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The [Rod & Stu] Papers

Make no mistake - despite the governor's protestations and the unrealistic unmet expectations of some pundits who thought the governor would be personally implicated by now, the plea deal of Stuart Levine does not exonerate the governor. Far from it. Instead, federal investigators have closed the circle tighter around the governor

To that end, the Tribune got it right in its lead story on Sunday that new allegations in the plea agremeent "only increased the questions about corruption"in Blagojevich's administration, rather than buying the spin that somehow the governor came out of this deal with a clean bill of health. He didn't.

"In the 58-page plea agreement, federal authorities spell out allegations that Blagojevich's two top fundraisers schemed almost from the beginning of the governor's administration to use their newfound influence for corrupt purposes."

That is an accurate representation of Levine's plea deal - as opposed to the governor's assertion that "my sense of the guilty pleas is that it was a continuation of all of that that spilled over from one administration to the next."

Um, no. This might have been a fair assertion if some lingering low- or even mid-level wrongdoing ws rooted out. That's not what this is. The shakedown schemes outlined last week are swirling as closely around Blagojevich as the winds of a tornado around its eye. (Even if Blago's ssertion was true, it would be fair to ask the governor how he could end business-as-usual in corrupt state government as he promised in his campaign if he couldn't even put an end to business-as-usual among his top advisors, his own appointments, and his own campaign fund.)

More important than the past, though, is how this deal is a roadmap to the future. While John Kass's stellar column on Sunday was not unreasonably focused on Downstate power broker Bill Cellini, the more telling aspect of Levine's deal in my mind was the implication of Blagojevich's pal, Chris Kelly, in wrongdoing. Kelly and the recently-indicted Tony Rezko have been the governor's two closest advisors. If the governor was merely betrayed by his two closest advisors, that's still a pretty damning indictment (no pun intended) of his judgement in who he has given the keys to state government to. And, just to give the governor the benefit of the doubt for sake of argument, if he never paid attention to press reports swirling about Rezko and Kelly and never called them in and read them the riot act, he failed to do his job. If he never bothered to ask about what his father-in-law, Ald. Dick Mell once alleged - that state board and commission seats were being sold for $50,000 campaign contributions - he was derelict. (Mell recanted that allegation in the face of a libel suit, but perhaps only to clear a path for fededral investigators, much as county and state officials have done.) In addition, Joe Cari has told federal investigators that he was offered a state board or commission seat in exchange for a campaign contribution, even though Blagojevich has tried pass off Cari's allegations as "triple hearsay" - which they are not.

Giving the governor the benefit of the doubt, in other words, doesn't help his case because of his utter failure of vigilance after riding into office as a reformer.

Of course, I'm not so charitable as to give the governor the benefit of the doubt.

Because we also know the feds are investigating "endemic hiring fraud" in the Blagojevich administration that might snare more high-level advisors. Could the upper echelon of the governor's advisors get indicted without the governor himself - the beneficiary of their work in millions of dollars of campaign contributions - escaping the noose?

As Kass says, Blagojevich's fate seems federally inevitable.

Backhanded Blago
Part of the governor's misdirection play last week was to say that "today's news reveals a pattern of wrongdoing by Stuart Levine that betrayed the trust of Gov. Edgar, who first appointed him, and to all of us here in Illinois."

This is wholly disingenuous on Blagojevich's part. As I wrote last year in the pages of Chicago magazine:

"During his term as governor, George Ryan, a Republican to whom Levine had given a $25,000 campaign donation, appointed Levine to the Illinois Health Facilities Board, the Illinois Gaming Board, and the board of the Teachers' Retirement System.

"When Blagojevich was elected, Levine still sat on the health facilities and teachers' retirement boards. Blagojevich reappointed Levine to both posts, despite Levine's party affiliation and a few red flags. After he resigned from the gaming board in 2001, for example, it was revealed that Levine had not disclosed his past investments in the Argosy Gaming Company, a casino owner in Illinois and Louisiana, even as he voted on matters involving his former business partners there. And after landing his board positions, Levine donated at least $10,000 to George Ryan for two years in a row, even though Ryan had barred state board members from contributing to his campaign fund. The contributions had to be returned.

"Blagojevich's spokesperson Abby Ottenhoff says the governor reappointed Levine to the health facilities board because it required a Republican member, and he reappointed Levine to the teachers' retirement board as 'an olive branch,' she says, 'really showing his intention to work in a bipartisan way.'

"Although Levine was known inside Illinois as a Republican rainmaker, his political contributions at the national level skewed toward Democratic officeholders. The burgeoning relationships between Levine, Cari, [former New York comptroller and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Carl] McCall, and the Blagojevich administration grew cozier in late 2003, when Levine paid more than $4,000 to fly the governor and some of his campaign operatives to fund-raising visits to Austin, Texas, and New York City, according to campaign reports and other sources. McCall hosted one fundraising event held in an exclusive New York club, and [Cari's] HealthPoint paid for $3,500 in meals at another funder in the city the next day."

Blagojevich knew full well who Levine was. If he didn't question what Levine was up to, that alone makes him unfit for office.

New Blago Chant
"Given the scope of the scandal, Levine attorney Jeffrey Steinback said it could be two years before his client fulfills his agreement to cooperate with federal prosecutors," the Tribune reported.

Two more years! Two more years!

Double Dutch
Hey, gov - do you still call the allegations in Joe Cari's plea deal "triple hearsay?" Or are they just double now?

Single Scoop
After Rezko cuts a deal, will they be single hearsay?

Gov. Baloneyvich
"He is the quintessential politician who would cut down a redwood tree to he could stand on the stump to talk about conservation, " state Rep. Jack Franks told the Sun-Times. Franks is a Democrat.

Book Bull
Asked by the Sun-Times what book all Americans should read, Blagojevich said: "A phony answer is Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Everybody recommends that book and I bet none of 'em read it . . . Can I think about that one?"

* Tony Peraica said Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. And I have a feeling he's read it, probably more than once.

* Blago must not have been briefed on which phony answer to give.

* I thought the phony answer every politician gives is the Bible.

Wonder who Dick Mell will vote for . . .


Posted on October 30, 2006

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BOOKS - All About Poop.


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