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Is Fitzgerald's Office Leaking to the Chicago Tribune?

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Is Fitzgerald's Office Leaking to the Chicago Tribune?

After first leaking the name of Jesse Jackson, Jr., to television reporters, and then leaking to the Wall Street Journal that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's people were "livid" about a Chicago Tribune story on their investigation of various politicos in Illinois, are Fitzgerald's people now 'leaking' "i.e. planting items--to the Chicago Tribune?

The Tribune, Chicago's Republican newspaper, declared itself bankrupt just hours before the feds' pre-dawn arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The Tribune has also been the Chicago paper always and staunchly in Fitzgerald's corner, praising the prosecutor lavishly and calling repeatedly for his being kept on. The Chicago Sun-Times has also given favorable coverage to Fitzgerald, but more objectively and less lavishly.

If the Tribune was not rewarded by the NDIL prosecution of Conrad Black""an exec at Hollinger, former parent company of the Sun-Times""it has effectively been rewarded in the Blagojevich matter. Both in the filing charging Blagojevich on two counts and in the Dec. 9 press conference in which the prosecutor praised the paper and stated that he was being kept awake nights by fear of what might happen to a member of its editorial board, the Tribune was boosted heavily.

Now the Tribune is running an item saying that Rahm Emanuel, Representative from Illinois and President-Elect Obama's choice as chief of staff, has been caught on wiretap. The Tribune article does not name a source or sources for the item. In fact, the careful wording of this short piece does not say how many sources there are:

[first graf] "Rahm Emanuel, President-elect Barack Obama's pick to be White House chief of staff, had conversations with Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration about who would replace Obama in the U.S. Senate, the Tribune has learned." [emphasis added]

[fourth graf] "One source confirmed that communications between Emanuel and the Blagojevich administration were captured on court-approved wiretaps."

[fifth graf] "Another source said that contact between the Obama camp and the governor's administration regarding the Senate seat began the Saturday before the Nov. 4 election, when Emanuel made a call to the cell phone of Harris. The conversation took place around the same time press reports surfaced about Emanuel being approached about taking the high-level White House post should Obama win.

Emanuel delivered a list of candidates who would be "acceptable"- to Obama, the source said. On the list were Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, Illinois Veterans Affairs director Tammy Duckworth, state Comptroller Dan Hynes and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Chicago, the source said. All are Democrats."

That last item is hardly a surprise. But it probably explains the wiretap.

Without a peep of concern, let alone dismay, from corporate media outlets, we have a highly unusual situation in Illinois. A prosecutor who arrested a sitting governor without having to present a case--and who subsequently requested and was granted another three months to get an indictment--now has "thousands" of wiretapped phone calls, according to his statement.

The court order permitting the wiretaps must have been very broadly worded to allow for a harvest of thousands of them. Since the governor and his chief of staff alone cannot have made and received "thousands"- of calls in the time frame, an essential question should be raised: Who is on those wiretaps?

Presumably, under the rubric of the Blagojevich investigation, everyone who talks to Blagojevich or to his staffers can be tapped. According to Seth Anderson, Executive Vice President of the American Judicature Society--who declines to speculate on the identities of those being subpoenaed or wiretapped--one could ask whether the authorization is broad enough to include everyone ordering pizza, for example, or engaged in family conversations. Anderson points out a recent case in which private conversations of U.S. military families were recorded and the recordings listened to by personnel in the agency--for purposes of titillation. The abuse, highly offensive to anyone with a grain of conscience, was discovered only when some agency personnel, appalled by the acts, became whistleblowers.

If there is a state in the Union that desperately needs some whistleblowers now, it is Illinois.

Back to that question of who is on the wiretaps: Do they include everyone who has ever donated to Blagojevich? To the Democratic Party in Illinois? To either party?

Do they include everyone who has ever had contact or conversation with any individual investigated by the NDIL?

Do they include everyone who has ever donated to another candidate endorsed or supported by Blagojevich?

Do they include everyone who has ever been endorsed or supported by Blagojevich?

Do they, in short, include everyone in Illinois state government, including federal, state and local judges and their staffers? Is Fitzgerald including his personal friends in these wiretaps? Are the FBI agents working for him being wiretapped?

Do the wiretaps include every member of the state legislature, where the House voted almost unanimously to impeach Blagojevich?

The prosecutor's office and the FBI politely decline to answer questions about possible wiretapping of judges.

Good thing this is America; at least Blago can be thankful that no one has burst through the door, as a friend of mine commented, and shot him in his bed.

We do, of course, still have to ask why they were wiretapping him in the first place.

A neighbor of mine characterized that odd pre-dawn arrest of the governor as "a back-door attack on Obama." I was initially resistant to suggestions that Fitzgerald or any prosecutor could be so far gone as to arrest someone for the sake of his own job, but now? --This looks, in all honesty, simply horrible.

If, in any other country in the world, we saw a man apply for a three-month extension on a key project just when his own job is up for reappointment or replacement, we would know what to think. If we saw a man advertise a stash of "thousands" of wiretaps of public officials or other citizens, in some hypothetical banana republic, just when his own job was on the line, we would fault the local media and the authorities for not inquiring about the matter.

This is a situation so fraught with potential for abuses, so loaded with potential conflict of interest, as to go far beyond any partisan concerns. Fitzgerald would never have been able to pull any of this except in the current interregnum.

But it is also interesting that a number of Democrats including Spitzer, Dixon, and now evidently Richardson and Blagojevich have been under surveillance. Has the Bush administration been routinely watching every significant office holder hoping that someone would screw up?

Is that what the U.S. Attorney in Chicago has been doing? Or is this stash of thousands of wiretapped phone conversations part of something even more troubling?
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Margie Burns is a freelance journalist in metro D.C. with a blog on government, law and politics, and Hill credentials through the Austin-based Progressive Populist. Her articles have appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Baltimore Sun, (more...)
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