Remember Rod Blagojevich — the former Democratic governor of Illinois, now a federal prisoner on corruption charges and a musician behind bars? He's in the news again today after the Chicago Tribune unearthed a recording of wiretapped conversations between him and J.B. Pritzker, a businessman and one of the current Democratic candidates for governor.
Among the topics in the conversations, which occurred in late 2008: Blagojevich's deep resentment for Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who had just been elected president. Blagojevich felt Obama had attached his name to measures in Illinois that Blagojevich wanted more credit for.
"This fucking Obama ran on my record, okay?" Blagojevich says in one of the conversations. "He said he brought healthcare to kids. You know what I'm saying? He voted for it [as a state senator]. You know, he's talking about a capital bill and spending on healthcare for working families."
Pritzker had initiated the discussions with Blagojevich to talk about the possibility that state Treasurer Alexei Giannoulias might be appointed to a post in the impending Obama administration. It never did end up happening (Giannoulias would later run for Senate in 2010 and lose), but if it had, Pritzker was interested in being appointed to replace him as treasurer. Blagojevich reacted favorably to the idea, calling it "interesting." Pritzker said he did not really want to be appointed to Obama's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat, but that it "makes political sense for both of us" to make him treasurer.
Pritzker also suggested in one conversation that perhaps Blagojevich should appoint Valerie Jarrett to Obama's Senate seat, but only if he thought he'd get a presidential appointment for it — an unlikely scenario, given the federal investigation that was already consuming Blagojevich and making headlines at that point. Blagojevich's downfall ultimately came from his desire to trade the vacant Senate seat for something valuable to himself.
In one of the recorded conversations excerpted by the Tribune, Pritzker expressed concern that his political contributions to Blagojevich might become an issue if Blagojevich were to appoint him. The governor was not worried at all.
"Total non-issue," said Blagojevich, who deftly segued into a request for political contributions. "First of all, you give money to everyone, like [Attorney General] Lisa Madigan, okay?" he said. "Which, incidentally, if you can do for me what you did for her before the end of the year, can you think about that?"
Pritzker said he couldn't do it while potential appointments were pending, but added, "but I hear you."
Blagojevich went on to suggest that Pritzker could also raise money from him among his connections in the business community. "If we go in that direction, though, if that does happen, I mean, there's some other people that can help us that you know. If you feel skittish about that, which I believe you shouldn't ..."
"Yeah, I don't think we should even talk about that, but I understand what you're saying," Pritzker said.
Blagojevich was also pretty confident that the corruption case against him would not amount to anything. "It'll just fade away," he said. In fact, he would be impeached by a unanimous vote of the state legislature in less than two months' time, and sentenced to 13 years in prison in December 2011.
The recording contains a few other fun nuggets. At one point, in discussing the potential benefits of appointing Pritzker as treasurer, Blagojevich mentioned that he could play up the candidate's connection to the banking industry. Pritzker discouraged this, because Superior Bank had failed under the stewardship of his sister, Penny.
"She was chairman of the bank," Pritzker explained in mentioning its collapse. "It had subprime loans. I mean, bad stuff."
Penny Pritzker was subsequently appointed Secretary of Commerce by President Obama.
"Superior Bank turned out to be an inferior bank," Blagojevich quipped.