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Thursday, June 24, 2010 07:05 am

Smoking guns on the Blago tapes

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Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (left) and Former Blagojevich chief of staff Lon Monk (right).

Back in 2003, Rod Blagojevich’s former congressional chief of staff, Dave Stricklin, was asked by Chicago Magazine to recall an example of his former boss’ “goal-oriented approach to his congressional work.”

“Having X amount of dollars raised by X date,” was Stricklin’s response.

The U.S. Attorney’s office has now posted several audio recordings online related to Lon Monk’s testimony against Rod Blagojevich. I listened to them all last week, some of them twice, and it was beyond obvious that nothing changed for Blagojevich from the time he was a congressman right up until he was arrested.

We mostly knew that already, of course. Blagojevich broke every state fundraising record in the book. And the recordings show he crossed a very big line.

Blagojevich’s voice sounds almost desperate at times on the recordings as he tries to make sure he has $4 million in his campaign bank account by the end of 2008. Dec. 31 of that year was the last day that most state contractors could contribute to his campaign because of a new law, so the push was on.

“(H)ere’s the thing,” says brother Rob during a phone call two days before the dramatic Dec. 8 FBI arrest. “Four million dollars is the target. Right now, when I do my math, we come up short by a quarter of a million, two fifty, but it, but there’s enough there, like a Pritzker, like a Zell, like a...”

“Oh, this is no good, forget that,” a clearly peeved governor interjected. Blagojevich berated his brother for not making the goal. “This is not good, I mean your, your numbers keep coming down! Your numbers keep coming down! You were safely at... four million, now we’re down to 250 thousand short of that?”
In the end, they ended up $1.3 million short of that $4 million target. The big money never came in because of that early morning visit by the federales.

There are definitely some “smoking guns” on the tapes. For instance, five days before he was arrested, Blagojevich and Lon Monk talked for the umpteenth time about how best to convince racetrack owner John Johnston to kick in a huge contribution by the end of the year. At the time, Johnston was also hoping that Blagojevich would sign a bill that greatly helped the horse racing industry.

Blagojevich advises that Monk tell Johnston that he will wait to sign the bill until right after the first of the year, suggesting he say that the governor will sign a whole bunch of bills at once and Johnston’s will be included in that stack in order to bury the story.

Monk asks Blagojevich how many bills are still waiting to be signed. Blagojevich guesstimates a hundred and reiterates that Monk relay to Johnston how important it is that December is a “key month” for contributions and that his campaign had been waiting a year for the cash. Blagojevich then says that he needs to speak to his government chief of staff right away.

A call is placed and the governor asks how many bills are awaiting his signature. He’s told there are 30.

“Thirty bills?” Blagojevich asks on the recording. “And they’re all the same timing?... Yeah, so don’t do any of ’em,” he orders his chief of staff. “I wanna do ’em all together. Okay. In toto. Okay. All thirty.”

After the phone call Blagojevich asks Monk to rehearse what he plans to say to Johnston and advises, “Be careful.” Monk says he’ll tell Johnston to “stop screwin’ around,” and will inform him of the governor’s plan to “group all these bills together.”

Blagojevich suggests that Monk tell Johnston that the governor would “like some separation between [the contribution] and signing the bill.”

“Define separation,” Monk says.

“A week,” Blagojevich replies.

You can’t hardly get busted more clearly than that.

Dave Stricklin, the former congressional chief of staff who so accurately described Blagojevich’s “work ethic” back in 2003, was mentioned on the FBI recordings as well. Blagojevich and Lon Monk talked four days before the arrest about people who should be loyal and pony up but were refusing.

Blagojevich: “That f___ing Stricklin gets me sick.”

Monk: “He’s such a f___ing stuffed shirt.”

Blagojevich: “Gets me sick.”

Stricklin, of course, had the last laugh.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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