Dec 31 2008

Blagojevich May Have Upper Hand – And Who Is This Balanoff?

Again, my apologies for the light posting. Between the holiday events and shipping our Marine recruit off to boot camp we have been swamped. And I have been extremely demoralized with the idiocy coming out of the extreme right. We have major national issues at hand and some people have just lost all perspective on what is a national priority. I fail to see how a lame racist parody is going to help the economy, reduce the burden of government or keep this nation safe from attack.

Call my a mushy moderate, but there are a lot of challenges ahead and conservatives need to work with the people in power to make good decisions on these issues. When the GOP lost control of the reigns of power, their ability to push the country in one direction were limited. With a broad spectrum of conservative views guiding the nation we could make measured progress (not extreme leaps). Now we can only take baby steps and try to keep the country out of the ditch of liberal extreme policies. Understanding the limitations of what is feasible or realistic is the first step in sound leadership.

Anyway, enough of that. What has me intrigued is the Blagojevich situation, which like most things happening the news media is either misunderstanding or misreporting. It seems to me Fitzgerald has jumped to a bunch of lame conclusions and has almost no case against the Governor of Illinois. Mainly because trading political support for political actions is not really illegal. Blagojevich can point to Hillary horse trading donations support from Obama for supporting his candidacy as basically an equivalent act to his push for donations for his political support.

And there is an interesting little gem of a paragraph in the criminal complaint that illustrates exactly how weak the case is against Blagojevich when it comes to trading on Obama’s open senate seat (paragraph 88):

Set out below are summaries of certain of the conversations referenced above. This affidavit does not include all calls dealing with the corrupt efforts of ROD BLAGOJEVICH, JOHN HARRIS, and others to misuse the power of ROD BLAGOJEVICH to appoint a United States Senator for the personal gain of ROD BLAGOJEVICH and his family, nor does this affidavit set forth other calls where ROD BLAGOJEVICH and others discussed a possible appointment to the Senate seat based on considerations other than financial gain for ROD BLAGOJEVICH and his family, discussions which took place with greater frequency after efforts to arrange for a private job for ROD BLAGOJEVICH in exchange for appointing a particular candidate to the open Senate seat did not meet with success.

Emphasis mine. Talking about wild (and possibly illegal) activities is not sufficient to convict of committing a crime. Without committing any crime there is no criminal act in these cases. Clearly Fitzgerald has information that shows that Team Blagojevich dumped the idea of personal gain after a time. A time in which Blagojevich could claim he was feeling pressured by Team Obama to insert their choice – Valerie Jarrett.

And this is where the timeline gets really interesting. What still bothers me is the idea Rahm Emmanuel, a seasoned political veteran, would ever attempt to push a candidate for the open senate seat which would be at odds with his new boss – the President-Elect. Check out the order of events compiled by the Chicago Sun Times:

Nov. 3 – Blagojevich says if he doesn’t get “anything of any value” for the Obama seat, he “might just take it” for himself. [Criminal complaint.]

Nov. 4 – Obama wins the presidency.

Nov. 4 – An aide to Blagojevich suggests he should put together a list of things he’d accept for the Senate seat. Blagojevich responds the list “can’t be in writing.” Blagojevich tells Harris the “trick . . . is how do you conduct indirectly . . . a negotiation” for the seat. [Criminal complaint.]

Nov. 5 (approximately) – Blagojevich meets with Tom Balanoff, head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union, to discuss the soon-to-be vacant Senate seat. Blagojevich understands Balanoff to be “an emissary” to discuss Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett’s interest in the seat. [Criminal complaint.]

Nov. 6 – Obama picks Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff.

Nov. 6-8 – Emanuel and Blagojevich have one or two conversations. Emanuel recommends Jarrett for the Senate vacancy but “did so before learning — in further conversations with the president-elect — that the president-elect had ruled out communicating a preference for any one candidate.” [Obama internal investigative report.]

Nov. 7 – Jarrett speaks with Balanoff. “Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett that he had spoken to the Governor about the possibility of selecting Valerie Jarrett to replace the President-elect” and that the governor raised the prospect of being appointed Health and Human Services Secretary. Jarrett and Balanoff agree that “would never happen.” Jarrett “did not understand the conversation to suggest that the governor wanted the Cabinet seat as a quid pro quo for selecting any specific candidate to be the President-elect’s replacement.” [Obama report.]

Nov. 7 – Obama indicates he’ll play a limited role in the Senate selection. “I think there’s going to be a lot of good choices out there, but it is the governor’s decision to make, not mine,” he tells reporters.

Nov. 9 – Jarrett decides she doesn’t want the Senate seat [Obama report],but her decision isn’t made public until Nov. 12.

Sometime after Nov. 9 – Obama discusses “other qualified candidates” for the Senate seat with Emanuel and adviser David Axelrod. They include Jackson, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, state Comptroller Dan Hynes and state Veterans’ Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth. “The president-elect understood that Rahm Emanuel would relay those names to the governor’s office.” [Obama report.]

Nov. 10 – Blagojevich discusses naming one of his deputy governors, Louanner Peters — identified as “Senate Candidate 4″ — to the Senate “before I just give f—ing [Jarrett] a f—ing Senate seat and I don’t get anything.” Later, the governor discusses leaking to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed that Blagojevich is “seriously considering” Jackson for the open seat “to send a message to the president-elect that there are options for the Senate seat beyond” Jarrett. [Criminal complaint.]

Nov. 12 – Jarrett announces she isn’t interested in the Senate seat.

Nov. 12 – Balanoff again meets with Blagojevich, who tells him “he had heard” Obama wanted others beside Jarrett to be considered for the seat. Balanoff says he’d find out if Jarrett wants him “to keep pushing her for senator.” [Criminal complaint.]

Emphasis mine. Does anyone believe Rahm Emmanuel was acting independently when he proffered Jarrett’s name between November 6th and 8th? The silly Obama Report claims this is the case, that Obama did not want to push any single candidate. Of course he changes his tune less than a week later when he sends Emmanuel to Team Blagojevich with another list of names! What changed with Obama’s thinking? Nothing – its just a lame excuse that has to be proven in a court of law to be wrong. But common sense would dictate that if Obama was sending names on 11/14 (just a wild guess), then he probably wasn’t trying to be neutral on 11/7.

Recall that Team Blagojevich was having a large strategy telecon with people from DC on 11/10, where all the various options were being discussed. At this meeting the idea of Blagojevich getting an Obama cabinet position were discussed and rejected. From the complaint as I noted previously, we have one side of the discussion in snippets, with gaps where someone is responding to Team Blagojevich’s trial balloons:

[statement 1] ROD BLAGOJEVICH mentioned the Senate seat, the dynamics of a new Presidential administration with the strong contacts that ROD BLAGOJEVICH has in it, and asked what if anything he can do to make that work for him and his wife and his responsibilities as Governor of Illinois.

…[Gap 1]… 

[statement 2] ROD BLAGOJEVICH suggested during the call that he could name himself to the open Senate seat to avoid impeachment by the State of Illinois legislature.

…[Gap2]… 

[statement 3] ROD BLAGOJEVICH agreed it was unlikely that the President-elect would name him Secretary of Health and Human Services or give him an ambassadorship because of all of the negative publicity surrounding ROD BLAGOJEVICH. 

Now look at the interaction of Balanoff and Jarrett, with a focus on the dates and subjects:

Nov. 7 – Jarrett speaks with Balanoff. “Mr. Balanoff told Ms. Jarrett that he had spoken to the Governor about the possibility of selecting Valerie Jarrett to replace the President-elect” and that the governor raised the prospect of being appointed Health and Human Services Secretary. Jarrett and Balanoff agree that “would never happen.”

Only 3 days before the large telecon Balanoff offers up the same trial balloon, and he and Jarrett concur it would not happen (for obvious reasons given the taint on Blagojevich). What is really too much coincidence in timing is these discussions happened BEFORE the telecon, but after Rahm floated Jarrett’s name to Team Blagojevich – with all the authority a Chief of Staff would carry.

The other coincidence that is too much to ignore is Balanoff works for the SEIU, the same organization proffered in the 11/10 telecon as a possible stealth option for a kickback to Blagojevich. We know Jarrett was in Obama’s inner circle. But we also know that Balanoff was seen by Team Blagojevich as an emissary from Team Obama!

Nov. 5 (approximately) – Blagojevich meets with Tom Balanoff, head of the Illinois chapter of the Service Employees International Union, to discuss the soon-to-be vacant Senate seat. Blagojevich understands Balanoff to be “an emissary” to discuss Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett’s interest in the seat. [Criminal complaint.]

It seems clear the Balanoff, on 11/5, meets with Team Blagojevich as a representative of Team Obama on their preferred candidate. On 11/7, Balanoff reports back to team Obama in the person of Valerie Jarrett. Simultaneously Rahm Emmanuel is offering Jarrett as a candidate – clearly representing Obama. Is this all just wild coincidence?  I think not, mainly because 2 days after the teleconference Balanoff is again reporting Team Obama’s wishes to Team Blagojevich:

Nov. 12 – Balanoff again meets with Blagojevich, who tells him “he had heard” Obama wanted others beside Jarrett to be considered for the seat. Balanoff says he’d find out if Jarrett wants him “to keep pushing her for senator.” [Criminal complaint.]

Nov. 15 – Obama announces that Jarrett will become a White House senior adviser.

Two days later, after the 11/10 telecon, Balanoff is back with Blagojevich. Clearly efforts were being made to resolve the stand off and agree on a candidate. The complaint only refers to some vague ‘time after 11/9′ when Emmanuel and Obama come up with the list of alternate candidates. I, for one, would like to know when this happened. Was it after Balanoff met with Blagojevich on 11/12?

Why is Balanoff key to this puzzle? Well one report makes it pretty clear:

On Nov. 12, an Obama transition official sent word that Jarrett was taking herself out of Senate contention. But just a few days before that, the Craig report reveals that Jarrett met with Illinois labor leader Tom Balanoff on Nov. 7, to, I was told, “explore her interest” in the Senate.

Balanoff, I’m told, asked for the meeting. That Jarrett would want to talk to Balanoff was logical, because Balanoff, the head of the Illinois SEIU — ran one of the few groups still on speaking terms with the isolated Blagojevich. Balanoff also goes way back with Obama, to his days as a community organizer in Chicago.

It was at that meeting that Balanoff told Jarrett he had talked to Blagojevich about picking her for the Senate and then asked — really feeling her out, it seems — if Blagojevich could be secretary of health and human services.

It seems clear why Jarrett has hired legal counsel in this matter. Balanoff is a key intermediary between Team Obama and Team Blagojevich. If all these discussions were on the up and up – as Team Obama claims – why use Balanoff to talk to Jarrett? Why not keep going through Emmanuel? The only reason I can think of is the stealthy buffer Balanoff provided to Team Obama. Is it any wonder that the SEIU is at the center of the most stealthy kick back scheme and also playing the role of under-the-radar carrier pigeon?

There are many questionable actions surrounding this mess. Not only do we have long time ally of Obama in the SEIU carrying messages between Jarrett (team Obama and the lead candidate for the senate seat) and Blagojevich, the SEIU is also mentioned as the best path to hide a kickback. But there is also the strange denials and claims of purity from camp Obama. Along with the weird timing of Team Obama’s white wash report (conveniently all key players where out of reach of the news media). Lots of good questions here, few transparent answers.

I think Blagojevich is going to be a royal pain in the side of Obama and Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has decided he will ignore Team Obama and go after Blagojevich. But Blagojevich is not going to go quietly. His selection of a candidate for the open senate seat is a clear signal he plans to attack the Democrat political machine. And I would wager he has some serious and devastating information to lob in their direction. We will know soon enough.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Blagojevich May Have Upper Hand – And Who Is This Balanoff?”

  1. combat18 says:

    Wrong on the issue of whether you can be convicted of conspiracy without committing the underlying crime.

    The crime of conspiracy, 18 USC 371, is a separate crime and independent of the crime that is being contemplated.

    To commit conspiracy, you must have three actions:

    An agreement between two or more people;

    To commit a crime, and;

    An overt act committed in furtherance of the agreement.

    The overt act can be any act, legal or illegal.

    For instance, Jamal and Leticia (two or more people) want to rob the liquor store and they agree they will rob it together (agreement to commit the crime of robbery).

    They need disguises, so Leticia goes to the sporting goods store and buys two ski masks (overt act, perfectly legal to buy ski masks).

    The police then arrest the two before they went to the liquor store because they were bugging Jamal’s home.

    No robbery was committed, but Jamal and Leticia are still guilty of a crime.

  2. kathie says:

    So far Obama has been able to throw detractors of his squeaky clean record, under the bus with ease. I think Blogo will not be so amenable.

  3. Also, Obama’s team can’t seem to get its story straight. This is going to be interesting.

    The Tribune was about to blow the investigation, so Fitzgerald had to act earlier than he would have liked, but what I am seeing does smell pretty bad.

    In any case, if the GOP puts up a moderate, they may get this seat in 2010.

  4. Redteam says:

    Combat18:
    To commit conspiracy, you must have three actions:

    An agreement between two or more people;

    and so far, I haven’t heard of any agreement being reached between two or more people. Therefore, no crime.

    I don’t believe they can get them for ‘attempted conspiracy’.

  5. rayabacus says:

    I believe, opinion only, that there is much more on the tapes than what has been released. I think that there are a slew of down stream IL politicos that are going to have loose lips.

    Fitzgerald is, if nothing else, a careful prosecutor and I don’t believe he would have indicted if he could not make a case.

    We shall see.

  6. combat18 says:

    At a minimum the agreement between Blogo and his chief of staff.

  7. WWS says:

    That’s a big gray area, combat. *Maybe* that might count as conspiracy – but the defense lawyer will make the case that it does *NOT* count, since the chief of staff is simply Blago’s agent, and the crime could not have been committed until some other person, one capable of making a payoff and accepting the nomination, was recruited. For the chief of staff to be part of a conspiracy, he had to actually *do something* to further it – not just talk about it. Conspiracy can’t just be talking about it – the conspirators have to go far enough along the path that the crime is capable of being committed and about to be committed. Remember that even when illegal subjects are being discussed, there are still first amendment issues that have to be considered – it is very difficult and rare for someone to be convicted of anything, even conspiracy, based on speech alone.

    Fitzgerald very well may have jumped the gun and made this public before he actually had enough evidence to convict.

    To raybacus – prosecutors make indictments without being able to make the case every day of the week. And the more political the case, the more likely it is that the case will fall apart. Remember that Fitzgerald was never able to make any case out of his original claims on the Valerie Plame case – he was only able to put together a minor derivative charge on a secondary player after his original case collapsed.

  8. GuyFawkes says:

    All I’m curious about is – why the 90 day extension? What’s the purpose of that? He has hours and hours of tapes – what else is he hoping to find?

    Otherwise:

    “I think Blagojevich is going to be a royal pain in the side of Obama and Fitzgerald.”

    Yes, Obama has obviously been devastated by this.

    New poll: “three-quarters of the public thinks President-elect Barack Obama is a strong and decisive leader, the highest marks for a president-elect on that characteristic in nearly three decades.”

    I have to imagine that without this terribly painful scandal, which has obviously tarnished Obama and his entire team beyond repair, he could have gotten perhaps 120% of the country to believe he was “a strong and decisive leader”. Oh, the sadness of opportunity squandered.

  9. WWS says:

    The 90 day extension means that Fitzgerald is publicly admitting that he jumped the gun and doesn’t have a proper case lined up at the moment. He hopes that if he can drag things out for 3 months something will turn up.

    Obviously even HE believes he doesn’t have enough to make a conspiracy charge stick yet. It’s a rather amazing admission by a prosecutor – in most cases, the judge would turn this down and say “indict or drop”, but the notoriety of this case will probably mean Fitz gets his 90 days.

    Even though Blago is the most unsympathetic defendant in the world, this isn’t supposed to be a country where you can arrest someone and when they ask “what for??” the govm’t replies “oh, let us think about it for a few months and we’ll come up with something.”

    This is looking more and more like a Russian show trial every day.