Tapes reveal unvarnished Blagojevich pushing for campaign money
CHICAGO — Three days before he was arrested, Rod Blagojevich was getting bad news from his brother Robert. Their goal of boosting the Illinois governor's campaign fund to $4 million was quickly fading.
The governor was not happy.
"Oh, this is no good, forget that. This is not good, I mean your, your numbers keep coming down," Rod Blagojevich told his older brother, his rising voice captured by an FBI wiretap of Robert Blagojevich's cell phone. "You were safely at one, you know, 1 mill-, uh, uh, at 4 million ... now we're down to, 250 thousand short of that?"
An irritated sounding Robert Blagojevich barks back: "Listen to me." He tries to explain to his brother "the delivery's not there," ticking off a list of disappointing fundraisers: "I'm short on the Hispanic event. ... The Greeks have dropped off. ... "
Just two weeks in, the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has already presented plenty of courtroom drama and theatrics. But one of the most anticipated aspects of the case is the promise of hearing hours of secret recordings federal authorities made of Blagojevich that show the then-governor in all his unvarnished glory.
While they form just a one-sided snapshot at this point, the 24 recordings that have so far been played in court portray the famously unfocused governor being intensely focused about raising money.
At the same time, he insults friends and supporters and, of course, talks about his hair.
When Alonzo "Lon" Monk, a longtime Blagojevich friend who testified against the ex-governor, asks him how he's doing, Blagojevich responds, "Good, just got back from a haircut."
And when the wife of a fundraiser told Robert Blagojevich she loved both men's hair, he just had to tell his younger brother.
"She loves our hair by the way," Robert tells Rod. "Loves your hair and loves my hair ... because it's all real I guess."
When the Chicago Tribune revealed in December 2008 that investigators had recorded him as part of their corruption probe, Blagojevich responded on the day before his arrest, "I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful, and the things I'm interested in are always lawful."
The ex-governor and defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. have repeatedly said since then that the recorded conversations do not amount to crimes, that his fundraising was legal and that he was victimized by associates trying to make money without his knowledge.
The vast majority of the recordings made public by prosecutors, though, are aimed at supporting their case that Rod Blagojevich was deeply involved in a corrupt scheme to leverage money from people who wanted something from the governor's office. The recordings make him sound like he is directing the extensive fundraising effort from his home.
He gets angry when donors aren't handing money over fast enough. He vents about friends who aren't pressuring contributors enough. He mocks those who have helped him in the past.
The only times he gets excited is when he gets news a check is on the way.
"I actually think I may get checks today," Monk tells him during a Nov. 20 conversation.
"Oh, excellent," Blagojevich says.
Those checks — which were supposed to come from horse track owner and Monk lobbying client John Johnston — never came. And the alleged shakedown of Johnston is now part of prosecutors' case against Blagojevich.
Throughout the recordings made public so far, Blagojevich is constantly pressuring his brother and Monk to press harder on donors.
"Jack them up," he says about two well-heeled Chicago attorneys.
"Drive it," he instructs his brother on Nov. 1, 2008, telling him to try to get another $100,000 from businessman Blair Hull before Election Day.
Hull had already donated or loaned more than $467,000 in money, food and use of his private plane to Blagojevich since his first run for governor in 2002.
After losing a primary race for the U.S. Senate against Barack Obama in 2004, Hull was interested in being appointed to the seat that Obama would later vacate for the White House.
With federal agents listening, Blagojevich talked with his brother about using Hull's interest to get a campaign donation.
"Blair Hull actually thinks he can be senator, you believe this guy?" Blagojevich says. His brother laughs.
"He's an idiot," the governor concludes.
Other supporters also were the target of Blagojevich's frustration, the recordings show.
In the Dec. 6 discussion, Blagojevich is overheard talking about his former Springfield roommate and House floor leader, state Rep. Jay Hoffman, and ripping him for not doing enough to help with fundraising from political action committees.
"That's bull — — ," Blagojevich says, describing how he "stiffed" Hoffman at the governor's office.
During the same conversation in which he's ripping Hoffman, Blagojevich is overheard telling his brother a way to get to that $4 million figure he was so desperate to reach was to tap the campaign funds of Hoffman, a Collinsville, Ill., Democrat, and state Sen. James DeLeo, D-Chicago.
"Then you can go ... and ask Jay to write a check and DeLeo write a check from their campaign accounts at the end, to get us to that number," Blagojevich says.
Asked to comment last week, Hoffman said, "The tape speaks for itself." DeLeo declined to comment.
For all his focus on fundraising, though, there were still times when Blagojevich thought of something else.
While talking to his brother on Nov. 13, Blagojevich quickly changes the topic about a possible fundraiser being held by former McPier executive Juan Ochoa to tell Robert Blagojevich he has been asking Ochoa for recommendations about renting a house for the week after Christmas.
"You want to do that if we can get that?" Rod Blagojevich asks.
Under pressure to hit the $4 million figure by Dec. 31, Robert hems and haws.
"Here's my hesitation, I mean, I really feel like I need to be here and close this thing out," Robert says.
"I'm tellin' you my experience," Rod responds. "No one's in town. It's, it's the worst time to ask people for money."
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Ochoa confirmed he did help the governor try to find a secluded home in Mexico, forwarding three options all at $1,000 a night. Ochoa said he never heard back.
Blagojevich never took the vacation, of course. On Dec. 9, he was rousted from bed by federal authorities and arrested.