CHICAGO (AP) — Secret FBI wiretap recordings from a 2008 investigation of then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich capture current Democratic candidate for governor, billionaire J.B. Pritzker, speaking to Blagojevich about an appointment to a top state job, the Chicago Tribune reported on Wednesday.
Similar recordings formed the core of the evidence against the now-imprisoned Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat convicted of wide-ranging corruption in his 2011 trial and later sentenced to 14 years in prison. Several convictions involved his bid to trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat Barack Obama vacated to become president for campaign cash.
In the previously unreleased recordings obtained by the Tribune, Blagojevich raised the possibility of appointing Pritzker to the Senate seat. But that's not the job Pritzker expressed interest in. Instead, Pritzker himself brings up the possibility of Blagojevich appointing him to be Illinois treasurer — should that job ever open up.
"Ooh, interesting," Blagojevich responds enthusiastically. "Let's think about that. You interested in that?"
"Yeah, that's the one I would want," Pritzker answers.
In a Wednesday statement responding to the Tribune report, Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen says "there was nothing untoward" about the conversation between Pritzker and Blagojevich.
"Throughout JB's life he's had an interest in serving the people of Illinois and that's exactly what he expressed when discussing a potential opening in the Treasurer's office," she says.
Pritzker in April this year jumped into the contest to try to unseat wealthy Republican businessman-turned-governor, Bruce Rauner. Chris Kennedy, nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, is also seeking the Democratic nomination. Any association to the disgraced ex-governor could potentially hurt Pritzker's candidacy.
The mid-November, 2008, conversations between Blagojevich and Pritzker are friendly, with the two men clearly familiar with each other and relaxed. Within just a few weeks, in early December, federal agents would arrest the governor at his Chicago home.
In a Nov. 14, 2008, call, Pritzker seems to broach concerns about how his previous contributions to Blagojevich would be perceived if Blagojevich appointed him to be state treasurer, saying to Blagojevich: "The problem for you would be the same problem with the Senate really. ... I've given you contributions."
Blagojevich is quick to waive off that concern.
"Total nonissue," Blagojevich replied. "First of all, you give money to everybody, like (Attorney General) Lisa Madigan, OK?"
During the same conversations, Blagojevich does raise the possibility of fresh donations from the wealthy businessman, asking, "Can you think about that?"
But Pritzker reacts uncomfortably.
"I can't, I mean, not while everything's up in the air, but I hear ya," Pritzker tells Blagojevich, stumbling on his words. "I hear ya and, and and . But anyway ." As Blagojevich appears to go on about donations, and Pritzker adds again: "I don't think we should even talk about it but I understand what you're saying."
Slayen, the campaign spokeswoman, notes Pritzker's indicates he's not interested in the Senate seat and "moves away from the type of conversation that landed Rod Blagojevich in prison."
The recording: http://trib.in/2rcdUUH