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Prosecutor: 'Lincoln Would Roll Over In His Grave'

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. In Illinois today, an astounding news conference with stunning allegations of corruption.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (U.S. Attorney, Northern Illinois): Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low.

NORRIS: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced charges against Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich for a litany of alleged abuses of power.

SIEGEL: This was the most brazen.

Mr. FITZGERALD: Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama.

SIEGEL: The FBI arrested Blagojevich this morning as well as his chief of staff, John Harris. Blagojevich appeared wearing sweatpants before a federal judge and was released on his own recognizance.

NORRIS: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said wire taps of Blagojevich's campaign offices and home phone revealed the governor's determination to profit from the privilege of naming President-elect Obama's replacement.

Mr. FITZGERALD: The governor's own words describing the Senate seat, quote, "it's a bleeping valuable thing. "You just don't give it away for nothing," close quote. Another quote, "I've got this thing, and it's bleeping golden. I'm just not giving it up for bleeping nothing."

NORRIS: And Fitzgerald alleged the governor had very specific ideas about how he might benefit.

Mr. FITZGERALD: The tapes reveal that the Governor Blagojevich wanted a number of things in exchange for making the appointment to the Senate seat, an appointment to secretary of health and human services or an ambassadorship, an appointment for private foundation, a higher paying job for his wife, or campaign contributions.

At one point, he proposed a three-way deal that a cushy union job will be given to him at a higher rate of pay where he could make money. In exchange, he thought that the union might get benefits from the president-elect, and therefore, the president-elect might get the candidate of his choice.

I should make clear, the complaint makes no allegations about the president-elect whatsoever, his conduct. This part of the scheme lost steam when the person that the governor thought was the president-elect's choice of senator took herself out of the running. But after the deal never happened, this is the governor's reaction, quote, "they're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. Bleep them," close quote. And again, the bleep is a read action.

NORRIS: And as you can tell, there were a lot of bleeps at today's news conference.

SIEGEL: The demand for money and power in return for naming Senator Obama's successor is the charge with the most national reach, but it is just one in a long list. The U.S. attorney's office has been investigating the governor for years on allegations of pay to play conduct.

NORRIS: And just one example of that, Fitzgerald said Blagojevich had been caught on tape talking about pulling state funding for a children's hospital. That was after the hospital's chief executive failed to contribute $50,000 to the governor's campaign.

SIEGEL: Another charge, an attempt that extortion against the Tribune company, which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs baseball team. If the company wanted to sell Wriggly Field Ballpark, it must fire newspaper editors who had given the governor unfavorable coverage.

NORRIS: Robert Grant, the FBI special agent in charge, said agents were thoroughly disgusted by what they heard in the wire taps.

Mr. ROBERT GRANT (FBI Special Agent): I don't have 49 other states to compare it with, but I can tell you one thing, if it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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