Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Blagojevich Fallout

By now it is well known that Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) has been arrested for corruption.

Among the allegations is that he threatened to withhold hospital funding unless he received campaign contributions, he tried to stronghold the Chicago Tribune into firing critical editorialists in return for the state assisting their failing company, and even trying to "sell" President-Elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Not only does this shake up the Chicago (and greater Illinois) political community, but Washington as well.

What Does it Mean for Obama?

While the President-Elect has often distanced himself from Blagojevich, Republicans are nonetheless trying to link him to the corrupt political culture of Illinois.

"Republican National Chairman Robert "Mike" Duncan on Tuesday said Obama's initial response to questions about the governor was inadequate. South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, seeking the national party post, went further. He called on Obama to release any records of discussions between his transition team and Blagojevich about Obama's successor – citing Obama's oft-repeated pledge for greater transparency."

The chief prosecutor on the case, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, has emphasized that Obama was in no way connected to the charges against Blagojevich. But Republicans are sure to question a President that campaigned on cleaning up Washington, when he comes from the "steaming compost pile of Illinois politics."

What Does it Mean for Obama's Successor?

As Governor, Blagojevich has the sole responsibility of choosing a successor for Obama in the U.S. Senate to represent Illinois. The process of choosing the next Senator was already controversial before the arrest yesterday.

Many feel that the successor should be black - Obama was the only African-American in the Senate. Blagovich was considering several black contenders, including Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Rep. Danny Davis, and State Senate President Emil Jones - all Democrats.

He was also considering Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth.

But none of those names were used in the FBI-recorded conversations Blagojevich had with his staff. He referred to them as "Candidate 1", "Candidate 2", and so on. Only "Candidate 5" had indicated that he or she would deliver on the Governors bribe proposals.

So it is quite possible that "Candidate 5" might soon come under federal indictment.

Others are calling for the next Senator to be selected outside of Blagojevich's capacity. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Jones, and several other Illinois Democrats are calling for a special election.

Rep. Bobby Rush - a leading advocate for an African-American replacement - disagrees on the grounds that the Senate seat needs to be filled by the time the 111th Congress convenes, but that a special election would not be possible until spring.

Either way, the state of the succession is very much in question.

What Does it Mean for Fitzgerald?

It is an unspoken standard procedure for U.S. attorneys to step down when the new President is from the other political party. But given the high profile of this case, Fitzgerald may have to stay on in his role.

Fitzgerald, who became famous for prosecuting Scooter Libby following the Valerie Plame leak, has not yet been asked to stay. Illinois GOP Chairman Andy McKenna is pressing Obama to do just that.

In an interview with Politico, McKenna said "What [Obama] should do tomorrow is say, 'Patrick Fitzgerald has a job and can have for as long as he wants"'. According to Politico, "Republicans aim to all but dare Obama to remove the crusading Fitzgerald before he's done cleaning out corruption in Chicago and Springfield."

Only time will tell exactly what's in store for Fitzgerald, Obama, and Obama's successor. No matter what happens, the fallout from the Blagojevich scandal has totally changed the outlook for Illinois, and will have a profound impact on Washington.

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