U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald on Monday said he wants to release a limited number of taped conversations of Gov. Rod Blagojevich to the House impeachment committee, tossing another curve in the committee's deliberations. The committee, which had hoped to wrap up its business next week, has put its deliberations on hold while waiting to see when, or even if, it will get access to the tapes.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald on Monday said he wants to release a limited number of taped conversations of Gov. Rod Blagojevich to the House impeachment committee, tossing another curve in the committee's deliberations.
The committee, which had hoped to wrap up its business next week, has put its deliberations on hold while waiting to see when, or even if, it will get access to the tapes.
What did the committee want?
As it began its hearings, the committee sent a five-page letter to Fitzgerald asking for his assistance and guidance in how to proceed without damaging his ongoing criminal investigation of Blagojevich. The letter contained a lengthy list of witnesses the committee wanted to interview and also asked Fitzgerald to turn over documents and other materials accumulated during his investigation. The letter also asked for the tape recordings made by federal investigators of Blagojevich phone calls.
How did Fitzgerald respond?
For the most part, he rejected the committee's requests and asked the committee to stay out of the criminal areas of the case against Blagojevich. At the same time, Fitzgerald said he would review the committee's request for tape recordings and promised to get back to them later. He did that Monday.
What did he say?
Most of the recordings will still remain under wraps. That includes the explosive tapes where Blagojevich discusses selling the vacant U.S. Senate seat occupied by President-elect Barack Obama. However, Fitzgerald said he can release tapes of four calls that will not harm his investigation. All of them deal with one episode and, before they are released, will have material removed that does not involve that episode.
So what is the committee in line to get?
Tapes of discussions about a bill that was sitting on Blagojevich's desk waiting to be signed when the recordings were made. The bill required the state's most lucrative riverboat casinos to share a portion of their profits with the horse racing industry. The rationale was that riverboats took gambling money away from racetracks and that this would help the ailing horse racing industry.
What’s on the tape?
According to the FBI affidavit, there were conversations between Blagojevich and "Fundraiser A." The affidavit also refers to Lobbyist 1 and Contributor 1, both of whom wanted to see the bill signed into law.
It recounted that Lobbyist 1 was pushing Contributor 1 for a campaign contribution, even advising that the contribution should not be made too close to the time the bill is signed. Blagojevich replied "good" and "good job."
Blagojevich is heard expressing concern that the contribution be made before the end of the year. Lobbyist 1 kept Blagojevich informed about what was going on and at one point urged Blagojevich to personally call the contributor "from a pressure point of view."
The affidavit does not mention if a contribution was made. A footnote in the affidavit said Contributor 1 is listed in Blagojevich campaign fund records as someone from whom the campaign was seeking $100,000 in contributions. Blagojevich signed the bill earlier this month.
How damaging is the tape?
That's impossible to say. No one outside of federal investigators have heard it. The impeachment committee is looking for examples of quid pro quo, in which Blagojevich promises to do something explicitly in exchange for campaign contributions. Until the tapes are played publicly, it is difficult to say how much of a smoking gun they will provide to the committee.
When will they be turned over?
Again, impossible to say when, or even if. Fitzgerald is asking federal court approval to turn the tapes over. It's possible the court could refuse.
Another factor is court process. Blagojevich's lawyer could try to block the release. That could lead to a drawn-out court battle. Impeachment committee chair Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the committee is willing to wait a while to get its hands on the tapes. However, she said that if it appears the release will have a lengthy delay, the committee will move ahead without the tapes.
Contact Doug Finke at firstname.lastname@example.org.