WASHINGTON — Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested Tuesday on charges of trying to trade President - elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat for a lucrative job in the future Obama administration.
Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who brought the charges, described the allegations against Blagojevich as a "political corruption crime spree," but emphasized that he had no evidence Obama was aware of the scheme.
Although Obama is not implicated in the case, the arrest of a fellow Chicago Democrat is certain to be an unwelcome distraction for the Obama transition team at time when the president-elect is setting up his new administration.
In a short statement Tuesday afternoon, Obama said he was "saddened and sobered" by the allegations, but added he had "no contact with the governor or his office."
"And so I was not aware of what was happening," Obama said.
According to the criminal affidavit, Blagojevich hoped the Obama administration would appoint him Secretary of Health and Human Services or ambassador, but acknowledged it was unlikely “because of all the negative publicity” surrounding him.
Blagojevich was aware he was already under federal investigation for other pay-to-play allegations even as he speculated how he could sell the senate seat, the affidavit said.
The 76-page affidavit, which quotes lengthy taped phone and office conversations, appears to indicate that Obama’s advisers were not receptive to the scheme. In one passage, Blagojevich allegedly says he knew Obama wanted an unnamed "Senate Candidate 1" for the seat but that "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F--- them."
Fitzgerald's office noted in a news release that the senate candidate later withdrew from considering for the post and referred to the candidate as "her." Longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett, who was thought to be the front runner for the Senate job, withdrew from consideration and was named a special White House assistant.
Blagojevich's office did not return phone calls.