Blagojevich roundup: Pritzker’s response, Patti’s response, US Attorney reveals new probe into leak

Rich Miller

    When a dramatic new element is introduced into a political campaign, it’s always instructive to watch how the targeted candidate responds. Did the candidate appear ready for the new turn of events, or was s/he caught flat-footed?
    The JB Pritzker campaign appeared to pass that test last week when Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign unexpectedly (for some of us) launched a new TV attack ad against it.
    It turns out, the Pritzker campaign already had a response ad in the can, just waiting for whatever might come. So, when the Rauner campaign’s new TV ad featuring an FBI-wiretapped conversation between Pritzker and Rod Blagojevich was leaked online last week, the Pritzker folks unveiled their counter-assault within minutes.
    “It’s no surprise Bruce Rauner is already on TV attacking me,” Pritzker says to the camera in his 30-second response ad. “He’d rather play politics in the Democratic primary than defend his own record.”
    Another 60-second ad — which looks like it may have initially been intended only for online use because the quality wasn’t as high — featured TV news clips designed to whack Rauner over the ongoing problems at the Quincy veterans’ home, where 13 residents have died since 2015 after contracting Legionnaires’ disease. Rauner last week finally formed a task force in an attempt to prevent more deaths.
    This is the first time in memory that a sitting Illinois governor has openly played in a rival’s opposing party primary campaign. We’ve seen this sort of thing in other states, but not here. Several Illinois unions did dump a bunch of money into the 2014 Republican primary to prevent Rauner’s nomination, so the governor can be forgiven for wanting a bit of payback against the unions’ candidate (Pritzker) this time around.
    The Rauner folks have gone back and forth for months about which candidate they’d rather not face. Pritzker has unlimited money, but he has some opposition research issues (like Blagojevich, his ties to Speaker Madigan and his now-infamous decision to rip the toilets out of a vacant mansion to lower his property taxes). Chris Kennedy has had trouble raising money, but he does have a famous name, not many opposition research issues and is successfully positioning himself as an independent.
    More likely, I think, somebody upstairs may have just decided that it was time to put the wood to Pritzker, who has been having a lot of fun attacking Rauner for months. And since other Democratic candidates don’t have the cash to do it, Rauner will.
    The Pritzker campaign’s current ad buy is substantially larger than Rauner’s, I’m told, and they’re willing to increase that amount if need be. They’re also reportedly readying some more response ads.
    But there’s more to this angle. Sun-Times…
    Patti Blagojevich hit the local television news circuit Friday to slam Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign for using her husband’s FBI-wiretapped phone conversation in a political attack ad against Democratic primary frontrunner J.B. Pritzker.
    “There is a federal court order not allowing these tapes to see the light of day,” Patti Blagojevich said in a sit-down interview with WFLD-Fox 32, one of at least four interviews she gave on Friday. “We fought so hard in court to try to get tapes just like this.” […]
    “Somebody from the U.S. Attorney’s Office (or one of their former employees) and Rauner’s Campaign should be criminally charged for breaking the still standing court order sealing the tapes,” Patti Blagojevich wrote in a Facebook post. “This is clearly a case of someone from the U.S. Attorney’s office playing partisan politics, while they did everything they could to make sure we could not play the tapes that vindicated Rod.”
    Rauner campaign spokesman Will Allison said they used the recordings that were included in the Tribune story. A representative for the U.S. attorney’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
    “This is a perfectly legal conversation between my husband and J.B. talking about different things that he wanted to accomplish with regards to President Obama’s Senate seat . . . These are all things we wanted heard at trial,” Patti Blagojevich told Fox 32.
    WGN TV…
    “We’ve been fighting for five years to get those tapes heard. And now somebody leaks them and now they’re in a political attack ad.”
    She says while she feels bad for Pritzker, the audio proves her husband isn’t guilty.
    “One thing my husband loves to do is he loves to talk. And he loves to talk with his advisors, his lawyers. And all these people and do this war gaming. What if we do this? What if we do that? How about if we do this? How about if we do that? And unfortunately, what you saw in the trial was just one side of all those conversations.”
    NBC 5…
    A sub-current of the Rauner ad controversy involves questions over how the un-played tapes were leaked. The portion used in the commercial was part of an 11-minute montage featured by the Tribune last year.
    How the Tribune got those tapes is not entirely clear.
    “That particular tape was never played at trial,” Joe Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office confirmed. “We are working on it also—we want to know who gave it out.”
     Fitzpatrick said it did not come from anyone in the U.S. Attorney’s office, and noted that copies had been distributed to all legal teams involved in the two Blagojevich trials.
     “And that includes paralegals, their investigators, a lot of people get their hands on these,” he said.
    Mary Ann Ahern…
    The new ads feature taped conversations between Pritzker and Blagojevich, recorded during the time that the FBI was investigating the then-governor. In an exclusive interview with NBC 5, the candidate himself commented on the interview conducted by the FBI about the conversation.
    “They just wanted to know more about the conversation, if there was more that I could tell them about the conversation,” he said.
    Pritzker says that he was telling Blagojevich on the tapes that he would be interested in being the state’s treasurer, not that he would be interested in the Senate seat vacated by former President Barack Obama.
    “It’s not surprising that looking to do more public service is something I was interested in,” he said. “Who knew that he was doing things that were against the interests of the people?”
    Who knew? Lots of people. C’mon, man.
    …Adding… I never noticed it in the original Tribune story last May, but Pritzker’s campaign has already admitted he talked to the FBI back in the day…
    Pritzker did not directly ask for the Senate appointment on the calls the Tribune obtained. The Pritzker campaign acknowledged late Wednesday that “J.B. had one short interview with” the FBI as part of the Blagojevich investigation. Federal authorities did not call Pritzker as a witness at either of Blagojevich’s two trials, nor did they accuse him of any wrongdoing.
    …Adding… Rauner campaign…
    JB Pritzker Lies to Cover Up Ties to Blagojevich
    JB Pritzker answered questions on Friday surrounding Citizens for Rauner’s new Pritzker-Blagojevich TV ad. Pritzker claims that he didn’t know Blagojevich was facing FBI investigations at the time of the wiretaps, which occurred just one month before the former governor was arrested.
    Pritzker specifically says that “nobody knew that the FBI was investigating the man.” He goes on to say, “Who knew, you know, that it was, that he was actually doing things that were against the interests of the people.” Watch HERE.
    As NBC Chicago reporter Mary Ann Ahern explains, it was “widely believed” at the time that the FBI was investigating Blagojevich.
    Not only is Pritzker making a patently false claim – his own words on the FBI tapes show that he knew, at the time, that Blagojevich was being investigated and was facing legal trouble. In a conversation between Pritzker and Blagojevich toward the end of the tapes released by the Chicago Tribune, Pritzker specifically cites Blagojevich’s “legal problems” and says “we gotta get the legal thing behind you.”
    This conversation, combined with years of well-publicized media reports, makes crystal clear that JB Pritzker knew Rod Blagojevich was under federal investigation, contrary to what he is now claiming.
    BLAGOJEVICH: If you can do for me what you did for [Lisa Madigan] before the end of the year, can you think about that?
     PRITZKER: Well I can’t, uh, not while everything’s up in the air. But I hear ya. Yeah I, I hear ya.
    BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah. But anyways, if we go in that direction though, if that does happen, I mean there’s some other people who can help us that you know.
     PRITZKER: Sure.
    BLAGOJEVICH: If you feel skittish about that, which I believe you shouldn’t. But go ahead.
     PRITZKER: Yeah, I don’t think we should even talk about it, but I understand what you’re saying. Assuming no legal problems, that you, you know, your pitch is going to be, with all the other crap that you could say here, I’ve done real things.
     PRITZKER: And so, I think you’ve got a lot to run on. It’s just, we gotta get the legal thing behind you.
     PRITZKER: That’s for sure.
    BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah but there’s statutes of limitations and things, and those dates are running. And those things will come and go long before there’s a re-election.
     PRITZKER: Is that right? Soon?
    BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah, and then.
     PRITZKER: Okay.
    BLAGOJEVICH: It’ll just fade away.