Blagojevich indictment given more time
CHICAGO — A federal judge today gave prosecutors an additional three months to obtain a corruption indictment against Gov. Rod Blagojevich, saying the complexity of the case against him makes it "unreasonable" to expect the indictment sooner.
Chief Judge James F. Holderman's decision to grant the extension was expected, came without any opposition from defense attorneys and didn't indicate any slowdown in the government's corruption investigation of Blagojevich and his administration.
Holderman also has been asked to decide whether redacted versions of secretly made FBI recordings of Blagojevich can be given to an Illinois House committee working to determine whether there is enough evidence to impeach Blagojevich. A hearing was planned for this afternoon.
Holderman said the case against Blagojevich is too complex to expect a speedy indictment.
"The ends of justice served by the extension outweigh the best interests of the public and the defendants to a speedy trial," the judge said.
Blagojevich, 52, is charged in a federal criminal complaint filed last month with an array of offenses, including a plot to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama following his election as president. The governor says he is innocent.
Blagojevich and former chief of staff John Harris also are charged with plotting to squeeze potential campaign contributors for money illegally and trying to get the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers calling for the governor's impeachment.
Federal prosecutors have 30 days after filing such a complaint to replace it with a grand jury indictment, which would allow them to take the case to trial.
The deadline for an indictment against Blagojevich would have run out Wednesday. Holderman extended the deadline to April 7.
According to an FBI affidavit attached to the complaint, Blagojevich described his power to appoint a senator to fill the seat as a "golden" thing and vowed to get something in return — a Cabinet post, a high-paying job after leaving office, a position for his wife or campaign cash — in exchange.
Authorities also allege in the affidavit that Blagojevich schemed to withhold $8 million in aid to a children's hospital until the head of the hospital made a sizable campaign contribution. He allegedly used the power of the governor's office to pressure roadbuilders and someone interested in casino legislation for political donations.
Blagojevich also discussed with Harris the possibility of holding up financial aid to the Tribune in its efforts to sell Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, unless the editorial writers were fired, the affidavit said. According to the FBI recordings, the governor pressed Harris to apply the pressure in meetings with a financial adviser to the newspaper company.
Illinois House members investigating whether the governor should be impeached are reviewing evidence they've heard in hearings since Dec. 16. Members say a committee vote on whether to recommend impeaching the governor could come Wednesday or Thursday.
Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, to Obama's Senate seat despite Democratic leaders' pledge not to seat anyone named by the governor facing federal corruption charges.
Today, the governor made a less controversial move regarding another job made vacant by the presidential election, setting a special election April 7 to fill the congressional seat Rahm Emanuel is vacating to become Obama's chief of staff. The primary will be March 3.