So says the Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire.” I think it’s hyperbole to claim, as the reporters go on to do, that the Feds “lost half their case” because the leak meant they wouldn’t get the completed bribe on tape. The main charge in the case is not bribery but the scheme to defraud the people of Illinois of the honest services of their governor; there need be no consummated bribe in order to prove that crime, just as there need be no consummated bribe in order to prove a conspiracy to commit bribery, another charge in the case. But I think it is unquestionably true that the Trib’s decision to reveal the wiretap — as opposed to the more far-fetched theories that have been spouted about why Fitzgerald acted when he did — is what drove the decision to make arrests.
Once a wiretappng target knows he is being monitored, he typically starts making false exculpatory statements — like, “Hey, you and I never discussed anything as nutty as selling a senate seat, right (blink-blink)?” – and reaching out to others likely to be interviewed by the FBI to make sure everyone gets his story straight. A little of that can actually be helpful to the prosecutor, but if you let it go on for long it can badly hurt the case. So the move would be to shut down the wiretaps, arrest the main targets, and then brace all the other people of interest for interviews before they have a chance to compare notes. It looks like that’s what happened.