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.