his efforts to sell the Obama Senate seat just as he seemed to be making progress. The morning the Tribune story was published, Blagojevich told an associate to “undo” a planned contact with an associate of the “Candidate Five”; instead, Blagojevich began working on his legal defense. Four days later, prosecutor Fitzgerald went public.
It’s entirely possible the Tribune’s story, and Fitzgerald’s subsequent action, stopped the whole matter from moving closer to the Obama transition. We don’t know if there were any communications between the Blagojevich camp and the Obama camp — intermediaries, third parties, friends of friends? — or if any communications were in the offing when Blagojevich was exposed. Certainly a number of people are asking questions about Obama’s statement yesterday that, “I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so we were not — I was not aware of what was happening.” The “we were not — I was not” formulation has led to a lot of speculation that Obama did not feel he could speak for his entire team on this matter. Or maybe he just stumbled a bit. In any event, a lot of reporting needs to be done, as well as Obama and his aides answering more questions.
As for other reasons Fitzgerald moved yesterday, some readers have speculated that Fitzgerald moved now because he felt that, come January 20, Obama would fire him along with the rest of the U.S. attorneys, a la Bill Clinton. Now, that might be difficult, although Obama could of course still do it. My sense is that the case was moving pretty quickly since the election, and January 20 didn’t play into it. But that’s just a guess.