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Political maneuvering vs. illegal activity

Wednesday, December 10, 2008
ABC7 Chicago
by Andy Shaw

So where do politicians draw the line between what is political horse trading and what's criminal? Many agree, it's a fine line.

Governor Blagojevich is famous -- or infamous, as the case may be -- for his bravado in public and in private, according to a lot of friends and associates who have sat through hours of profanity-laced rants about virtually everything. When it's about Elvis, or the Cubs, or hardball politics in general, there is obviously nothing that merits criminal charges, but when those rants allegedly include a suggestion of personal gain in exchange for official action, bravado probably morphs into bribery.

The politics around here is loud and colorful. But it's also incredibility corrupt, as the high and mighty go off to jail, along with their lieutenants and an army of wayward underlings, for ignoring rule No. 1 in county commissioner and former alderman Bill Beavers' street guide to political survival:

"When it comes to money, when you take that money, when you take that tainted money, as I've said before, when you get caught, it ain't enough," said Commissioner Bill Beavers, (D) Chicago.

In other words, the governor's proclivity for emotional diatribes, locker room profanity and trash-talking bravado may be annoying, but it's not a crime. Except when the subject matter involves quid pro quos and pay-to-play scenarios that suggest financial gain in exchange for official actions.

"Appointing a senator is official action. When you take anything or suggest anything for that, you've committed bribery under all the statutes of Illinois and the federal government," said Commissioner Larry Suffredin, (D) Evanston.

Mayor Daley has complained in the past about the criminalization of old-fashioned political patronage in City Hall hiring and firing. But he says the governor's case is nothing like that.

"These are serious allegations," said Mayor Richard Daley.

This is how U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitgerald explained it Tuesday:

"We're not trying to criminalize people making political horse trades on policies or that sort of thing. But it is criminal when people are doing it for their personal enrichment," said US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

As for Bill Beavers, he claims to walk the straight and narrow, but he is also exceedingly careful about what he says and how he says it.

"You learn to talk sign language if you're talking about something you don't want nobody to know anything about," said Beavers.

Not everybody's wired, obviously., but the governor's phones were -- in three different places -- and most of the people who have heard to the secret tape recordings say it sounds a lot more like attempted bribery and attempted extortion than mere bravado. But the governor will probably argue that it was all talk and no action. We'll see how that plays when or if he has his day in court.

(Copyright ©2008 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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