"Something is rotten in the state," says Marcellus in "Hamlet."
Well, it certainly is in the state of Illinois.
Yet, on hearing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald describe a plot by his governor to sell his Senate seat—"conduct (that) would make Lincoln roll over in his grave”—how did reform President Barack Obama respond?
"I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening. ... And as I said, it is a sad day for Illinois. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment."
"A sad day for Illinois”—that was it.
But FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant could not contain his revulsion: "If (Illinois) isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor. I think even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked."
Yet Barack stayed cool. Not for 24 hours did he join the clamor for Gov. Rod Blagojevich to stand down. The stink of this is not going away, and it may adhere to the new presidency that seemed about to begin in a new era of good feeling.
For, consider. While Obama said he had never spoken with the governor about the Senate seat—understandable, given how toxic the scandal-plagued Blagojevich was—he did not say his staff had not done so.
Which raises several questions:
Did Obama direct or ask any staffer to speak to Blagojevich? Did Rahm Emanuel or David Axelrod, both of Chicago, never speak to the governor about the Senate appointment? Did Barack’s aides all treat Blagojevich as a political leper and not communicate to him any interest in or concern about whom he might appoint to succeed Obama?
This defies credulity. On the other hand, if Obama’s staffers did talk to Blagojevich or his staff, did the governor or his men suggest a big-time pay-off might purchase a Senate seat?
For Blagojevich is overheard on the wiretaps complaining that all that Obama, whom he slurs nastily, was offering was gratitude. How did Blagojevich know that?
Who told him Barack would not pony up and play ball? And if any Obama aide was solicited for a bribe, did they relate that to Obama? Did they report it to the FBI or the U.S. attorney’s office?
Forty-eight hours into Senategate and already the cancer has metastasized. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has been dragged in. He is "Senate Candidate 5" on the wiretaps. From the FBI transcripts, it appears a Jackson "emissary," with access to the governor, offered to raise half a million for Blagojevich’s re-election, in return for naming Jackson to the Senate. With perhaps a million more to follow.
Jackson says he met for 90 minutes with the governor Monday and made his case for the Senate appointment—on his record alone. Jackson emphasized that he was not solicited by the governor for a bribe, nor was any emissary ever authorized to offer the governor anything.
Jackson’s lawyer backs him up, but says that some supporter, without Jackson’s knowledge, might have freelanced on his own. There are other puzzling questions.
Why, if Fitzgerald was listening to the wiretaps and laying his trap for the governor and corrupt politicians interested in buying a U.S. Senate seat, did he abort the operation with his 6 a.m. arrests of Blagojevich and his chief of staff? Why spring the trap when the mouse is just outside, mulling over whether to go for the cheese?
Why not let the plot unfold? Why not let the corrupt bidder for a Senate seat make a solid offer and bring in his or her down payment? Why not wait for the felony to be committed instead of acting while it was still being considered and discussed? This one is not going away soon.
Forty-eight hours into the scandal, we have a governor and chief of staff arrested in their homes for attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat of the 44th president of the United States. And one of the most famous names in politics, Jesse Jackson Jr., has hired a lawyer and been placed under a cloud of suspicion that some benefactor tried to buy him the Senate seat he coveted.
No one is yet convicted of anything. But if this scandal touches any member of Obama’s White House staff, who may have spoken with Blagojevich and listened to his solicitation of a bribe without reporting it, we are going to have a new special prosecutor in Washington, D.C.
Indeed, the U.S. Senate should probably make the confirmation of Eric Holder as attorney general, the Clintonite who midwifed the pardons of Marc Rich and the Puerto Rican terrorists, contingent on his naming an independent counsel in the Senategate scandal.
As for the Bush-to-Barack transition, which Americans have applauded as graceful and uplifting, it is now mired in mud.
Yes, indeed, it is—a sad day for America.