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December 9, 2008

Blagojevich complaint alleges journalistic pressure

This makes disturbing allegations not only about the arrested Illinois governor and his team but people running Tribune Co., which owns The Baltimore Sun. If true the allegations are outrageous. However John McCormick, the Tribune editorial writer whom Blagojevich allegedly wanted fired, is still working for the paper. From the Chicago Tribune:
[The complaint alleges that] Blagojevich and Harris conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.
From the complaint:

Count Two

 Beginning no later than November 2008 to the present, in Cook County, in the Northern District of Illinois, defendants ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH and JOHN HARRIS, being agents of the State of Illinois, a State government which during a one-year period, beginning January 1, 2008 and continuing to the present, received federal benefits in excess of $10,000, corruptly solicited and demanded a thing of value, namely, the firing of certain Chicago Tribune editorial members responsible for widely-circulated editorials critical of ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with business and transactions of the State of Illinois involving a thing of value of $5,000 or more, namely, the provision of millions of dollars in financial assistance bythe State of Illinois, including through the Illinois Finance Authority, an agency of the State of Illinois, to the Tribune Company involving the Wrigley Field baseball stadium; in violation of Title 18, United States Code,Sections 666(a)(1)(B) and 2.

During an intercepted call on November 21, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with JOHN HARRIS. ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked HARRIS whether he told Deputy Governor A that “McCormick is going to get bounced at the Tribune.” (McCormick is believed to be John P. McCormick, the Chicago Tribune’s Deputy Editorial Page Editor). HARRIS said “no, I told him (Deputy Governor A) that McCormick is in a bad mood,” and that HARRIS was going “to check with [Tribune Financial Advisor] to see” whether “it was part of that message about the cuts on the Ed board.” HARRIS stated, “I had singled out McCormick as somebody who was the most biased and unfair.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH responded, “to [Tribune Financial Advisor] you did?” HARRIS confirmed that it was to Tribune Financial Advisor. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated “that would be great,” and McCormick is a “bad guy.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked, “[Tribune Financial Advisor] is on top of this, right?” HARRIS replied that Tribune Financial Advisor said they would be “downsizing that division or changing personnel” and that Tribune Financial Advisor understands and “[Tribune Owner]” understands.

ROD BLAGOJEVICH confirmed that HARRIS made the point with Tribune Financial Advisor that the Tribune is advocating that ROD BLAGOJEVICH be impeached for going around the legislature and that “is precisely what we’re doing on Wrigley Field.” HARRIS said he explained that information to Tribune Financial Advisor. ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked whether Tribune Financial Advisor understood that “we are not in a position where we can afford to do that if . . . the Tribune is pushing impeachment.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked, “they got that, right?” HARRIS replied, “right.” HARRIS suggested to ROD BLAGOJEVICH that HARRIS explained to Tribune Financial Advisor that the Tribune’s editorials discussing impeachment “could jeopardize our efforts to do good things for people as well as the other thing (helping the Cubs sale at the IFA).” ROD BLAGOJEVICH responded, “there ya go. He got the message?” HARRIS replied, “yeah.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated “good.”

On November 21, 2008, approximately five minutes after the previous conversation with JOHN HARRIS, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke again with HARRIS. At the end of this call, ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that “the Tribune thing is important, if we can get that.” HARRIS replied, “delicate, very delicate.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH said, “I know, I know. Use your judgment, don’t push too hard. But you know what you got to do, right.” HARRIS responded, “Alright, sir.”

After hearing that Tribune Financial Advisor had assured HARRIS that the Tribune would be downsizing or making personnel changes affecting the editorial board, ROD BLAGOJEVICH had a series of conversations with representatives of the Chicago Cubs regarding efforts to provide state financing for Wrigley Field. On November 30, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with Sports Consultant, the president of a Chicago-area sports consulting firm, whose remarks during the conversation indicated that he was working with the Cubs on matters involving Wrigley Field. In that conversation, ROD BLAGOJEVICH and Sports Consultant discussed the importance of getting the IFA transaction approved at the IFA’s December 2008 or January 2009 meeting, because ROD BLAGOJEVICH was contemplating leaving office in early January 2009 and ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s IFA appointees would still be in place to approve the IFA deal.

On December 3, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke again with Sports Consultant and explained that ROD BLAGOJEVICH had control over state funds designated for use in connection with science and technology, and which could be used to pay for improvements at Wrigley Field. Later that same day, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with Cubs Chairman and said that he could make state science and technology funds available to the Cubs without having to go through the legislature, and suggested that the Cubs come up with proposals that would allow the use of such funds. On December 4, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with Spokesman.

On December 4, 2008, the Chicago Tribune announced it was reducing the size of its workforce by 11 members. During the phone conversation, Spokesman informed ROD BLAGOJEVICH that the Tribune had its “cuts” but that Spokesman did not think the “person we mentioned” was cut. ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked “McCormick?” Spokesman responded “right.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH instructed Spokesman to “go tell HARRIS that.” Spokesman stated he had already informed HARRIS of the information. On the morning December 5, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH spoke with JOHN HARRIS.

On the morning of December 5, 2008, the Chicago Tribune ran a front page news story discussing an ongoing criminal investigation involving ROD BLAGOJEVICH. During the phone conversation, ROD BLAGOJEVICH and HARRIS discussed information contained in the newspaper article. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated “what’s the deal? So, do McCormick stays at the Tribune, huh?” HARRIS stated “we haven’t heard that he’s gone, so.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated “I mean, those layoffs were minor (the December 4, 2008 Tribune layoffs).” HARRIS stated “well, I know they got a lot to do.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked “there’s still more coming?” HARRIS responded “yeah, they got a lot of cuts to make.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated “okay, at some point we should talk to [Tribune Financial Advisor] again, right?” HARRIS confirmed they should talk to Tribune Financial Advisor again.

Posted by Jay Hancock at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)

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About Jay Hancock
Jay Hancock has been a financial columnist for The Baltimore Sun since 2001. He has also been The Baltimore Sun's diplomatic correspondent in Washington and its chief economics writer. Before moving to Baltimore in 1994 he worked for The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk and The Daily Press of Newport News.

His columns appear Tuesdays and Sundays.

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