Why did U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald decide to arrest Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday, December 9? Because of a story the Chicago Tribune published on Friday, December 5. Cam Simpson, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:
At Fitzgerald’s request, the paper had been holding back a story since October detailing how a confidante of Blagojevich was cooperating with his office.
But editors decided to publish the story on Friday, Dec. 5, ending the Tribune’s own cooperation deal with the prosecutor.
Which brings up another "why"? Why did the editors decide to end their cooperation with Fitzgerald? Thanks to the paper's tipoff, Blagojevich was able to "undo" a meeting he had his brother, “Fundraiser A", set up with an alleged supporter of Jesse Jackson, Jr., "Senate Candidate 5". December 4:
...Blagojevich allegedly told his brother, a man identified in the affidavit as “Fundraiser A,” that he was “elevating” Mr. Jackson on the list of candidates, because the governor might be able to get something “tangible up front” for the pick.
He told his brother to meet with someone (unidentified by the feds) whom the pair believed to be close to Jackson. He urged his brother to tell this alleged supporter of Jackson that “some of this stuffs gotta start happening now… right now…and we gotta see it. You understand?” He was talking about campaign cash, the feds allege.
Then he allegedly offered his brother one final proviso: “I would do it in person. I would not do it on the phone.”
The next morning, on Friday, Dec. 5, it all came crashing down for the FBI agents underneath the headphones.
Thanks to this blaring headline:
“Feds taped Blagojevich; TRIBUNE EXCLUSIVE: Adviser cooperated with corruption probe, sources say.”
Here is how Fitzgerald addressed the Tribune article at the press conference following Blagojevich's arrest:
QUESTION: Mr. Fitzgerald, would you make clear just something about the timing here? When the Tribune ran its story a few days ago revealing that the governor was being taped, would you explain -- and I think some of this is laid out in the complaint -- did further taping take place or did that essentially terminate your ability to listen in?
MR. FITZGERALD: Well, what I would say is, to back up and to the extent that there have been articles, I'm not confirming or denying the accuracy of the articles. You can compare them against what happened.
I will say this, as you guys know, you guys are in the information business of getting it and publishing it, and we're in the information business of getting it and using it.
About eight weeks ago, before we had the bug installed and before we had the wiretap up, we were contacted by the Tribune to comment or confirm or deny on a story that they were going to run.
Had they ran that story, we thought we'd never have the opportunity to install the bug or place the telephone tap. And we made an urgent request for the Tribune not to publish that story.
That is a very rare thing for us to do and it's an even rarer thing for a newspaper to grant. We thought that the public interest required that the story not run.
It was a difficult conversation to have because we weren't allowed to describe what we doing, and I have to take my hat off that the Tribune withheld that story for a substantial period of time, which otherwise might have compromised the investigation for ever happening. And I think that's something that we should take note of.
And later, at a later point in time that story did run. I believe it ran on Friday morning. And we were recording after the story ran that said feds tape of Blagojevich, and as set forth in the complaint, days before, or even the day before that story ran, Governor Blagojevich was intercepted telling his fund-raiser to have that conversation about wanting to see campaign contributions up front and telling him to talk as if the whole world is listening; be careful, do it in person, not over the telephone.
So it was clear that the reaction to the story was to think that they shouldn't proceed down that road. So to the extent that we had a number of weeks of interception (inaudible) the telephone, I do -- I do think we -- we ought to credit the Chicago Tribune that they agreed to that request.
They didn't agree to all our requests. As you might imagine, they saw it differently than we did. But I appreciate that and respect what they did.
That's curious. He takes his "hat off" that the Tribune held off so long? The story broke just before Blagojevich was about to (attempt) to make the deal with "Senate Candidate 5", Jesse Jackson, Jr. I believe Fitzgerald would have a better case if the governor had been caught in an illegal act rather than conspiring to commit one.
The Tribune does have an interest in this case, other than just breaking the story:
In addition to the pay-to-play allegations, which are described in greater detail in the complaint, we also were surprised to learn of an extortionate attempt against the Chicago Tribune newspaper.
The Chicago Tribune had not been kind to Governor Blagojevich, had written editorials that called for his impeachment. And Governor Blagojevich and defendant Jonathan -- John Harris, his chief of staff, schemed to send a message to the Chicago Tribune that if the Tribune Company wanted to sell its ballfield, Wrigley Field, in order to complete a business venture, the price of doing so was to fire certain editors, including one editor by name.
In the governor words -- governor's words, quote, "Fire all those bleeping people. Get them the bleep out of there. And get us some editorial support," close quote. And the bleeps are not really bleeps.
Maybe the editors were just interested in payback and not interested in seeing Jesse Jackson, Jr., among other prominent political figures, possibly leading to Barack Obama, implicated. The timing is suspicious, to say the least.