Chicago Tribune Derails Blago Investigation

Cross posted at Politics and Critical Thinking.

Many are at a loss as to why Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney, hurried the arrest of beleaguered Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich. General opinion is that it was in order to prevent him from making an illegal appointment to the US Senate. Thereby avoiding any legal battles concerning the removal of his selection. However, on the WSJ blog, The Wire, it was reported that the arrests were moved ahead of schedule due to the Chicago Tribune’s leaking of a story related to the investigation. Consequently moving up the FBI timetable on capturing Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff.

From The Wire,

The Wire-The precise timing of Tuesday’s dramatic, pre-dawn arrest was not dictated by Fitzgerald, nor was it dictated by the pace of Blagojevich’s alleged “crime spree.” It was dictated by the Chicago Tribune, according to people close to the investigation and a careful reading of the FBI’s affidavit in the case.

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.

Chicago Tribune editor, Gerould Kern, issued this statement, concerning the early release of the story,

“In each case, we strive to make the right decision as reporters and as citizens,” he said.
If the Tribune had not released the story early, as per their agreement with Fitzgerald, the Feds could have gathered more evidence against the Governor, making a conviction more probable. As well as potentially bringing down some fairly high profile Washington insiders.
The Wire-Perhaps even more encouraging to the feds listening in on Dec. 4 was what they knew about the first time such a deal was discussed. About a month earlier, Blagojevich was caught on tape describing an approach by an alleged associate of Jackson. Blagojevich’s now-infamous quote about that meeting had been tantalizing. “We were approached ‘pay to play.’ That, you know, he’d raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”

On Dec. 4, with the feds listening in, Blagojevich was allegedly putting this deal back into play.

The conversation resumed later that same day, as 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.
On December 5th the Tribune released its story changing Blagojevich’s plans and derailed the meeting between his brother and Jackson’s envoy.
The Wire-The next morning, on Friday, Dec. 5, it all came crashing down for the FBI agents underneath the headphones.

The Tribune’s front page screamed: “Feds taped Blagojevich; TRIBUNE EXCLUSIVE: Adviser cooperated with corruption probe, sources say.”

Blagojevich read the same headline. “Undo” that “thing,” the governor allegedly told his brother, according to the FBI. And just like that, the meeting was off, only one day after it had been put back into play.
What is puzzling about the Tribune’s actions is that Blagojevich was planning on exerting political pressure on Tribune co-owner, Sam Zell to fire some of his editorial staff. On September 29th, the Trib had released a scathing editorial concerning the Governor’s pay-to-play politics and recommended impeachment.

From the Washington Post,
Washington Post-Blagojevich seized on the fact that Tribune, in attempting to unload the Cubs, was seeking aid from the Illinois Finance Authority to ease the sale of the team's ballpark, Wrigley Field.

On Nov. 4, the complaint says, Blagojevich told his chief of staff, John Harris, that because of the impeachment editorials and the pending Wrigley deal, an unnamed Tribune financial adviser should be told that "our recommendation is to fire all these [expletive] people, get 'em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support."
With Fitzgerald’s reputation for going after the press when they hamper Federal investigations. I think it is safe to say there might be some scrutiny into the Tribune’s actions. Whether or not anything comes of it is another story. One which will probably be released earlier than it is supposed to.

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