We've had the Summer of Love and the Summer of the Shark. Now, are you ready for the Summer of Corruption? On Thursday, jury selection begins in the federal trial of disgraced former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois. The timing couldn't be worse for Blago's old Chicago pals in the White House. Just as Team Obama tries to bury one job-trading scandal, another one resurfaces.
It's a useful reminder that Washington didn't turn Obama into a business-as-usual politician. He was born and bred among the slimiest in their class.
At the center of the Blago trial is the convergence of the Chicago political machine -- the corrupt Democratic Party establishment, Big Labor heavies at the Service Employees International Union and Team Obama.
In December 2008, the political ties that bind them all came under national scrutiny when federal prosecutors publicly released their criminal complaint against Blagojevich. SEIU figured prominently in Blago's secretly taped musings on how to profit from his power to appoint Obama's Senate replacement. So did a larger union umbrella federation, Change to Win, led by SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger. Blago hatched a plan to snag a $300,000-a-year job as head of Change to Win in exchange for appointing a union-friendly successor to Obama.
Like Obama, Blago enjoyed massive campaign donations and on-the-ground support from the SEIU's Purple Army. Like Obama, Blago repaid his Big Labor backers with labor-friendly executive orders and legislative largesse to facilitate union organizing and carve out major portions of the health care industry for them. At the time of his arrest, Blago was preparing another executive order to expand the union power grab over an even larger portion of home health care workers targeted by the SEIU.
Blagojevich did the country an extraordinary unintended favor. As health care analyst David Catron wrote: "He has made it clear to the meanest intelligence that Obama emerged from a hopelessly corrupt political culture. Barack Obama oozed from the same stinking Chicago swamp that produced Blagojevich, and a man whose formative years were spent wallowing in the muck with such creatures isn't likely to be long in the White House before the stench of pay-to-play politics begins to pervade the place."
Fast-forward. Nearly two years later, Obama's legal fixers can't mask the Chicago-esque odor of Sestak-gate. The president's legal team, led by chief fixer and legal counsel Bob Bauer, orchestrated a Memorial Day weekend document dump intended to squash mounting public criticism of the administration's alleged government job offer to Pennsylvania Democratic senatorial candidate Joe Sestak. Bauer's memo acknowledged that "options for Executive Branch service were raised with him" through former President Bill Clinton, whom White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel enlisted to woo Sestak.
Blago knows all about working with Team Obama through intermediaries to explore, ahem, "options." Blago's then-Chief of Staff John Harris allegedly mapped out a "three-way deal" to give the White House a "buffer" obscuring the obvious quid pro quo. SEIU would assist Obama with Blago's appointment of a union-friendly candidate; Blago would get his cushy union job; and SEIU would be rewarded down the road with favors from the White House. Team Blago reached out to the SEIU. An unnamed SEIU official agreed to float their plan and "see where it goes."
The Senate candidate Blago allegedly approached was top Obama adviser and Chicago political godmother Valerie Jarrett, who removed herself from the running when she took a top White House adviser post instead. Who was the "SEIU official" Team Blago spoke with and met? Internal communications in December 2008 fingered Obama's longtime Chicago pal and SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. Balanoff, not coincidentally, had been appointed by Blago to the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.
Two days before Christmas 2008, legal counsel Greg Craig released an official self-exonerating report outlining contacts between Team Obama and Team Blago. Balanoff, it turns out, had indeed spoken with Jarrett. The Obama defense? Despite her much-touted political brilliance, the legal team argued, Jarrett "did not understand the conversation to suggest that the Governor wanted the cabinet seat as a quid pro quo for selecting any specific candidate to be the President-Elect's replacement." The Blago subpoena of the president filed last month begs to differ -- and directly implicates Obama:
"...despite President Obama stating that no representatives of his had any part of any deals, labor union president (presumably SEIU's Andy Stern) told the FBI and the United States Attorneys that he spoke to labor union official on Nov. 3, 2008, who received a phone message from Obama that evening. After labor union official listened to the message, labor union official told labor union president, "I'm the one." Labor union president took that to mean that labor union official was to be the one to deliver the message on behalf of Obama that Senate Candidate B was his pick."
It's going to be a long, hot summer of Chicago corruption.