The game is the game

12 December 2008

State senator Clay Davis, Baltimore, MD.

State senator Clay Davis, Baltimore, MD.

Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich, via wiretap:

“I know Obama wants Quinn for it, but they’re not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Fuck them.”

“I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden, and I’m not going to give it away for fucking nothing. I’m not going to do it. And fuck, I can always use it. I can parachute me in there.”

From the text of the complaint [bowdlerized]:

p. 58 I learn via civics teacher Bob Greenlee, deputy governor of Illinois, that Secretary of Energy is the one that “makes the most money” – talking about trying to get Blagojevich into a cabinet post. Though “it’s hard not to give it to a Texan.”

p. 59 On November 6, 2008, Blagojevich tells his spokesman to leak to a particular columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times that a candidate is in the running for the Senate seat. Blagojevich wanted “to send a message to Obama’s people,” but didn’t want it known that the message was from him. “The two discussed specific language that should be used in the Sun-Times column and arguments as to why Senate Candidate 2 made sense for the vacant Senate seat. A review of this particular Sun-Times column on November 7, 2008, indicates references to the specific language and arguments regarding the candidate, as discussed by Blagojevich & [spokesman].” The Fourth Estate continues to serve as a valuable & intelligent addition to the discourse.

p. 37 Contemplating punitive measures against a children’s hospital because the chief executive of the hospital hasn’t thrown him a $50,000 campaign contribution, Greenlee & Blagojevich have the following exchange:

BLAGOJEVICH: The pediatric doctors – the reimbursement. Has that gone out yet, or is that still on hold?

GREENLEE: The rate increase?


GREENLEE: It’s January 1.

BLAGOJEVICH: And we have total discretion over it?


BLAGOJEVICH: We could pull it back if we needed to – budgetary concerns – right?

GREENLEE: We sure could, yep.

BLAGOJEVICH: Ok. That’s good to know.

The game is the game.

p. 45 Other odds and ends from the case include a scheme to play around with withholding $100 million in tax breaks to Wrigley Field, owned by the Tribune Co. in order to sweeten Chicago Herald Tribune owner Sam Zell into firing his top editor after articles critical of Blagojevich were published. Blagojevich: You say to him, “We’re doing this stuff for you, we believe it’s right for the state of Illinois, this is a bill deal to you financially . . .”

p. 45 Greenlee picks up the ball & runs with it: “You say, I’m not sure we can do this anymore because we’ve been getting a ton of these editorials that say look, we’re going around the legislature, we . . . “

p. 43 Greenlee gives a few vague examples. Better, from a footnote in the complaint: Endorsing a State Rep on Oct. 25th, the Tribune writes, “House Speaker Michael Madigan resists Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s worst impulses. Actually, he resists all of Blagojevich’s impulses. Now it’s time for Madigan to create a House committee to study if there are valid grounds to impeach the governor.” And in a separate State Rep endorsement on the same day: “David Miller is a quality legislator, well-versed in education, health care and human services issues. (He’s also the only dentist in the legislator. Can he extract a governor?)”

p. 45 Blagojevich clarifies Greenlee’s mealy-mouthedness: “You tell him, Maybe we can’t do this now. Fire the fuckers.”

The $100 million in tax breaks went through. The top editor was fired. The whole thing puts me to mind of season 5 of The Wire. How different is pay to play from the game is the game? My favorite thing about the news reports, amidst a lot of the handwringing and professed outrage you would expect from national political figures, is the pull quotes from the Chicago people, the ones without much of a public profile.

A professor of political science at U. Chicago can only be induced to say, “It’s over the top, even for the governor.” Another city figure: “This is a Senate seat, not an alderman election or a liquor license.” As in: It’s not that this isn’t how the game is played, but a Senate seat? When the man knew he was under federal investigation? Shit, man, no wonder he got caught.”

Washington, D.C. criminal defense attorney Robert S. Bennett, quoted in The New York Times, 16 December:

“This town is full of people who call themselves ambassadors, and all they did was pay $200,000 or $300,000 to the Republican or Democratic Party,” said Mr. Bennett, referring to a passage in the criminal complaint filed against the governor suggesting that Mr. Blagojevich was interested in an ambassadorial appointment in return for the Senate seat. “You have to wonder, How much of this guy’s problem was his language, rather than what he really did?”

This is, incidentally, more or less Blagojevich’s defense. And you and I can call bullshit & string him up, but for me the interesting question afterwards isn’t whether Blagojevich was an asshole — just look at his hair — but rather the extent to which his conduct is the everyday couched in unacceptable terms. The lesson is that people, it seems, really do use journalists as mouthpieces to float notions in the press so that they can play strategy, & that media corporations aren’t exactly the free press, and if this doesn’t seem revelatory, maybe it’s just that I’ve been keeping a naive distinction between received wisdom (these things happen) and ocular proof (look, these things are happening).

Final thoughts, State Senator Clay Davis, Baltimore MD:

“If some federal motherfucker comes walking through the door, I say, ‘It’s all in the game.’ But a city police? Baltimore city? Hell, no, can’t be happening – because I know I done raised too much god-damn money for the mayor and his ticket. Naw, ain’t no soul in the world that fucking ungrateful.

“Money laundering? They’re gonna come talk to me about money laundering? In West Baltimore? Shit, where do you think I’m gonna get cash for the whole damn ticket? From laundromats and shit? From some tiny ass Korean groceries? You think I got time to ask a man why he giving me money? Or were he get his money from? I’ll take any motherfucker’s money if he giving it away.”

3 Responses to “The game is the game”

  1. Jim Sligh Says:

    Today’s NEW YORK TIMES tends to confirm my thinking.


    WASHINGTON — When Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago, announced the arrest of the Illinois governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, Mr. Fitzgerald said he had acted to halt a political crime spree that included what he called an “appalling” effort to sell off the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

    But now some lawyers are beginning to suggest that the juiciest part of the case against Mr. Blagojevich, the part involving the Senate seat, may be less than airtight. There is no evidence, at least none that has been disclosed, that the governor actually received anything of value — and the Senate appointment has yet to be made.

    Ever since the country’s founding, prosecutors, defense lawyers and juries have been trying to define the difference between criminality and political deal-making. They have never established a clear-cut line between the offensive and the illegal, and the hours of wiretapped conversations involving Mr. Blagojevich, filled with crass, profane talk about benefiting from the Senate vacancy, may fall into a legal gray area.

    Robert S. Bennett, one of Washington’s best-known white-collar criminal defense lawyers, said Mr. Blagojevich faced nearly insurmountable legal problems in a case that includes a raft of corruption accusations unrelated to Mr. Obama’s Senate seat. But Mr. Bennett said the case raised some potentially thorny issues about political corruption.

    “This town is full of people who call themselves ambassadors, and all they did was pay $200,000 or $300,000 to the Republican or Democratic Party,” said Mr. Bennett, referring to a passage in the criminal complaint filed against the governor suggesting that Mr. Blagojevich was interested in an ambassadorial appointment in return for the Senate seat. “You have to wonder, How much of this guy’s problem was his language, rather than what he really did?”

    In presenting his case, Mr. Fitzgerald said Mr. Blagojevich had crossed the line from deal-making to criminality, citing an example in the complaint in which the governor discussed with an aide obtaining a $300,000-a-year job from the Service Employees International Union in return for naming a candidate to the seat.

    “We’re not trying to criminalize people making political horse trades on policies or that sort of thing,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “But it is criminal when people are doing it for their personal enrichment. And they’re doing it in a way that is, in this case, clearly criminal.”

    But politicians routinely receive political contributions in return for their decisions, whether they involve making appointments or taking a stand on legislation. Lawmakers vote in favor of bills and steer appropriations backed by their donors without fear that prosecutors will bug their offices and homes.

    And while prosecutors have brought increasing numbers of political corruption cases in recent years, they have done so using laws that make it a crime for an official to deprive the public of “honest services.” The cases are based on statutes that never define exactly what conduct might be illegal and do not require proof of a bribe or a quid pro quo to establish criminal wrongdoing.

    What those statutes do require is evidence that an official at least tried to seek something of value in return for an official action.

    In the case of Mr. Blagojevich, it would be legal for the governor to accept a campaign contribution from someone he appointed to the Senate seat. What would create legal problems for him is if he was tape-recorded specifically offering a seat in exchange for the contribution. What would make the case even easier to prosecute is if he was recorded offering the seat in exchange for a personal favor, like cash, a job or a job for a family member.


  2. Roman Says:

    Jim. Recently I stayed up all night and watched the first nine episodes of Deadwood. It’s not replacement for the Wire, but it does touch on that thing we liked about The Wire; this isn’t an expose so much as a truthful account of why humans are the way they are.

    I know the President Elect has escaped this clean and shiny, but don’t you think he had to get in the dirt at some point? The system seems so corrupted, how can the man who happens to be the next president not have been touched by it?

    Still, I voted for him.

  3. Jim Sligh Says:

    NEW YORK TIMES – “Other Iraqi journalists in the front row apologized to Mr. Bush, who was uninjured and tried to brush off the incident by making a joke. “All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said, continuing to take questions and noting the apologies. He also called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as the man’s screaming could be heard outside.”

    Al-Zaidi, the reporter, was kidnapped for three days on his way to work in Baghdad in 2007 & was in Sadr City to see the civilian casualties when the US bombed it earlier this year.

    Arabic news sources now report that, after having the shit kicked out of him by Iraq guards & Secret Service at the press conference, he is being moved around to var. detention centers with what looks like either untreated injuries or signs of torture:

    Via Raed In The Middle (

    “Albaghdadia, the TV channel where the Iraqi Journalist Montather Al-Zeidi works, reports that an Iraqi MP (Ms. Zainab Al-Kanani) informed them that Montather’s hand was broken in jail.

    This confirms a lot of reports and rumors about Montather being subject to torture while the Iraqi authorities are interrogating and detaining him in some unspecified location.”

    Via “Roads To Iraq” (

    “Iraqi TV al-Sharqiya just reported on the news that AL-Zaidi is transferred to Camp Cropper prison [the Airport prison, managed by the American forces].

    The TV Channel announced that Al-Zaidi is in a difficult condition, with broken ribs and signs of torture on his thighs. Also he can not move his right arm.”


    As for our President-Elect, I think he’s way too smart to have dirt on him from Blagojevich. What I imagine is Obama publicly supporting Blagojevich because that’s what you do for the governor of the state you’re senator to, while privately distancing himself, because everyone knows the guy’s a little dirtier than the rest, & while nobody’s going to stop playing ball with him, you try to insulate yourself a little. Does that make sense?

    But what’s also interesting about the Times article is the degree to which political corruption & normal, day-to-day political life are difficult to differentiate. I think there has to be a more thoughtful response to this than simple cynicism.

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