US State of Illinois Opens New Chapter in Its Corruption History

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Rod Blagojevich
Rod Blagojevich
This week, the governor of the American state of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, was arrested on federal corruption charges. The case includes accusations that he tried to sell an appointment to Barack Obama's former seat in the United States Senate. The governor has the power to make a temporary appointment.

The United States attorney in Chicago, Patrick Fitzgerald, said the charges make no accusations about President-elect Obama.

On Thursday, the president-elect met with reporters in Chicago to name top members of his health care team, to be led by former senator Tom Daschle. But many questions dealt with the case.

President-elect Obama with Tom Daschle, his choice for health and human services secretary
President-elect Obama with Tom Daschle, his choice for health and human services secretary
PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: "What I want to do is to gather all the facts about any staff contacts that may have taken place between the transition office and the governor's office and we will have those in the next few days and we will present them. But what I am absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal making around my Senate seat. That I am absolutely certain of."

He joined calls for Governor Blagojevich, a Democrat, to resign.

On Friday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan made an extraordinary request to the state Supreme Court. She asked to have the governor temporarily removed from office, or at least prevented from filling the Senate seat. Lawmakers could hold a special election instead.

Among those interested in the seat is Representative Jesse Jackson Junior, the son of the civil rights leader. The Democratic congressman met with the governor. But he said he was not involved in any wrongdoing and is not a target of the investigation.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
The two-term governor says he has done nothing wrong. He was arrested at his Chicago home on Tuesday. He was released for now after a court appearance and returned to work the next day. He could face up to thirty years in prison if he is found guilty.

Among other things, investigators say he tried to pressure a newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, to dismiss opinion writers who criticized him. And officials suggest that he even threatened to deny state money to a children's hospital if he did not get a campaign donation.

  Federal officials say they recorded his phone calls. Yet it was no secret that he was under investigation.

Political corruption is nothing new to Illinois -- three former governors have gone to jail in the past thirty-five years. Rod Blagojevich was elected in two thousand two as a reform candidate. The governor before him, George Ryan, was found guilty of corruption two years ago. He is now serving a six-and-a-half year prison term.

But the newspaper USA Today says Illinois, for its population, is eighteenth among the fifty states in convictions for public corruption. North Dakota, it says, had the highest rate between nineteen ninety-eight and two thousand seven. But the study looked only at cases won in federal courts.

Two longtime members of Congress, from Alaska and Louisiana, lost re-election in November at least in part because of corruption cases.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.