Why won’t Tribune release secret Blagojevich tapes?

by Dan Curry

Why is the Chicago Tribune holding back release of its trove of sealed 2008 FBI wiretapped conversations between then-Governor Rod Blagojevich and top Democratic figures in Illinois?

Does the material potentially embarrass figures like Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett and others?

Those conversations — both audiotapes and transcripts — remain sealed under a federal court order.

But the Tribune long ago obtained a copy of some or all of the sealed material and has been releasing it as it sees fit. It dropped a bomb on Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker this week, revealing he was wheeling and dealing with Blagojevich in 2008 for various appointments. The story — and audiotape — will undoubtedly hurt Pritzker in the months ahead but what about the other tapes and transcripts, which the Tribune acknowledged it possesses.

Federal law enforcement officials captured the candid talks on secret wiretaps as they investigated Blagojevich and his administration for public corruption in fall 2008. The Tribune obtained the recordings, as well as transcripts of calls to others.

Ironically, Blagojevich and his lawyers have been trying for years to make public the transcripts and recordings, said to be in excess of 500 hours of conversations. Most recently, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014 declined to unseal the material upon request of Obama DOJ prosecutors. Other non-Tribune media has been rebuffed in its efforts to obtain the sealed wiretap material.

One of the authors of this week’s Tribune story, Jeff Coen, was a co-author of the excellent 2012 book, Golden: How Rod Blagojevich talked himself out of the Governor’s office and into prison, that references wiretap material it obtained outside the court record. While on their book tour, the authors admitted they had access to the sealed court material but declined to reveal their source.

A small fraction of the wiretap material was admitted into evidence in the 2010 and 2011 trials and was released publicly. Blagojevich was convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and of other public corruption counts. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison, which he is serving in Colorado.

The Tribune earlier released another explosive bit of sealed wiretap material that captured Blagojevich saying he believed convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko sent Barack Obama’s 2004 Illinois Senate campaign a $25,000 donation for “street money” that never was disclosed by Obama’s campaign. Obama and Rezko denied the allegation and the Tribune authors’ book says the feds chased down the lead and it came up empty.

It is well documented that Obama’s transition team in 2008 was in direct and indirect contact with Blagojevich during the wiretap period, angling for a Valerie Jarrett Senate appointment at one point, and, later, for other considerations. These conversations were enough to cause the FBI to interview Obama, Emanuel and Jarrett before Obama became president. Judicial Watch is suing to obtain the FBI 302 reports on those interviews.

Why is the Tribune acting as sole judge and jury as to what is in the public interest regarding these conversations? It ought to release all the material and let the public decide. It is both the right thing to do journalistically and economically because the material will generate tons of traffic.

With the public rightly wary of liberal media bias, it is in the Tribune’s best interest to release the material and dispel the notion it might be protecting some powerful Democrats from embarrassment or worse.

Greatest fact check in journalism history now a movie

by Dan Curry

We talk a lot about truth these days. A battalion of self-appointed experts ascend to their mesh chairs every morning to point out what is true and what isn’t. Most of these efforts are derailed by sloppiness, ideology and a lack of humility. They ultimately lack authority and further muddy the definition of that elusive truth.

There once was a “fact check” that truly mattered and ended with timeless authority. One that took two years to complete. Done by one of the most outstanding journalists in the country — a hard charging investigator with a Yale law degree.

By 1981, Chicago Tribune Legal Affairs Editor Lee Strobel came to a horrifying conclusion. At least horrifying in the sense he wanted his verdict to come out exactly the opposite. The then-atheist originally thought it would take only a weekend to prove that the central story of Christianity — that Jesus rose from the dead — was a fraud. He undertook the project because he wanted to convince his wife Leslie that her new conversion to Christianity was folly, believing that would restore their lives back to normal. His long weekend turned into a two-year whirlwind of intense research. He ultimately came to the following four core conclusions, based on concrete historical evidence:

  • Jesus was a real person — FACT.

  • Jesus was crucified and died on the cross — FACT.

  • Jesus’ tomb was found empty three days later — FACT.

  • Jesus rose from the dead and was seen afterwards by more than 500 people — FACT.

When the evidence became overwhelming to him, Strobel realized it would take more faith to remain an atheist. He confessed his sins and accepted God’s grace, becoming a newly minted Christian. Strobel didn’t stop there. He drifted away from journalism into the ministry, becoming a teacher, author of more than 20 books and one of the world’s most important evangelists. His most influential book, “The Case for Christ,” tells the story above in compelling detail. The book has been converted into a major motion picture debuting Friday across the United States.

I mention this story for several reasons. Strobel is a person I aspired to work for many years ago. I was an ambitious investigative reporter at the same newspaper as Lee for a brief time and hoped to one day do great things together as a team. That dream faded when Lee left journalism and I did as well several years later.

But Strobel’s work inspired me and was a factor in my own conversion from fallen Christian to committed follower of Jesus more than two years ago. Nearly every Christian I talk to mentions “The Case for Christ” as a book that either helped establish or maintain their faith. I got a chance to thank Lee in person this weekend when he appeared at the same Chicago area mega-church that forms the central locale for his real-life story and movie. We barely knew each other back then, but we are brothers now and forever.

The most important reason I write this is as an invitation to Christians and non-Christians to see the movie. I particularly hope that my journalist and ex-journalist friends will check it out. From the trailers you can see it is a well-produced, intriguing story that is both a taut tale of investigation and journalism and a personal tale of a family in turmoil. Lee told me that ex-journalists will particularly like the authentic re-creation of newsrooms, circa 1980, with clunky typewriters, cigarette smoking and snarly old-school editors. Strobel said that focus groups reveal that non-Christians like the movie as much as Christians.

No one as talented as Lee Strobel has undertaken a more vigorous “fact check.” We all say we want to follow the facts wherever they might lead. That’s what he did — for two years. It would be difficult to find a more credible truth seeker. Our culture is yearning for what can be found at a movie theater near you this weekend.

Fight back against climate hucksters

by Dan Curry

Conservatives and others who have looked beyond the hype and bandwagon cheering for “climate change” understand it is a political movement masquerading as an imperative driven by neutral science.

But while realists may be winning the battle on facts, they are not paying enough attention to what the climate zealots are doing in the political arena.

Just last month a group of liberal state Attorneys General supported by climate millionaire Al Gore decided they would stand up for “clean power” and threatened to sue companies who dissented with “settled science” that is far from settled. If the science was settled, all the zealots’ climate models would be coming true instead of failing and global satellite temperatures wouldn’t be flatlining for the last 18 years.

But that doesn’t matter to the partisan AGs. They want to sue “dissenters” to the left-wing political movement in a move rightly compared by one commentator to the Spanish Inquisition.

Conservatives need to wake up and fight back. While they are happy that the public seems to believe “climate change” is not an important issue, liberals at all levels of government are stuffing budgets with billions of dollars of agenda-driven programs paid for by unsuspecting taxpayers.

For example, a federal government report from 2014 said the federal government spent $21.4 billion in climate-related programs in 2013. The money is not concentrated in a single agency; it includes $1.8 billion in NASA, $455 million in the Department of Defense and $356 million in the Department of Treasury.

In other words, our federal government has essentially said based on “science” it has a blank check to create bogus programs for taxpayers to fund.

At the state level, the same thing is happening. In Illinois, Stimulus money for “weatherization” of homes was found to be an almost complete waste of money by the Department of Energy. Instead of reading that report, the state of Illinois created another weatherization program once the Stimulus money evaporated. Many cities are creating similar boondoggles on a smaller scale.

I’m not a lawyer, but there needs to be a legal challenge to this spending. At its root, it is relying on a manufactured scientific consensus that purposely ignores conflicting information. It needs to be challenged. Since the mainstream media refuses to dig into this, a lawsuit that forces discovery might pierce the silence. Some type of class-action or whistleblower type suit aimed at a climate-related program at the federal, state or local level should be explored.

You would think conservative members of Congress would fight back against dubious spending, but with few exceptions they are afraid. They know the MSM is completely in the tank with the climate zealots and don’t want to be labeled a “climate change skeptic” or worse. So they just tolerate the waste.

Indifference to the issue won’t make it go away. Liberal activists have been planning for decades to use climate as a means of controlling energy production. They are moving full speed ahead, regardless of the facts. Conservatives need to wake up and expose the fraud or we will continue to pay for it.

What do the Cardinals do now?

by Dan Curry

Now that John Mozeliak, Bill DeWitt and the Cardinals have been pantsed in broad daylight by Theo Epstein and the Cubs, what is the countermove?

The beauty of this signing if you are a Cubs fan is that in addition to thoroughly changing the dynamics the next few years in the NL Central, it invites the Cardinals to further wreck their future with one of the expected responses.

Signing Alex Gordon, for example, provides short-term relief and makes the Cards a bit more competitive next year and 2017 but it accelerates the aging of St. Louis’ core. Another big free agent, Chris Davis, would provide pop but would give the team a lineup full of whiffers in addition to the huge risk of erratic Davis turning into an expensive bust.

No, the Cardinals’ front office needs to think creatively now. We are not confident that is within the DNA at 700 Clark Street, but the Heyward fiasco demands it.

What made the Heyward (or Price) signing imperative this off-season from a strategic standpoint is that it would have given the Cardinals an infusion of youth to offset the past-prime core of Holliday, Molina, Peralta and Wainwright. It would have acted as a bridge to the future, which, in just a year or two, includes a new fleet of young mid- to top-rotation pitching (Reyes, Flaherty, Weaver) to supplement Wacha, Martinez, Cooney, Gonzalez, etc. Young pitching is the one advantage the Cardinals have over the ascendant Cubs.

Instead, almost beyond comprehension, the Cardinals allowed the Cubs to sign Heyward from their grasps, seemingly because they structured the contract more favorably by offering opt-outs. Because Heyward is so young, the Cardinals should have been willing to do anything it takes to sign him. If he walked after three years and $75 million, who cares? They would have just received three prime years from him and moved seamlessly to the next wave of pitching talent.

Instead the Cardinals fell further behind the Cubs in talent. According to FanGraphs projections for next year, the North Siders are 12 games better than the Cards as of this moment. That gap is trending the wrong way for STL as its core ages and the Cubs’ lineup moves into prime years.

Yes, games are played on the field and projections are often wildly off. But lots of variables have to go right for the Cards to be competitive with the Cubs next year. Translated, it means Pham, Grichuk, Adams, Wong and Piscotty need to outperform their projections while Cubs’ players regress and/or are beset by lots of injuries. Unlikely.

With that in mind, the Cardinals need to try to do enough to stay in playoff contention without damaging their future. Even with the most aggressive short-term strategy possible, the Cardinals can’t match the Cubs next year on paper. Don’t try. Here is what they shouldn’t do:

  • Trade from their core of top young pitching. Everybody will want Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty. Do not move them. Retain the team’s only advantage over the Cubs.

  • Fiddle away draft picks. The one small upside to the Cubs’ signing of John Lackey and Heyward is that STL receives two extra high draft picks. Certain free agents, including Gordon, come at a cost of a pick. Gravitate to free agents without picks attached.

  • Get saddled with a long-term contract for an aging, declining bat. Say no to Gordon, Cespedes, Upton or Davis.

Instead, they need to be creative. Among the possible moves:

  • Try to trade for young core players if possible. This is difficult and expensive and nearly impossible to do without trading young pitching. Freddie Freeman is a possibility. Adams, Grichuk/Pham and a young pitcher not named Reyes, Flaherty, Weaver, Martinez or Wacha might do it. Freeman is owed $20 million a year for six years and Atlanta would welcome the salary dump. Mo needs to exhaust all MLB for targets that fit this profile.

  • Think about moving Trevor Rosenthal into the rotation for a year. That would allow you to fill the fifth spot without signing an expensive free-agent. Make Sam Tuivailala, Jordan Walden, Kevin Siegrist or Jonathan Broxton your closer. Not ideal, certainly, but worth a try.

  • Look for a couple additional good bullpen arms. Build a top-notch pen. Plenty of non-attached free agents are available and several high-end relievers are on the trade market.

  • Look for value upside free agents. Gerardo Parra is one example. He could platoon or fill-in at all outfield spots and has a bit of offensive upside. He probably could be had for something like 3 years/$27 million.

Follow this general blueprint and STL projects to be a 90 or 91 win team next year. Not nearly good enough to compete with the Cubs and their 100-win dynamo on paper, but it would give the Cardinals a fighting chance to reload on the fly as their young pitching advances to the majors and some promising position players move right behind them.

This “plan” is not pleasing or ideal but it is the new reality that Mozeliak and DeWitt created by failing to understand the battleground they were standing on. They need to step back and not make a second major blunder that could sink the franchise into the NL Central abyss.