United States President-elect Barack Obama has called on Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to resign following his arrest on charges that he tried to "sell" Mr Obama’s senate seat.
Mr Blagojevich has the authority, as governor, to pick Mr Obama’s successor. FBI investigators said telephone intercepts showed that Mr Blagojevich had been offered campaign cash by a man who was interested in taking the seat. Federal agents quoted by ABC News named Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr as the man who offered Mr Blagojevich the money.
Mr Obama said on Tuesday he was "saddened and sobered" by the case, but insisted he had had no contact with the governor over the Senate seat. As fellow Democrats in the hothouse of Chicago politics, the two have had dealings with each other, but they are not personally close and there is no suggestion so far that anything will emerge to damage the president-elect, reports BBC.
The US Attorney’s Office released a 76-page FBI affidavit detailing the charges against Mr Blagojevich, which includes transcripts of his telephone conversations intercepted by court-authorised wiretaps over the last month. In the conversations, the Democratic governor allegedly discussed offering Mr Obama’s Senate seat in return for getting a well-paid position at a non-profit organisation or a group affiliated with trades unions, according to the affidavit.
In the transcripts, on November 3, Mr Blagojevich said the seat was a "[expletive] valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing". The day after the presidential election, according to the affidavit, Mr Blagojevich was recorded as saying: "I’ve got this thing and it’s [expletive] golden, and uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing."
In transcripts of telephone conversations released by the FBI on Tuesday, Mr Blagojevich is quoted saying that a man referred to by officials as Senate Candidate 5 would "raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him a Senator". When asked whether he was Senate Candidate 5, Mr Jackson said "I don’t know".
Mr Jackson, son of the prominent civil rights leader and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson Sr, told ABC news he had been asked to talk to "share with [federal investigators] my insights and thoughts about the selection process". But he insisted he was "not a target of this investigation".
Prosecutors said Mr Obama, who is not close to Mr Blagojevich, was not involved in the alleged wrongdoing. Mr Obama’s official spokesman said the President-elect wanted Mr Blagojevich to resign. "Under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois."
And he said that the Mr Obama was keen for the Illinois legislature to consider holding a special election to fill the seat. Lawmakers in Illinois have said they could hold a special legislative session as early as Monday to work out the details of the special election. Mr Blagojevich, who was arrested on Tuesday, was released on bail after appearing before a federal judge and arrived at his office for work on Wednesday.
His attorney told reporters that Mr Blagojevich believed he did not do anything wrong and did not have any plans to resign. Federal investigators, who have been working on a case against Mr Blagojevich for several years, have charged him with a number of offences including soliciting a bribe. The charges relate to a variety of corruption schemes in which the governor was allegedly involved, including so-called "pay to play" deals, the doling out of jobs, contracts and appointments in return for campaign contributions.
Illinois politicians have called for a special election to be held to fill Mr Obama’s vacant Senate seat. Mr Blagojevich also allegedly talked about getting his wife Patti placed on a corporate board. In addition, he has been charged with illegally threatening to block state aid to the company that owns the Chicago Tribune newspaper.
Mr Blagojevich allegedly demanded that the company fire members of its editorial board in return for financial assistance in the sale of Wrigley Field, a Chicago sports stadium. The governor was elected on a pledge to clean up after his predecessor who has been under investigation by the FBI for some time.
His attitude to the federal agents has been defiant, almost cocky, says our correspondent. Twenty-four hours before his arrest, he was challenging his critics to tap his phones and bug his offices, apparently unaware that the FBI was doing exactly that. The governor’s chief of staff, John Harris, has also been arrested.
At a press conference, Patrick Fitzgerald, the US lawyer in charge of the investigation, described Mr Blagojevich’s actions as a "corruption crime spree". And he said that the allegations represented a "truly new low" and a "sad day for government" in Illinois.
"The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," he added. Mr Fitzgerald has been involved in a number of high-profile prosecutions in recent years. He led the case against the former vice-presidential chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, as well as heading up the investigation into media tycoon Conrad Black. The prosecutor was also involved in the corruption trial of Mr Blagojevich’s predecessor as Illinois governor, George Ryan. Three of the state’s governors have been jailed on corruption charges in the last 35 years.