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December 16, 2008 10:00 A.M.

[Ed. note: This post was actually written Tuesday morning, 12/16/08, but not posted until 12:30 P.M. on Wednesday, 12/17/08.]

The Road to the White House May Go Through Kansas: Just when we thought political talk shows were running out of things to talk about, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich threw caution to the wind and decided to air his plans to sell or trade the Illinois Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Rod not only gave us something to talk about, he gave us a story that truly proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. You just canít make this stuff up.

From the Republican perspective, this is a gift from God. It distracts everyoneís attention from the waning days of our current inept, corrupt and delusional administration. It distracts us from Bush 43's efforts to write a legacy for himself that elevates revisionist history to an art form and it distracts us from the damage which still remains to be done through executive orders and pardons and distracts us from the absolute dissociation between the current administration and the reality of our current economic situation. If Iím a Republican, these are heady days. Most of all, it allows through twisted logic, some way to attack the President-elect. After all, they are both from Chicago, right?

The politics of all of this is, I must admit, fun. Rod Blagojevich is so outrageous that he has no support in any political party anywhere. Democrats hate him more than Republicans! Despite this, he actually talked openly about a run for the White House in 2012! There are calls to impeach, imprison and even institutionalize the guy based on his actions. I guess that his behavior has been so outrageous that the old concept of pay-to-play has fallen to new and unprecedented lows and this scandal will be yet another nail in the coffin of old school Chicago politics (the demise of which has surely been overstated). But how illegal was it?

The criminal complaint against Rod Blagojevich is, together with supporting affidavits, 76 pages long. It essentially alleges conspiracy, fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud against Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris. It also alleges misuse of elective office which essentially means that the Governor, through the use of the mail, phone lines, conspired with others to misuse his office for personal gain. There is no evidence that he actually did any of this, however, only that he talked about it.

In some of the statements included in the complaint Blagojevich clearly directs people acting on his behalf to extort money from various business and trade organizations in exchange for favorable legislation or government money. These are fairly direct instructions from the Governor to others (conspiracy) to engage in pay-to-play tactics (criminal misuse of his office, abuse of the public trust, etc.) What surprised me about the complaint is the lack of any similarly direct effort regarding the Senate seat.

While there is apparently a lot of discussion by Blagojevich and Harris and others about the Senate seat, itís really all about strategy. There is no attempt, noted in the complaint or affidavit, to put the sale of the seat into play. Itís just not there. What is there is a statement of intention to profit from the seat discussed among Blagojevich and others, but, significantly, not with anyone who would be in play for the seat or their representatives.

I think the statement of federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald early in the case best described what is going on. Fitzgerald described the Blagojevich administrationís efforts as an ongoing criminal enterprise, and the timing of the complaint was intended to stop it before it grew around the Senate seat. Fitzgerald does not need the Senate seat auction to convict Blagojevich and, from reading the complaint as it stands now, itís the weakest part of the case.

John Harris has now resigned and the Illinois legislature is going to impeach Blagojevich. Former fundraiser (for Obama as well as Blagojevich) Antonin ďTonyĒ Rezko, who was convicted of fraud, money laundering and abetting bribery in June of 2008 is now offering his testimony. Looks like Rod Blagojevichís road to the White House may be taking a detour through a federal prison even if the charges around Obamaís Senate seat donít stick.

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