Image: Police officers outside Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's home
Paul Beaty  /  AP
Police officers stand guard outside Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's Chicago home on Tuesday after the Democratic politician was arrested by federal authorities.
NBC News and news services
updated 12/9/2008 5:17:40 PM ET 2008-12-09T22:17:40

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich embarked on a "corruption crime spree" and tried to benefit from his ability to appoint President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate, federal officials said Tuesday.

At a news conference in Chicago on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called it a sad day for the citizens of Illinois and alleged that the governor tried to "auction off" the Senate seat "to the highest bidder."

He said the alleged behavior "would make (Abe) Lincoln roll over in his grave."

Blagojevich had been arrested hours earlier and was released later in the day after posting a $4,500 bond.

A 76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democrat was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti.

Fitzgerald said federal investigators bugged Blagojevich's campaign offices and placed a tap on his home phone.

In Illinois, the governor selects a successor when there is a mid-term Senate vacancy. Obama resigned from the Senate soon after winning the Nov. 4 presidential election.

With the governor's arrest, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Jr.,  said on Tuesday he will call the Senate back in session in order to create a special election for the U.S. Senate seat.

"The events this morning are shocking. The faith of the citizens of Illinois has once again been shaken," Jones said.

'Truly a new low'
Fitzgerald accused Blagojevich of "appalling conduct" and said the governor "has taken us to a truly new low." He alleged that the governor wanted "tangible and up front" cash in return for appointing Obama's successor.

"He wasn't against a corrupt deal, he was against being stiffed in a corrupt deal," Fitzgerald added.

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Fitzgerald said "Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator."

Federal prosecutors have investigated Blagojevich's administration for at least three years. The governor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Robert Grant, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago office of the FBI, said colleagues had been left "disgusted and revolted" by the case.

Fitzgerald said federal officials were making "no allegations" that Obama himself was "aware of anything" in connection with the case.

Obama said Tuesday he was saddened by the allegations and said he had no contact with the governor or his office on the matter.

Obama added he will have no further comment on the matter because it is an ongoing investigation.

Video: Todd: Blagojevich charges 'stunning'

'I want to make money'
The affidavit contends Blagojevich discussed getting a substantial salary for himself at a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions. It also says Blagojevich talked about getting his wife placed on corporate boards where she might get $150,000 a year in director's fees.

The affidavit also quotes Blagojevich as saying in one conversation that "I want to make money."

Blagojevich and John Harris, the governor's chief of staff, were each charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.

The FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich also sought promises of campaign cash, as well as a cabinet post or ambassadorship in exchange for his Senate choice.

Blagojevich is accused of saying on Nov. 3 that if he was not going to get anything of value for the open seat, then he would appoint himself to the post.

"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain," the affidavit quotes the governor as saying.

Senate seat is a 'valuable thing'
He noted becoming a U.S. senator might remake his image for a possible presidential run in 2016, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit quotes Blagojevich telling an adviser later that day that a Senate seat "is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing."

In a conversation with Harris on Nov. 4, the day of the election, Blagojevich is alleged to have compared his situation to that of a sports agent shopping a potential free agent to the highest bidder.

On Nov. 5, Blagojevich allegedly told an adviser: "I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I'm not gonna do it."

On Nov. 7, while talking on the phone about the Senate seat with Harris and an adviser, Blagojevich said he needed to consider his family and that he is "financially" hurting, the affidavit states.

Harris allegedly said that they were considering what would help the "financial security" of the Blagojevich family.

The complaint alleges that the governor stated, "I want to make money," adding later that he is interested in making $250,000 to $300,000 a year.

The affidavit outlined a Nov. 10 call among Blagojevich, his wife, Harris and a group of advisers in which Harris allegedly suggested working out an agreement with the Service Employees International Union.

Nothing implicating Obama
Under the plan, Blagojevich would appoint a new senator who would be helpful to the president-elect and in turn get a job as head of Change to Win, a group formed by the union. The union would get an unspecified favor from Obama later.

Nothing in the court papers suggested Obama had any part in the discussion. In fact, Blagojevich allegedly said in the same conversation that Obama most likely would not appoint him as secretary of health and human services or to an ambassadorship because of the negative publicity that has surrounded the governor for three years.

One day later, according to the affidavit, Blagojevich allegedly told an associate he knew Obama wanted a specific Senate candidate but “they’re not going to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them."

Among those being considered for the Senate post: U.S. Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr., Danny Davis, Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez; Illinois Senate President Emil Jones and Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth.

Chicago Tribune allegedly pressured
According to a federal criminal complaint, Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.

Blagojevich was quoted in court papers as telling Harris in a profanity laced Nov. 4 conversation that his recommendation to Tribune executives was to fire the editorial writers “and get us some editorial support.”

Harris is quoted as telling the governor Nov. 11 that an unnamed Tribune Owner, presumably CEO Sam Zell, “got the message and is very sensitive to the issue.”

The affidavit said Harris quoted a Tribune financial adviser as saying cuts were coming at the newspaper and “reading between the lines he’s going after that section,” apparently meaning editorial writers. Blagojevich is quoted as saying: “Oh, that’s fantastic.”

“Wow,” Blagojevich allegedly replied. “Keep our fingers crossed. You’re the man. Good job, John.”

Harris allegedly told Blagojevich in his conversation with the financial adviser he had singled out deputy editorial page editor John McCormick as “somebody who was the most biased and unfair.”

After hearing that, Blagojevich allegedly stressed to the head of a Chicago sports consulting firm that it was important to provide state aid for a Wrigley Field sale.

Corruption probe ongoing
Corruption in the Blagojevich administration has been the focus of a federal Operation Board Games involving an alleged $7 million scheme aimed at squeezing kickbacks out of companies seeking business from the state.

Federal prosecutors have acknowledged they're also investigating "serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" under Blagojevich.

Political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko , who raised money for the campaigns of both Blagojevich and Obama, is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of fraud and other charges.

Blagojevich's chief fundraiser, Christopher Kelly, is due to stand trial early next year on charges of obstructing the Internal Revenue Service.

According to Tuesday's complaint, Blagojevich schemed with Rezko, millionaire-fundraiser turned federal witness Stuart Levine and others to get financial benefits for himself and his campaign committee.

Federal prosecutors said Blagojevich and the chairman of his campaign committee have been speeding up corrupt fundraising activities in the last month to get as much money as possible before the end of the year when a new law would curtail his ability to raise contributions from companies with state contracts worth more than $50,000.

According to the affidavit, agents learned Blagojevich was seeking $2.5 million in campaign contributions by the end of the year, with a large part allegedly to come from companies and individuals who have gotten state contracts or appointments.

Blagojevich, in his second term, is the latest in a string of Illinois governors to run afoul of the law. His immediate predecessor, George Ryan, is in jail following a federal corruption conviction.

Would-be reformer
Blagojevich took the chief executive's office in 2003 as a reformer promising to clean up Ryan's mess.

Ryan, a Republican, is serving a 6-year prison sentence after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges. A decade-long investigation began with the sale of driver's licenses for bribes and led to the conviction of dozens of people who worked for Ryan when he was secretary of state and governor.

FBI spokesman Frank Bochte said federal agents arrested the governor and Harris simultaneously at their homes at 6:15 a.m. and took them to the Chicago FBI headquarters.

Bochte said he did not know if either man was handcuffed or if the governor's family was at their North Side home at the time of his arrest. He did say Blagojevich and Harris both were given time to get dressed before being taken away.

He also did not have any details about Blagojevich's arrest, only that he was cooperative with federal agents.

"It was a very calm setting," he said.

The governor was to appear later Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan to answer the charges.

Rod Blagojevich

NBC News' Pete Williams, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Illinois governor arrested

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