12.09.08

Wiretap: "F*ck" Obama

A federal indictment accuses Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich—whose phones and offices were bugged—of plotting to bribe Barack Obama in hopes of winning a lucrative job in the new administration.

From the day Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich knew Barack Obama was coming to power he worked overtime to come up with a scheme to bribe the president-elect, according to an indictment release today. As governor, Blagojevich has the sole authority to appoint the successor to Obama's vacant senate seat. The governor hoped that by choosing a successor handpicked by Obama, he could bribe the president-elect into giving him a lucrative position in the administration, according to the charges.

The 10-day saga begins on November 3, the day before the presidential election. The federal indictment released today charts exactly how Blagojevich, whose phones and offices were being bugged by federal agents, felt his strongest bargaining chip with Obama was by nominating Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's top aides, a close personal friend of the Obamas, and now a senior White House advisor, to Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

He lost his temper with advisors, who he felt were telling him to "suck it up" for two years and to "give this motherfucker Obama his senator.”

"Unless I get something good for [Valerie Jarrett], shit, I'll just send myself, you know what I'm saying," he said. Later, Blagojevich seriously considers giving the prize of a free Senate seat in a safe Democratic state to himself in order to avoid looming corruption charges.

"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain." After all, he continues, the Senate seat “is a fucking valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”

The trick was how to propose a deal to Obama. On November 4, Blagojevich decided it "can't be in writing" but that he was interested in Obama making him an ambassador. He compared himself to a sports agent shopping players.

The next day, November 5, Blagojevich spoke with one of his deputy governors, about positions in the Obama administration he might angle for in exchange for appointing Obama’s chosen nominee in the vacated Senate seat. “Obama, you want it? Fine. But, [the job offer in the Obama administration has] got to be good or I could always take the Senate seat [myself]," he said.

The same day he talked with an advisor about lucrative jobs Obama could help him obtain. “I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for fuckin’ nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there," he said.

The two discussed the governor being made Secretary of Health and Human Services or an ambassador. Deputy Governor Dean Martinez noted the cabinet position of Secretary of the Energy is “the one that makes the most money.” He then told Blagojevich it would be hard not to give the Secretary of Energy position to a Texan, but with Blagojevich's background in the coal industry–he was a champion of Illinois’s coal industry–it "might be a possibility."

In order to bring his offer of a quid pro quo to the attention of Obama’s transition team, Blagojevich had his aides leak to a Chicago Sun-Times columnist that “Candidate 2” was in the running for the vacant senate seat. The idea was “to send a message to the [President-elect’s] people." According to the indictment, the exact language crafted by Blagojevich and his team ended up in the newspaper the following day.

In a three-way call the following day between the governor, a Washington, D.C. advisor, and Blagojevich’s chief of staff John Harris, who was also arrested this morning, Blagojevich said Obama needed to consider the fact that the governor’s family was hurting "financially." Harris advised him that “we wanted our ask to be reasonable and rather than. . . make it look like some sort of selfish grab for a quid pro quo.”

Harris said he was concerned about keeping Blagojevich politically viable, to which the governor said, "I want to make money." Harris later suggested they arrange a three way deal, which would give the president-elect a "buffer so there is no obvious quid pro quo for [Jarrett].”

On November 8, the governor began to discuss job possibilities for his wife, including a high paying position at a New York or Washington financial firm, or a position on a Washington charitable foundation. He and Harris began to hash out ideas for a three way deal with the president-elect. Harris' idea was to make Blagojevich the national director of Change to Win, a group of seven unions representing six million workers connected to the Service Employees International Union.

In exchange, the president-elect could help Change to Win with its legislative agenda on a national level. Blagojevich considered the idea but thought that "the Change to Win position must pay a lot more than he is getting paid right now." He also wanted to know if he could get his wife a position at either SEIU or Change to Win.

By November 10, Blagojevich’s patience was wearing thin. He admitted that with his shady political history a position in Obama's cabinet was unlikely, but he was still angling for a position as national director of Change to Win. He lost his temper with advisors, who he felt were telling him to "suck it up" for two years and to "give this motherfucker Obama his senator.” Blagojevich’s response: “Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him."

The announcement by Valerie Jarrett, two days later, that she would not be running for senate put and end to Blagojevich's scheme, though he continued to concoct plans involving various candidates for the vacant Senate seat and deals he might make with the president-elect.

"They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation," said Blagojevich in exasperation. "Fuck them."

Ben Popper is a reporter born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He is a recent graduate of New York University's journalism program and has written for the New York Observer, Fast Company and Men's Vogue.