UPDATED: Arrested Illinois Governor Accused of Pressuring Trib to Fire Editorialists -- Excerpts from Phone Calls Here
Fitzgerald, Mark, Editor & Publisher
Federal authorities who arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday accuse him and his chief of staff John Harris of threatening to derail Tribune Co.'s sale of the Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field stadium unless certain members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board were fired.
The allegations are contained in a 78-page criminal complaint by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago that led to the stunning arrest of the sitting governor on charges that include soliciting bribes in connection with filling Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat and other acts of official corruption.
The complaint alleges that last month Blagojevich, through his chief of staff Harris, repeatedly threatened to withhold "substantial state financial assistance in connection with Wrigley Field, which assistance ROD BLAGOJEVICH believed to be worth at least $100 million to the Tribune Company, for the private purpose of inducing the controlling shareholder of the Tribune Company to fire members of the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper owned by the Tribune Company, who were responsible for editorials critical of ROD BLAGOJEVICH."
According to the complaint, Blagojevich -- who had been widely reported to be under federal investigation as aides and campaign donors went on trial for corruption -- was worried he might be indicted, and that the Tribune editorial board would call for his impeachment.
The complaint names one member, Deputy Editorial Page Editor John McCormick, as a specific target of the conspiracy. Blagojevich allegedly sent the message through Harris and an unnamed Tribune executive to Sam Zell demanding the firing, and suggesting it could come amid the layoffs of the past weeks.
The complaint is occasionally R-rated as Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, are heard on wire taps complaining about the newspaper. The Tribune and the rival Chicago Sun-Times have published investigative articles about Patti Blagojevich's real estate business in the past.
McCormick did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. A Tribune spokesperson also did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Here's an excerpt from the complaint: "During the call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH's wife can be heard in the background telling ROD BLAGOJEVICH to tell Deputy Governor A 'to hold up that fucking Cubs shit. . . fuck them.' ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked Deputy Governor A what he thinks of his wife's idea. Deputy Governor A stated that there is a part of what ROD BLAGOJEVICH's wife said that he 'agree[s] with.'
"Deputy Governor A told ROD BLAGOJEVICH that Tribune Owner will say that he does not have anything to do with the editorials, 'but I would tell him, look, if you want to get your Cubs thing done get rid of this Tribune. …