Thursday, August 31, 2006

The ghost of Tammy Duckworth


She's out there somewhere.

The only way to find out about one of the candidates in my congressional race is to read Time, or one of the other national publications writing publicity stories about Dem darling Tammy Duckworth, who is taking on Peter Roskam in the 6th Congressional District.

She apparently is more comfortable with the big, bad national media than local newspapers like the Des Plaines Journal & Topics, which is being stiffed by Duckworth as this column by Managing Editor Todd Wessell points out.

Mr. Roskam recently visited the offices of the Journal & Topics Newspapers. He's like a Hyde conservative on most social and economic issues. His visit here---the second---was both cordial and informative and he had no lack of ideas. Duckworth---well---we've never seen her. She hasn't called for an opportunity to speak with readers of the Journal in Des Plaines, Mt. Prospect, Elk Grove and other communities, and our attempt to schedule a meeting so we can hear her views has gone unanswered so far. That fact doesn't say much for a new political candidate who should be pounding the pavement meeting as many people as she can. Election day is only two months away.

What appears likely to unfold between now and election day is that Duckworth's candidacy will be taken over by the stars of the Democratic Party. Individual party leaders like Barack Obama, Dick Durbin, maybe even Hillary or Bill Clinton and those like them, will probably make 11th hour appearances on her behalf. A week ago, First Lady Laura Bush campaigned in the area for Roskam, so he, too, has and will bring out the big guns. But what does that tell the voters about who the candidates are, what they stand for, their character and willingness to work hard or sit back and play the role of congressman?
Roskam has been traveling the district aggressively, meeting people. I've bumped into him several times. Apparently, the Duckworth campaign will hide Tammy somewhere and try to win the race through a mostly helpful media with stories like this. I read this story three times and still can't figure out the group's complaint.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blago's babysitter on crucial panel


"Stay out of the refrigerator, read the story about the big bad wolf to the kids, and vote against the big bad whistleblower next week."

That might be Rod Blagojevich's instructions to his babysitter, Betty Bukraba, who happens to sit on the Civil Service Commission, the panel that will decide a key case in his administration's hiring scandal.

Eric Krol of the Daily Herald revealed Bukraba's status as Rod's babysitter this morning, as he continues to unravel Rod's curious economic interest statements that include mysterious gifts from, among others, Bukraba.

According to my information, Bukraba is a close friends of Marge Mell, Patti Blagojevich's mother and used to babysit Patti years ago. In recent years, she babysat Patti's kids. In 2003, Rod appointed her to the Civil Service Commission, which decides the fate of fired employees seeking to get their jobs back. The position pays about $21,000 a year.

According to Rod's economic interest statements, Rod has received at least $500 in gifts the last two years from Bukraba. Rod's mistress of disinformation, Abby Ottenhoff, explained it this way.

"In an effort to be scrupulous and careful, the first family reported her even though there's a good chance the gifts don't total $500," Ottenhoff said. "They don't ask family friends how much they've spent on gifts for the kids."
The administration continues to refuse to detail the gifts, which total at least $12,000, from a variety of sources, including from Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko, his two top fundraisers who are in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.

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CBS fakes it again

Let's see, the network that dumped Dan Rather for a faked story on President Bush is starting fresh with a new anchor, Katie Couric, and new format. But the urge to fake things remains.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Bling Cherry takes in $900K


Myron "Mike" Cherry has been helping Democrats raise money in Illinois and across the country for years. He was very helpful to Rod Blagojevich and it looks like Rod Blagojevich's government was very helpful to Myron Cherry.

Today, the Sun-Times reported that an open-ended legal services contract that Cherry received from the Blagojevich administration in 2005 yielded $900,000 in just six months. What, precisely, did Cherry do for the work? The administration won't say.

But when asked specifically to provide the scope of Cherry's work, the state agency said in a statement: "For confidentiality reasons, the names of the examinees and the specific services provided cannot be disclosed."
That contract, first reported by Crain's Chicago Business, came several months after the Teachers Retirement System squelched a $250,000 fee Cherry was poised to receive if Sterling Venture Partners got an investment deal with the TRS. The Sterling deal was pushed by an associate of Tony Rezko, one of Blagojevich's two top fundraisers under scrutiny by the federal government.

Once that deal fell through, it appears, the Blagojevich administration apparently found another way to reward Cherry by selecting him to investigate insurance fraud under a lucrative no-bid contract that the administration refused to talk about much to Crain's.

It's unclear how much Mr. Cherry is likely to earn from the work; the Insurance Division wouldn't comment, and he didn't return repeated phone calls.
The significance of the story is that the feds have subpoenaed the aborted Cherry-Sterling arrangement, as first reported last year by the Chicago Tribune.

The entire Cherry saga exactly fits the Joe Cari plea agreement last year in which Cari described a reward system for contributors in the form of pension fees and no-bid contracts.

The news media has only dug up $60,000 that Cherry raised for Blagojevich, but the amount is undoubtedly higher. It looks like Cherry was the lawyer for the Buffalo Grove based International Profit Associates, which gave Blagojevich more than $100,000. That money has since been returned, as this New York Times article indicates, because the man running IPA, John Burgess, was found to have quite a colorful past. Who knows what other money Cherry helped rustle up.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Out of Africa, corruption is OK with Barack


The Africa tour about nothing continues, as a compliant media continues to treat Barack Obama like a prince. Whatever he does, whatever he says is treated with unquestioned reverence.

A CBS-2 story just breathlessly informed us that Prince Barack is concerned about corruption in Kenya.

Sen. Obama said he may ask the president of Kenya about that Friday when they meet.

"Corruption has been pervasive in this country. It's considered one of the 20 most corrupt nations on earth in terms of just daily interactions, everything from the top of the government all the way down to the bureaucratic… at the airports," Obama said.
This, just a week after Prince Barack was on the same stage as Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is under nine separate state and federal corruption investigations, and state Treasurer hopeful Alexi Giannoulias, whose bank made loans to mobsters.

Did Barack speak up last week about corruption in Springfield at the State Fair? Guess it's OK in this state, when it involves his own political party. Just don't let it happen in Kenya. Roll tape.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Richest campaign ever uses state employees

Your vacation is over there, John!

This picture in a nutshell should tell Illinois voters all they need to know about the bandit administration of Rod Blagojevich.

Already stocked with the biggest warchest of campaign money of any governor in state history, Blagojevich decided to save a little of it today by hurrying out a taxpayer-funded state employee to respond to a political press conference. The picture above (courtesy CBS-2 Chicago), shows campaign spokeswoman Sheila Nix directing Blagojevich budget director John Filan to a hastily called press conference in front of the James R. Thompson state building in the Loop.

Filan was responding to Judy Baar Topinka's comprehensive proposal unveiled today to dig the state out of the financial mess that Rod Blagojevich and Filan created. Topinka's proposal was political and it would be illegal to use state employees on state time to respond politically.

When called on it, the Blagojevich campaign said Filan was on vacation today -- although most people I know don't wear clothes like that on vacation.

Filan told everyone there that he was taking a vacation day so JBT's campaign knows that — there is no question about taxpayer dollars. Also, since JBT's announcement was about the budget, it makes sense to have someone who really understands the numbers and process give an opinion on its credibility.
I wonder if U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will find this explanation satisfactory. I also wonder whether those detailed rebuttals to Topinka's plan that Filan is holding in his hand also were done by state budget employees on vacation. Those rebuttals showed up in the in-boxes of political reporters about two hours after Topinka's announcement.

Guess it was just lucky that today a bunch of state budget crunchers happened to be on vacation on the same day and were not sightseeing or sipping margaritas on a beach like most vacationers so they were available on their "home" computers to dissect Topinka's plan.

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Memo to NY Times: Rove was cleared

Peoria Pundit has it right -- the NY Times prints the "news" not a single non-rabid liberal cares about.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Gatekeeper Zorn opens the door


Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, who I have described as the unofficial "gatekeeper" of wrongful prosecution stories, came out this morning in favor of a full evidentiary hearing for Alstory Simon (right), the man who replaced Anthony Porter (left) in prison.

Zorn had supported a hearing in his blog but his call for a hearing in his more well-read column represents a thaw in the media-freeze on the biggest story you've never read about -- the very real possibility that the Porter exoneration and all its national attention was a fraud.

I have written extensively on this case here.

Zorn is a gatekeeper of sorts because once he decides to write about a wrongful prosecution case the rest of the media often gets interested. We'll see what happens here -- Cook County Judge Evelyn Clay is scheduled to rule next week on whether Simon deserves a new hearing.

I don't often agree with Zorn's portrayal of wrongful prosecution cases I've been involved with, and I note today he omits many compelling new developments in the Simon case in framing today's column. Yet I give him great credit for several concessions that you won't hear from many journalists.

First, he concedes the story makes him uncomfortable because it conflicts with what he's previously written.

But it's difficult for me to back Simon's effort, largely due to my own conflicts of interest:

Simon's factual guilt in the slayings is a key assumption in many of the commentaries I've written about capital punishment in the last seven years. It was Simon's confession in 1999 that led almost immediately to the high-profile exoneration of Anthony Porter, who had been sent to Death Row after being convicted in those slayings. And his exoneration played a big role in death penalty reforms in Illinois, the mass commutation of condemned prisoners and the moratorium on executions that continues today.
Second, he notices it's important not to abandon reason and principle just because he doesn't like the storyline.

But if I've learned anything in more than a dozen years of banging my shoe on the table about the fallibilities of our legal system, it's that beliefs and conflicts of interest can be poisonous to the search for truth, no matter how good anyone's intentions.

And that the first step toward injustice always involves people abandoning principle when it threatens to conflict with what they "know" to be true.
Zorn's begrudging call for a new hearing in this case ought to be a clarion call to the rest of the media to quit ignoring the blockbuster of the year.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Rod's gifts that keep giving

We have already documented how Rod Blagojevich's family income jumped considerably since he became governor. The Daily Herald's Eric Krol documented he also has been receiving some mystery gifts as well.

The graphics below tell the story. They are from the Illinois Secretary of State's website. All high-ranking state officials must annually complete a Statement of Economic Interest that details investments, gifts, etc.
This is what Rod filed in May 2004 for calendar year 2003 in the "gifts" section. As you can see, any gifts of $500 or more must be declared.

In March 2005, one month after Rod was questioned by federal agents in relation to corruption investigations, he amended his 2004 filing. He changed his disclosures in the "gifts" section.

Here's the amended gift section for calendar year 2003. Note that he dropped the language about baby/baptism gifts and added five individuals or couples. What were those gifts? Rod won't say.

Here's the section for both calendar year 2004 and 2005. Same as the amendment for calendar year 2003. So, in aggregate, Rod has accepted at least $12,000 in gifts the past three years and won't say what he accepted. Cash? A car? A boat? Let your imagination run wild because our "reform" governor refuses to tell you.

Who are the people he accepted gifts from?

Chris Kelly, Tony Rezko -- Rod's two top fundraisers. Both are under scrutiny by the U.S. Attorney's office in various corruption investigations. They are the two "close associates" of Public Official A in the infamous Joe Cari plea agreement, according to published reports. Those same published reports name Blagojevich as Public Official A.

Lon Monk -- Rod's chief of staff and now, his campaign manager.

John Wyma -- Lobbyist who has made hundreds of thousands of dollars by representing companies that do business with the state.

Betty Bukraba -- Member of the state's Civil Service Commission, the panel that is deciding the fate of key whistleblowers in the governor's hiring scandal.

Mike, Beverly Ascaridis -- Mike Ascaridis is Rod's longtime friend. His wife is an employee of the state Department of Natural Resources.

Richard and Marge Mell -- Patti Blagojevich's parents.

Robert and Julie Blagojevich -- Rod's brother and his wife.

Rod needs to clear the air on this.

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Sun-Times abandons pretense of objectivity

Not only is the Sun-Times, as Tom Roeser puts it, the Democratic newspaper of record, I'll take it a step further. It's like a corporate PR firm hired to promote the party.

First it gives Rahm Emanuel two pages to excerpt his book outlining his new contract for America. Then, it gives Barack Obama wall-to-wall stenographic coverage of his trip to Africa, complete with a separate web page and fawning video interviews of other Democrats talking about the trip.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, the Democrats in Illinois are engulfed in robust corruption investigations of the Mayor and Governor. The Sun-Times is most egregiously negligent when it comes to Emanuel. He has been implicated in the city of Chicago investigations as receiving illegal political help, yet instead of intense questions from the paper, he gets intense promotion.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Rocket Rod and Fast Eddie


You don't hear Rod Blagojevich talk about it, especially in front of African-American audiences, but he worked against the election of Harold Washington for Chicago Mayor as a campaign aide of Fast Eddie Vrdolyak.

The connection between Fast Eddie and Public Official A might be relevant because of today's story in the Sun-Times. Here is part of a story from the Tribune on March 23, 1987, co-written by R. Bruce Dold, now the paper's editorial page editor.
King Peter Banks, leader of the church, called on his flock to support Vrdolyak, who is running on the Illinois Solidarity Party ticket in the April 7 general election.

"This is a great man," Banks said. "His job is to protect the city. My job is to save souls. We can work together. It is time that this city must come together. This was a great city. Now you can't walk down the street in peace."

Vrdolyak, after being serenaded with several gospel songs from the 75- member choir, spoke briefly to the crowd.

"I'm not here to knock anybody or tear anybody down," Vrdolyak said. "I'm here to say the only thing that separates us is the color green, dollars, economics, education."

Vrdolyak said he met Banks because the church owns several banquet halls near his Far South Side 10th Ward. Banks' former attorney, Rod Blagojevich, is a campaign aide to Vrdolyak.
Makes you wonder what kind of deal Blagojevich/Vrdolyak cut to get King Peter Banks' support.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Senator Obama strikes out

Obama Split Grip

Saint Obama either was channeling Ty Cobb in this Southern Illinoisan photo or he doesn't know anything about baseball. The last player I know of who used a "split grip" on a baseball bat was Cobb nearly 100 years ago.

If this was a Republican wonderkind (does the media allow them?) looking like such a doofus at our national pasttime, it would get attention across the country. Since it's the Messiah, I'm sure it will pass quietly.

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Public Official A(be)?

Now that Rod Blagojevich has compared himself to Abe Lincoln, the Topinka-Birkett campaign (a client) can see the similarities:
1. Abraham Lincoln preserved the union. Rod Blagojevich preserved the union (Service Employees International Union).

2. We all owe a great debt to Abraham Lincoln's leadership. Because of Rod Blagojevich, our state is in great debt.

3. President Lincoln, for obvious reasons, didn't travel south. Rod Blagojevich, for obvious reasons, doesn't travel south.

4. Abraham Lincoln put Springfield on the map. Rod Blagojevich needs a map to find Springfield.

5. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was opposed by a great General, Robert E. Lee. During his tenure in office, Rod Blagojevich is opposed by a great prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald.

6. When he was president, there was no doubt Abraham Lincoln was running the country. Since he has been governor, there is no doubt Rod Blagojevich is running on the streets of the northwest side of Chicago (with the state troopers following behind.)

7. Abraham Lincoln is known for splitting rails. Rod Blagojevich is known for splitting legal fees with trial lawyer Bob Clifford

8. Abraham Lincoln gave us timeless phrases such as "a house divided cannot stand…" and "four score and seven years ago…" Rod Blagojevich has given us timeless phrases such as, "testicular virility" and "I'm not involved in those things."

9. Abraham Lincoln traveled for days across the state to debate important public issues. Rod Blagojevich travels for days across the country to raise money.

10. Lincoln was known as "Honest A-B-E." Rod Blagojevich is known as "Public Official A."

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Was this cabin a crime scene?


We've already talked about the feds' taping of 1,600 calls to and from Stuart Levine's home in early 2005 at a time he was not under indictment. Certainly, a few of those calls could be big trouble for the Blagojevich administration.

So could any conversations that took place Oct. 29, 2003, aboard this corporate jet (above). Rod, Joe Cari, Stuart Levine and a few others were in close quarters on that flight from O'Hare to New Jersey. The three were headed to New York for a day of fundraising.

Cari and Levine have since been indicted. Was a fundraising scheme like the one Cari described in his plea agreement discussed on the plane?

I'm sure the feds already know the answer about what was discussed.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rod just cost us $510,528.64

A federal judge just ordered the State of Illinois to pay the video game industry $510,528.64 in legal fees for the law that banned violent video game sales to minors.

The court threw out the law and made Illinois pay for the industry's legal costs, an outcome predicted by many people, including Democratic State Senator John Cullerton.

"I am very disappointed that the state of Illinois has to pay these fees for what was such a clearly unconstitutional law from the start," said Senator Cullerton, Illinois 6th District State Senator. "When I spoke against the law in Springfield, I predicted we would have to pay legal fees. The amount ordered paid to the plaintiffs by Judge Kennelly doesn't even count the substantial fees the State will have to pay its own lawyers."
Governor Rod Blagojevich and his lawyers knew the law would be struck down, but went ahead anyway to get the maximum amount of press. I know this issue intimately because former Attorney General Jim Ryan put me in charge of his effort to curb sales of the games to children.

We considered proposing the same legislation but decided not to because we knew the courts would strike it down. Instead, we did stings and got many of the national retail chains to "card" youngsters.

We went for results and Rod went for PR. He doesn't care that taxpayers have to pick up the pieces. That's how he governs.

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Obama shows he's just another hack

The news media continues to hail Illinois Senator Barack Obama as a transcendent figure. Today's statement he issued in reaction to the foiled terrorist plot shows he's a run-of-the-mill political hack. Note the part in bold from Obama's statement, which mirrors the statement put out by the Democratic National Committee:

"Today's report that British authorities foiled an attack on airplanes traveling from London to the United States is a sobering reminder that the world remains a very dangerous place. It also reminds us how important it is to have strong allies in this fight that can help stop these attacks before they reach our shores. The cooperation between British and U.S. officials and the subsequent precautions taken to secure our people are admirable. I hope in the coming days we do more to secure our ports, our chemical plants, and our airports and railways, as the 9/11 commission recommended long ago."
Here is the relevant part of today's DNC statement:

...That means tracking down terrorists and providing our troops and agencies with the tools they need to stop future attacks, implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations to close the gaps in our security, securing our ports and borders, chemical and nuclear power plants and properly equipping our first responders and our national guard....
Obama here is trying to have it both ways -- show that he recognizes terrorism is a serious threat but also toe the party line about ports, in particular. Transcendent figures don't mix sincerity with insincerity.

And what is it with Democrats and our ports? Every chance they get, they wail about our ports being security sieves. If so, why isn't al Qaeda attacking us there? Probably because even the terrorists know Democrats can't be trusted to give a straight answer about national security.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Disaster for Dems in Connecticut

Disregard what the MSM is saying about Joe Lieberman's defeat in the Democrat primary this week in Connecticut. The reality is that it is a train wreck for the party because it will embolden the zealots and further crowd out the moderates.

John McIntyre of Real Clear Politics captures the sentiment.

The "Bring Them Home, Bring Them Home" chant may win congressional districts in San Francisco and Seattle as well as Democratic primaries in solidly blue states, but it is not a serious policy. Just what does "Bring Them Home" really mean? Bring them home and Ahmadinejad suddenly gives up his pursuit of nukes, Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah domesticate and forego terror? Leftists, pacifists and Pat Buchanan isolationists may be that naïve, but the majority of Americans are not.

The civilized world is at a very dangerous moment. There is no question that the Bush administration has made a bucket load of mistakes in fighting this war, but they (and thus America) are fighting. Bring them home is the equivalent of "we quit, we give up." Americans aren't quitters and the majority of Connecticut's citizens aren't quitters, as Lieberman's likely win in November will prove.

The Democrats have an insurgency of their own that is rapidly gaining strength, and Lieberman is the first high profile victim. But in the long run the real victim will be the Democratic Party if they continue to purge the few remaining FDR/Truman/Scoop Jackson Democrats from their ranks.
A weakened Republican Party will be saved by the missteps of Democrats.

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Stu's lawyer speaks

Savvy Associated Press reporter Mike Robinson kept pounding away and finally got the first interview with Stuart Levine's new lawyer, a plea agreement specialist. He didn't say much but left the clear impression that Stu's plea will be made public soon.

"I can't comment on our direction right now, but I may be able to do so in the near future," Levine's newest attorney, Jeffrey B. Steinback, said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. He said that could be as soon as two hearings set for next month.
All eyes in Illinois politics will be following those hearings to see if public statements or documents are revealed that implicate the Governor or his top people.

Prosecutors plainly would like to hear anything Levine might say about what they charge were extortion, fraud and shakedowns and whether the trail of evidence leads into Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration.
If Stu has anything, expect an indictment or two later this month and a detailed plea agreement in September.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Will Stu's phone bring down Governor Phony?

Stu Levine-1TelephoneQuestionmark

The phones were buzzing today after Sneed suggested Stuart Levine was wearing a wire the past 11 months.

Nobody seems to know if that rumor is true. Even if it is, the bigger danger for the Blagojevich administration is this sentence in Saturday's Tribune story.

Federal prosecutors have said Levine was recorded on the telephone telling investment firms seeking business from the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System to hire certain consultants. A wiretap placed on Levine's home phone for several months in 2005 captured more than 1,600 calls, according to court records.
If Stu was wearing a wire, he was doing it AFTER he was indicted twice -- for schemes at the state board that approves hospital construction and the state teacher pension board. It is unlikely, even if he was wired, that he snared too many accomplices.

However, the phone calls are another story. Here is a timeline of Stu's troubles and where the phone calls fit in.

FALL 2003 -- Rod Blagojevich, Democratic fundraiser Joe Cari and Levine fly together on a private jet to a fundraiser in New York. Cari and Levine would later be indicted.

JULY 2004 -- News breaks that Levine is under suspicion of extortion at the Health Facilities Planning board.


MAY 2005 -- Levine is indicted by feds for health board schemes.

JULY 2005 -- News breaks that feds are investigating Levine and Cari schemes at pension board.

AUGUST 2005 -- Levine, Cari and others are indicted in pension board schemes.

SEPTEMBER 2005 -- Feds release Cari plea agreement where he says Levine told him Public Official A and his two close associates are operating a scheme to trade pension fees and contracts to companies and individuals that contribute to Public Official A's campaign fund. The media has reported that Public Official A is Blagojevich and the two close associates are Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko.

It's clear that the phone calls came prior to any Levine indictments and prior to news reports that revealed Levine's connection to pension board schemes. Seems he would have been much more likely during that time period to get people to talk to him -- rather than after his two indictments.

We already know that in that collection of 1,600 calls, prosecutors have turned over 50 or so conversations with Nicholas Hurtgen and Jacob Kiferbaum, two co-defendants in the health board indictments.

What about those other 1,550 calls? And I wonder what Cari and Levine told feds was discussed on that airplane ride with Rod in 2003?

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Monday, August 7, 2006

Media-battered special prosecutor fights back

The Burge special prosecutor who was sainted and then flogged in the space of a week by the Chicago Tribune is fighting back.

Edward Egan did an interview this evening with CBS-2 Chicago where he unloaded on defense lawyer Flint Taylor, who has been given a free pass by the Tribune and then the Sun-Times to launch far-fetched attacks at Egan's report, which wasn't sufficiently damning to police and prosecutors for both papers' taste.

Egan showed a flair for the soundbite in his interview with Mike Parker.

"Mr. Taylor gets 75 percent of his income from suing policemen and municipalities," Egan said. "I've described him as a legal huckster. His name is G. Flint Taylor and, in my opinion, the 'G' stands for ‘Gimme.'"
He wasn't done yet.
"The most dangerous position to be in in the justice system is between Flint Taylor and a television camera," Egan said.
Congratulations to Parker for giving Egan's side of this. Maybe the Trib and Sun-Times will stop allowing Taylor to hijack its news pages.

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Sunday, August 6, 2006

What Stu knows could be deadly to Rod

Stu LevineRodbangs-2

This weekend, the Tribune and then Sun-Times confirmed that indicted businessman Stuart Levine is cooperating with the feds in the ongoing corruption investigation into the activities of Rod Blagojevich's campaign and the government he runs. This rumor has been around for weeks and the papers finally got enough confirmation to run the story.

The reason this is huge is that the feds already have laid out a storyline that, if true, will result in top level indictments, including possibly the governor. Overstatement? Read what the feds said Levine told Democratic fundraiser Joe Cari in Cari's plea agreement filed last September. "Public Official A" has been identified in news reports as Blagojevich and his "close associates" as Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko.

Levine and Cari had previously discussed the use of consultants. Levine said that a high ranking Illinois public official ("Public Official A"), acting through two close associates, was selecting consultants for the private equity funds that appeared before the State Pension Funds. Levine said that this was part of a fundraising strategy. Levine said that Public Official A, and his associates, were going to pick law firms, investment banking firms, and consultants that would help Public Official A.

Levine had advised Cari that Levine and Public Official A's two associates had agreed that they would not let an Illinois public pension fund, including TRS, invest in a private equity fund unless a consultant selected by Levine or those associates was hired. Levine told Cari that consultants selected by Levine and those associates would subsequently be required to make certain political or charitable contributions as directed by Levine and
those associates. Cari understood that requiring Firm 4 to hire a consultant was part of that plan.
If Levine has concrete evidence for the feds -- emails, correspondence, wired conversations, etc., -- it could be over for Blagojevich and his cronies. If Levine's evidence is good, I'd imagine there's a possibility the feds could move to freeze his campaign fund because it was the center of the scheme.

If anyone believes the Levine angle is a long-shot, consider what we know. We know Rod Blagojevich came out of nowhere to become the most prolific fundraiser in Illinois history by far. We know that analysis after analysis by the Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily Herald and others show a deep connection between contracts and appointments and fundraising.

All the above has always indicated to me a systematic harvesting of money beyond typical fundraising efforts. Levine and Cari describe this system, or at least part of it.

Blagojevich and company will throw out misdirection describing Levine's Republican ties. I hope the news media doesn't fall for that canard. The precise point to consider is why did the Blagojevich campaign operation embrace Stuart Levine, who, after all, was a top fundraiser for his opponent in 2002. The answer, I believe, is that Levine was viewed as a valuable asset in the only arena that the Blagojevich operation cares about -- fundraising. We are about to find out just how valuable Levine was becoming to Rod before he got caught -- and just how deadly he now is to Blagojevich and company.

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Friday, August 4, 2006

First of Blago's buddies enters prison

Thanks to Marathon Pundit, we know that Robert Creamer, former field director for Rod Blagojevich's 2002 campaign for governor, has entered federal prison in Indiana for his check kiting scheme.

Creamer also was standing next to Rod in 2001 when he blasted the Republican governor and attorney general for not doing enough to keep gas prices down. At the time, gas was less than $2 a gallon.

Of course today Blagojevich absolves the governor and attorney general of blame for gas prices that top $3 a gallon. He blames the president.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Trib's torturous turn on its legal giants

Both Chicago papers were giddy with excitement over the release of the Burge torture report, which I'm sure reporters and editors believed would name names and put the hammer down on a flotilla of police and prosecutors for misconduct.

There's no story the Tribune loves more than that. So in preparation, to sharpen the contrast between good and evil, they profiled the two special prosecutors, Appellate Court Judge Edward Egan and former prosecutor Robert Boyle, calling them at one point in the story, "giants among men." Here's the lede:
When Cook County's chief Criminal Court judge chose a special prosecutor team in 2002 to investigate one of the biggest scandals in police history--allegations of systematic torture under former Chicago Cmdr. Jon Burge--he picked two men regarded by colleagues as legal giants.
Prosecutors only get that kind of coverage from the Tribune when they go after other prosecutors.

But to the chagrin of many in the Tower, I'm sure, the report was damning toward some police and prosecutors but it was far from the blockbuster many expected. So in the intervening days, the paper has vented by allowing defense lawyer/bomb thrower Flint Taylor to take one shot after another at Mayor Richard Daley, Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine and others who had a role in the Burge case over the years. In the process, Taylor is saying the report was not worthy of a couple of legal giants.

This evening the latest Taylor rantings were given serious and lengthy coverage again in the Tribune. The Trib can't take back its "legal giants" title, but it can do the next best thing: it can give a defense lawyer who has never been called a legal giant himself (so says Nexis) a free pass to try to chop them down to size.

Double talk or double billing?

We're not done with the Blagojevich campaign's answer about $722,000 in legal bills to Winston & Strawn.

Here's what Eric Krol from the Daily Herald wrote on May 13 about the Blagojevich administration's hiring of a law firm on the taxpayers' dime.

The state also hired a law firm at $295 an hour to review state hiring practices. Schiff Hardin has given Friends of Blagojevich $13,500 and already is representing the governor when authorities request documents as part of multiple ongoing probes.
Here, once again, is Blagojevich campaign spokeswoman Sheila Nix this week on what the campaign is paying Winston & Strawn for:

Campaign spokeswoman Sheila Nix said the firm's work includes routine election law, handling nuisance lawsuits and reviewing state hiring procedures to make sure they comply with the law.
I guess the Blagojevich campaign can get away with stonewalling about its legal bills as long as the news media allows it. But we're talking about taxpayer money here and someone needs to ask why we have hired a governmental law firm that is doing the exact same thing that the campaign law firm is doing.

That is, if the answers the Blagojevich government and campaign are giving are accurate.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Nix-onian answers

Sheila Nix is Governor Blagojevich's campaign spokeswoman. She is one of the twin towers of babble (Abby Ottenhoff is the other) who defend Rod when he isn't around to defend himself, which is most of the time.

It is understandable that Blagojevich's campaign doesn't want to answer why it is being billed at a rate of $1.5 million a year by the same firm that represented George Ryan against corruption charges. Everyone who has followed this governor knows that the legal bills are to defend against his own state and federal corruption investigations.

Yet here's what we get from Camp Blago:

Campaign spokeswoman Sheila Nix said the firm's work includes routine election law, handling nuisance lawsuits and reviewing state hiring procedures to make sure they comply with the law.

Nix would not discuss whether it also includes responding to a federal probe of Blagojevich hiring practices or the similar state investigation recently shelved at the request of federal prosecutors.

"I'm not going to go into any more detail," she said. "Winston & Strawn does a lot of legal services. I've told you what the vast majority of them are, but I'm not going to talk about any more specific than that."

Nix said Winston & Strawn's bill may be inaccurate. She said the campaign disputes "a fair portion" of the total.
What? Let's go over the answer.

1. Routine election law. That is a charge that usually sets a big campaign back anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000. An irrelevancy.

2. Nuisance lawsuits. I don't believe there any nuisance lawsuits filed against the campaign. And if they are truly "nuisance" lawsuits, government lawyers can dispose of them quite legitimately.

3. Reviewing hiring procedures. Rod Blagojevich said in 2005 that Winston did that work in 2003 when the firm recommended systems be put in place to ensure proper conduct. These bills are for the first six months of 2006. Nice try, Sheila.

Those are three of the lamest explanations possible for the $722,000 in legal bills. The whole world seems to know the charges are for serious criminal defense work but Sheila Nix tries to tell us "black is white." On this one, I hope the media bores in.

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No more freebies, Rod

Reporters didn't stay up very late last night and largely missed or underplayed a bombshell -- the Rod Blagojevich campaign's disclosure of $687,839 in legal fees to Winston & Strawn.

Don't know what to make of it, but the Blagojevich campaign at first listed fees of $839,656 and then within an hour amended the report to list the lower figure.

And they listed most of it as a campaign debt and then said in the paper this morning that it was disputing the fees. One theory I've heard that makes sense is that the Blago people hoped to delay disclosure of the fees until after the election but somebody advised them that the feds are watching closely and they better follow the law.

After all, legal bills from Winston were minimal in 2005 even though the feds interviewed Rod in February 2005. Looks to me like the bills already were sent through mighty slowly.

The amount of fees incurred blows away the facade Blagojevich's spokespeople have tried to create about the seriousness of the nine state and federal investigations. Any organization that is incurring legal bills at a rate of $1.5 million a year is facing trouble. And remember that it is highly likely that the fees are understated as much as possible. And that the investigations have a long way to go, portending millions more in fees.

Is this who we want as our governor for another four years?

Then there is the question of government legal fees. The Blagojevich administration has never come clean on the hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions that taxpayers are being billed to fight back these allegations.

Of course the irony here is that Winston & Strawn, led by Jim Thompson, is the law firm that represented George Ryan for free in his long corruption trial and conviction.

Big Jim's firm may have lost a lot of money representing George, but it has a new client that might make up for it defending against the largest onslaught of corruption investigations a governor's office has ever seen in Illinois. If I were Big Jim, though, I'd collect as quickly as possible before TV ads drain the fund or the feds freeze it.

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