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Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006 09:05 pm

See no evil

Blagojevich oblivious to problems close to his administration

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Photo by Pete Souza/MCT

As with George Ryan before him, I’m really finding it difficult to believe that Gov. Rod Blagojevich is as clueless as he claims.

Blagojevich says he had absolutely no idea that Tony Rezko was up to no good. Rezko is a very close friend of the governor’s who raised millions of dollars for his campaign, has put many people into important positions in Blagojevich’s administration, and was a business partner of Mrs. Blagojevich’s for eight years.

Rezko was indicted last week by the federal government for a host of corrupt activities that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald termed a “pay-to-play scheme on steroids.”

The governor says he occasionally asked Rezko about all of the allegations floating around. “He reassured me over and over again,” that he was clean, Blagojevich told the editorial board of the Daily Southtown last week.

Blagojevich also told the paper that he didn’t pay attention to the allegations about Rezko for the past two-and-a-half years because they were just “rumors.”

Apparently the governor has absolutely no trust or interest in this state’s newspapers, which have been diligently reporting tales of Rezko’s nefarious antics since at least 2004. If the governor is telling the truth, he must not have done more than skim just a few of those dozens of stories. A closer read would have set off serious alarm bells in any reasonable mind.

Back in July 2004, during the height of a campaign-year sex scandal involving Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan, I wrote that the “scandal of the year” was not about sex but about some dirty state deals that allegedly involved Rezko. “The governor needs to clean up his own house,” I wrote back then, “or somebody is going to the big house.”

This was not an unusual opinion at the time. The papers were full of stories about Rezko and have been ever since. But the governor claims that none of it was serious enough to spur him to action.

Here’s the real kicker, though. The Southtown also asked the governor if he was confident that Chris Kelly, his friend, fundraiser, and adviser, would never be indicted.

“Yeah. Yes. They’re two different people, by the way, and it’s a different relationship. Chris and I are much closer. Chris is the head of my political campaign. That’s someone I talk to a lot more frequently. I’m confident, yes.”

But Kelly plays a significant role in the prosecutors’ version of Rezko’s alleged lawbreaking. Kelly’s alleged role was also highlighted in Democratic fundraiser Joe Cari’s guilty plea.

According to both the Rezko indictment and Cari’s plea, Kelly was allegedly part of a shakedown scam designed to fatten the governor’s campaign account. Kelly, who denies all wrongdoing, is not mentioned by name, but reports and sources indicate that he is the guy that the feds were referring to.

If the U.S. attorney’s office is to be believed, Kelly, the governor’s best buddy, the head of the governor’s political campaign, the man the governor trusts more than anyone else in politics, at the very least had a hand in some seriously corrupt activities. Yet the governor flatly denies that Kelly is involved in any way.

Apparently Blagojevich has learned absolutely nothing from the Rezko indictment. People have been trying to tell him for years that something big is rotten in his administration, and he has smiled that smile of his and insisted that he runs the cleanest administration ever.

Our options here: (1) Blagojevich knows about the corruption and is a very good liar. (2) The governor isn’t curious enough to delve deeper than a headline and seriously question his friends. (3) He is utterly incapable of trusting any information that contradicts his own beliefs. (4) Fitzgerald is completely wrong, even though he has yet to lose a corruption case.

Whatever the answer, the Southtown interview pretty much proves that this governor will do next to nothing to clean up the real problems within his administration.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at capitolfax.blogspot.com.

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