We have seen a lot of political hubris, scratch-my-back politics and sheer stupidity over the years. But nothing could prepare us for the charges brought Tuesday against Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois.
The governor’s administration was already under a well-publicized investigation into whether it has been selling appointments to state boards and commissions and awarding contracts and jobs in exchange for financial benefits and campaign contributions.
So what does the F.B.I. claim Mr. Blagojevich was up to while the feds were watching him? According to an F.B.I. affidavit, in recent weeks the governor plotted to sell off the United States Senate seat just vacated by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.
In exchange for his pick, authorities said Mr. Blagojevich was looking for a substantial salary for himself at a foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions, a highly paid position for his wife on corporate boards, a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself or promises of future campaign funds.
The affidavit also claims that the governor weighed the option of appointing himself should no financially lucrative offer materialize. All this was recorded on court-authorized wiretaps that any target of an investigation would have to assume were in place.
The United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, was clear that the complaint makes no allegations against Mr. Obama. Indeed, it quotes Mr. Blagojevich cursing the president-elect and his team “because they’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation.”
Mr. Blagojevich also appears to be uncommonly sensitive to criticism for someone so apparently comfortable with bare-knuckle, and worse, politics. He was recorded telling aides to inform the Tribune Company, which filed for bankruptcy protection this week, that it would get no state assistance in selling off Wrigley Field unless it fired members of The Chicago Tribune’s editorial board who had called for his impeachment.
Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, was elected in 2002 after pledging to restore honor to the Illinois governor’s office. His predecessor, Republican George Ryan, was convicted on federal fraud and racketeering charges and is now in prison. Mr. Blagojevich has urged President Bush to reduce Mr. Ryan’s sentence to time served as an act of compassion. It makes one wonder if the governor sensed that, somewhere down the line, he might need some of that compassion himself.
Mr. Blagojevich must be deemed innocent until proved guilty. But surely the recorded conversations, full of expletive-laced schemes, render him unfit to appoint anyone, least of all himself, to the vacant Senate seat.
If he refuses to step aside, the Illinois Legislature should move to bypass him by removing his appointment power, impeaching him or scheduling a special election. Certainly no self-respecting candidate should accept an appointment by Mr. Blagojevich.
* EDITORIAL NYT, December 10, 2008