John Harris, former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s chief of staff, has plead guilty to “participating in a scheme to commit wire fraud, including through the deprivation of honest services.”
Harris admits that
“from approximately October 2008 to on or about December 9, 2008…together with co-defendant Rod Blagojevich and others, participated in a scheme to deprive the people of the State of Illinois of their intangible right to the honest services of Defendant and Rod Blagojevich.”
“It was part of the scheme,” the plea agreement continues, “that beginning in or about October 2008, and continuing until on or about December 9, 2008, Rod Blagojevich, with the assistance of Defendant and others, sought to obtain financial benefits for Blagojevich and his wife, in return for the exercise of his duty under Illinois law to appoint a United States Senator to fill the vacancy created by the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.
“At times Defendant assisted Blagojevich’s efforts to carry out the scheme by suggesting means by which Blagojevich could secure personal benefits for himself in exchange for appointing a United States Senator, conducting factual research relating to the scheme at Blagojevich’s direction, and counseling Blagojevich on carrying out the scheme.
“At other times, Defendant expressed opposition to Blagojevich’s efforts to enrich himself through his appointment of a United States Senator, and/or did not follow instructions from Blagojevich to assist in those efforts.
“Specifically, starting in December 2005 and continuing until December 2008, Defendant served as then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s Chief of Staff.
“Over the course of many months in 2008, Defendant participated in and was aware of discussions involving Blagojevich and others about the possibility that Blagojevich might have the ability to appoint someone to replace then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama if he won the general election for the President of the United States.
“By early October 2008, Defendant participated in regular conversations with Blagojevich about what personal benefits Blagojevich could obtain in exchange for naming someone to the U.S. Senate seat should Obama win the Presidency.
“As one example, around October 6, Blagojevich asked Defendant what Blagojevich could get in exchange for the U.S. Senate seat.
“In other discussions with Blagojevich, Defendant and others told Blagojevich that he could not receive money (either campaign money or other money) in exchange for naming someone to the Senate seat. Blagojevich ignored Defendant’s statements.
“Shortly before and immediately after the November 4, 2008 election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, Blagojevich’s discussions with Defendant about Blagojevich’s appointment of a replacement Senator became more frequent and more detailed.
“Defendant participated in numerous discussions with Blagojevich and others about this issue.
“Defendant was aware that Blagojevich was also talking to a small group of internal and external advisors about this issue.
“Throughout the course of these discussions, Blagojevich made it clear to Defendant that Blagojevich was not focused on what was in the best interest of the people of the state of Illinois but instead was focused in large part on what Blagojevich could get personally in exchange for the Senate appointment.
“Around the time of the November 4 election, Defendant learned that Senate Candidate B was interested in the Senate seat. Blagojevich discussed with Defendant that he wanted to use Senate Candidate B’s interest in the Senate seat as a way to get something for himself from President-elect Obama.
“On or about November 6, 2008, Blagojevich met with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Official A, who had been presented to Blagojevich and Defendant as an emissary working on behalf of President-elect Obama with respect to filling the Senate seat. Prior to the meeting, Defendant helped Blagojevich strategize regarding how to ask SEIU Official A for the HHS position in exchange for making Senate Candidate B the Senator.
“After the meeting, Blagojevich told Defendant and others that during the meeting, he asked SEIU Official A for the HHS position in exchange for making Senate Candidate B the Senator.
“During discussions with Defendant, Blagojevich expressed interest in an ambassadorship from President-elect Obama in exchange for making Senate Candidate B the Senator.
“On or about November 5, 2008, Blagojevich directed Defendant and Deputy Governor A to research ambassadorship options for him. Blagojevich also directed Defendant and Deputy Governor A to research private foundations where he might be able to get a high-paying position in exchange for making Senate Candidate B the Senator.
“Defendant told Blagojevich that the private foundation option would give President-elect Obama a buffer, meaning that it would not be obvious that Blagojevich was getting a position in exchange for making Senate Candidate B the Senator.
“Defendant suggested that the foundation would need to be a group that was dependent on federal funding, so that President-elect Obama would have enough influence to get Blagojevich a position. Blagojevich was very interested in this idea and told Defendant to look into options right away.
“Deputy Governor A asked whether Blagojevich was thinking about a position with a private foundation for 2010 (when his term as Governor ended) or now.
“Blagojevich said that he wanted the position now and wanted to know how much the position paid. Deputy Governor A responded that the salary was likely $200,000 to $300,000.
“Blagojevich seemed disappointed in that salary and asked something like, ‘Oh is that all?’
“At that point, Defendant said that he thought the salary was more like $300,000 to $500,000.
“Blagojevich had a more positive reaction to that salary.
“Blagojevich suggested that SEIU and other labor unions provided funds to some private foundations and suggested those foundations be the ones Defendant and Deputy Governor A research. Defendant understood that Blagojevich’s personal financial circumstances and security were a significant consideration for Blagojevich in his analysis of whom he should name to the Senate seat.
“Blagojevich told Defendant that if he could not get a position directly through President-elect Obama in exchange for picking a desired candidate, then Blagojevich would seek a position through supporters of President-elect Obama in exchange for naming someone to the Senate seat. Blagojevich asked Defendant to develop a union-based option for him.
“The next day Defendant responded to his assignment by presenting Blagojevich with an idea by which Blagojevich could become the national coordinator for an organization named ‘Change to Win.’
“Change to Win is an organization associated with a number of labor unions, including SEIU. Defendant suggested to Blagojevich that SEIU Officials A and B, whom Defendant and Blagojevich believed were already acting as emissaries between Blagojevich and President-elect Obama for purposes of picking a desired Senate candidate, could get Blagojevich the Change to Win position in exchange for Blagojevich agreeing to make Senate Candidate B the Senator.
“Defendant explained to Blagojevich that the benefit to SEIU would be that SEIU would have helped President-elect Obama by getting Blagojevich to appoint Senate Candidate B to the Senate and in exchange, President-elect Obama would look favorably on SEIU’s agenda in President-elect Obama’s administration.
“The benefit to Blagojevich would be a paid position as National Coordinator with Change to Win. Defendant further explained that the benefits to President-elect Obama would be that Blagojevich would appoint Senate Candidate B to the U.S. Senate seat, and SEIU Officials A and B would act as a buffer between President-elect Obama and Blagojevich.
“Defendant explained to Blagojevich that the Change to Win position would keep him politically viable, pay him a salary, and provide him with union support and connections for whatever he wanted to do down-the-road. Blagojevich said that he thought it was a great idea, but was concerned that he would have to make the Senate appointment first, which meant that SEIU could withhold the Change to Win position later.
“Defendant explained to Blagojevich that part of the advantage to the Change to Win idea was that this was something that SEIU Officials A and B could promise to Blagojevich now and Blagojevich could believe that they would follow through on later, while part of the disadvantage to the Change to Win idea was that it was not politically acceptable for Blagojevich to step down as Governor to take that position.
“In response, Blagojevich suggested the possibility of having his wife take a position now and then Blagojevich could take the national position later.
“Defendant told him that this was not a good idea. Blagojevich asked Defendant what the Change to Win position paid and asked whether he could get extra income if he sat on other boards. Defendant speculated that the position would pay no more than SEIU Official A’s salary.
“On November 7, 2008, Defendant participated in a conference call with Blagojevich and Advisor A, in which Blagojevich solicited Advisor A’s thoughts on the Change to Win idea.
“Defendant knew that Advisor A was an outside consultant whom Blagojevich trusted and upon whom Blagojevich relied for political advice. During the call, Blagojevich told Advisor A what had happened at the November 6 meeting with SEIU Official A.
“Blagojevich then directed Defendant to tell Advisor A about the Change to Win idea. Defendant explained the idea and Advisor A responded in a very positive way.
“Advisor A analogized the Change to Win deal to a three-way trade in baseball because it allowed President-elect Obama to stay out of Illinois politics because he would have a buffer and there would be no obvious quid pro quo for Senate Candidate B. Blagojevich told Advisor A that he was looking for $250,000-$300,000 in salary and also to sit on some boards.
“During the call, Defendant understood that Blagojevich was focused on obtaining money and maintaining his political viability in his analysis of whom to name to the Senate seat.
“After this call, defendant and Blagojevich learned that SEIU Official A’s salary was approximately $125,000 to $150,000 annually. Upon learning this, Blagojevich was disappointed and wanted to know if he could be paid more than SEIU Official A.
“On or about November 12, 2008, the media reported that Senate Candidate B was going to work at the White House. Defendant participated in a number of conversations with Blagojevich about this development.
“Defendant believed that Senate Candidate B’s decision to go to the White House caused Blagojevich to become anxious about losing leverage for what he might be able to ask of President-elect Obama with respect to a position for himself.
“At this point, Blagojevich began to express greater interest in the possibility that supporters of President-elect Obama would establish and fund a 501(c)(4) organization for the benefit of Blagojevich in exchange for a Senate seat appointment.
“Blagojevich asked Defendant to reach out to United States Congressman A about this possibility.
“Defendant believed that this was a direct quid pro quo and Defendant did not make any calls to further Blagojevich’s request.
“Defendant concealed from Blagojevich that he did not follow Blagojevich’s directive to contact United States Congressman A about the 501(c)(4).
“Blagojevich later told Defendant that he had approached SEIU Official A about the 501(c)(4) idea and Blagojevich said that SEIU Official A was going to ‘run it up the flag pole,’ which Defendant took to mean that he was going to check with representatives of President-elect Obama.
“At this time, Blagojevich also pressed Defendant to have an ‘off campus’ discussion with Senate Candidate D. Defendant knew that this was a reference to Blagojevich’s prior directive to Defendant to ask Senate Candidate D for Senate Candidate D’s remaining campaign funds in exchange for appointing Senate Candidate D to the U.S. Senate Seat.
“Sometime in the summer of 2008, Blagojevich told Defendant that if he appointed Senate Candidate D to the vacant Senate seat, he would want and expect Senate Candidate D to give Blagojevich some or all of Senate Candidate D’s campaign funds.
“Defendant believed that Blagojevich was again raising this issue because Blagojevich believed that a deal with representatives of President-elect Obama involving Senate Candidate B was no longer a possibility.
“In response to Blagojevich’s directives to him, on November 12, 2008, Defendant met with Senate Candidate D in his Springfield office.
“During the meeting, Defendant had a discussion with Senate Candidate D about his plans for his campaign funds that could not be converted to personal use.
“Defendant did not directly tell Senate Candidate D that Blagojevich was going to ask Senate Candidate D for his campaign funds.
“Based on what Defendant did say, however, Defendant believed that Senate Candidate D was on notice that, in relation to the Senate seat, Blagojevich was going to talk with Senate Candidate D about Senate Candidate D’s campaign funds.
“On or about December 4, 2008, Blagojevich told Defendant that Senate Candidate A, through a third-party, had offered to raise $1.5 million in campaign funds for Blagojevich in exchange for the U.S. Senate appointment.
“Defendant told Blagojevich that the offer to raise funds should not be a factor in his decision, although it was clear to Defendant that a large part of Blagojevich’s consideration for appointing Senate Candidate A to the Senate was the offer of campaign funds.
“Defendant had previously advanced an argument in favor of Senate Candidate A, listing all of the favorable points of a Senate Candidate A appointment, in response to which Blagojevich had dismissed all of the points Defendant made and had refused to even entertain the idea of appointing Senate Candidate A.
“Although Blagojevich was previously not willing to consider Senate Candidate A, Defendant believed that Blagojevich was now seriously considering Senate Candidate A because of the offer of campaign funds.
“In addition, Defendant was aware that, from time to time, in the course of considering options to fill the open Senate seat, Blagojevich considered appointing certain other individuals or appointing himself to the open Senate seat, often with personal benefits to himself as part of Blagojevich’s consideration.
“For instance, with respect to appointing himself, Blagojevich expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, including to possibly avoid impeachment by the Illinois legislature, to obtain greater resources if he was indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor, and to facilitate his wife’s employment as a lobbyist.
“In or about the spring of 2008, around the time that Blagojevich’s wife passed her Series 7 examination, which allowed her to sell financial securities, Blagojevich told Defendant that Blagojevich wanted to get Blagojevich’s wife a job using her Series 7 license with an entity that did business with the State of Illinois. Defendant told Blagojevich that his wife could not work for an entity that did business with the State of Illinois.
“Despite this, Blagojevich asked Defendant to set up informational or networking meetings for his wife with financial institutions that had business with the State of Illinois in hopes that those businesses would assist in getting Blagojevich’s wife a job.
“Defendant subsequently arranged a meeting between Blagojevich’s wife and an official at a financial institution that had business with the State of Illinois.
“Defendant also spoke with an official at another financial institution that had business with the State of Illinois concerning that official helping Blagojevich’s wife develop possible employment opportunities.
“When Blagojevich concluded that officials at these institutions had been unhelpful in finding his wife a job, Blagojevich told Defendant that he did not want the institutions to receive further business from the State of Illinois.
“With respect to one of the institutions, Defendant told Blagojevich that, because the entity had business through the state pension funds, Blagojevich did not control those decisions.
“With respect to the other financial institution, despite Blagojevich’s directive, Defendant did not prevent that institution from getting further business with the State and avoided telling Blagojevich when the institution was applying for State business so as to prevent Blagojevich from following through on his directive.
“Further, in November and December 2008, in response to Chicago Tribune editorials that had been critical of Blagojevich, Blagojevich directed Defendant to tell Tribune Financial Advisor that Blagojevich was going to withhold state financial support that would benefit the Tribune Company, unless the Tribune Owner fired people on the editorial board.
“In order to appease Blagojevich, Defendant told Blagojevich that he would and did relay this threat to Tribune Financial Advisor. Although Defendant did have a conversation with Tribune Financial Advisor about the negative editorials regarding Blagojevich, Defendant did not relay the threats as directed by Blagojevich.
“On or about November 7, 2008, at Chicago, in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and elsewhere, Defendant and Blagojevich, for the purpose of executing the above-described scheme, did knowingly cause to be transmitted by means of wire and radio communication in interstate commerce signals and sounds, namely a phone call between Blagojevich and Defendant, in Chicago, Illinois, and Advisor A, in Washington, D.C., in which Blagojevich, Defendant, and Advisor A discussed financial benefits which Blagojevich could request in exchange for the appointment of Senate Candidate B to the United States Senate; in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1343 and 1346.”
Maximum penalties are 20 years and a $250,000 fine.
The plea bargain, however, states,
“Defendant has clearly demonstrated a recognition and affirmative acceptance of personal responsibility for his criminal conduct.”
Harris also “agrees he will fully and truthfully cooperate in any matter in which he is called upon to cooperate by a representative of the United States Attorney’s Office…”
In return for his cooperation, “the government will recommend a sentence of imprisonment that is 50% of the low end of Federal Sentencing Guidelines range applicable to defendant’s offense…”
Carrie Hamilton was Patrick Fitzgerald’s Assistant U.S. Attorney on the case.