The Corner

Blagojevich: Why Did Fitzgerald Act Now?

I have a new story up on the Blagojevich case, on this question: Why did prosecutors decide to go public now, before a corrupt deal was actually made to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat?  The criminal complaint details a series of Rod Blagojevich’s phone calls, mostly in a ten-day period, from November 3 to November 13.  And then…nothing.  The next call mentioned in the complaint is three weeks later, on December 4, in which Blagojevich told a person referred to as Fundraiser A that he was “elevating” a person referred to as Candidate Five on the Senate list in the hopes that Candidate Five would provide something “tangible up front” meaning the $500,000 to Blagojevich’s political organization that Blagojevich thought Candidate Five might be able to raise.  Blagojevich told Fundraiser A to “reach out” to an associate of Candidate Five and say that Blagojevich wanted to know if Candidate Five could really come up with the money.  A deal seemed possible, perhaps even imminent. Then:

[O]n the morning of December 5, the Chicago Tribune ran a story on its front page reporting that law enforcement had secretly recorded Blagojevich’s conversations as part of a criminal investigation. Blagojevich immediately instructed Fundraiser A to “undo” the plan to meet personally with the associate of Candidate Five.  Blagojevich instead turned his energy to preparing his legal defense. 

The deal was off, blown, apparently, by the Tribune’s report.  For anyone who has watched the case, the astonishing thing is that Blagojevich, prior to December 5, could possibly have assumed that he wasn’t under surveillance.  But he apparently did, making for some of the juiciest political wiretaps in years.  And he appeared to be moving toward actually making a corrupt deal to sell Obama’s Senate seat when he finally, belatedly, figured things out.  And that seems to be the best explanation for why prosecutor Fitzgerald went public on December 9, instead of letting the case continue for a while longer.

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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