The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Madigan moves to have Blagojevich declared "unfit"

Holy {bleep}:

Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan filed a motion with the Illinois Supreme Court today aimed at removing Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office.

Such a motion is untested in the state's history. The case could determine whether the governor is fit to serve.

Madigan will hold a news conference at 11:15 a.m at the state office complex in downtown Chicago.

More details to come.

Unprecedented. And (full disclosure) even though I've already contributed to Madigan's own campaign, I'm not sure this is the kind of precedent we really want.

On the other hand, what in all of Christendom will convince Blagojevich he needs to resign? Maybe he really has left the realm of the sane.

The Big Dog Barks

President-elect Obama says Blagojevich must go:

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs says the president-elect agrees with other prominent politicians in Illinois and elsewhere that "under the current circumstances, it is difficult for the governor to effectively do his job and serve the people of Illinois."

In response to questions from The Associated Press, Gibbs said Obama believes the Illinois legislature should consider a special election to fill the seat. Gibbs says the hope is to put a process in place to select a new senator who will have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois.

Care to bet the governor holds a press conference tomorrow morning? Care to wager on its content?

Jesse Jackson lawyers up

Lots of speculation today whether Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) is "Senate Candidate 5" from the Federal complaint against Gov. Blagojevich, but he was asked to "share some thoughts" with the FBI:

Jackson said this morning he was contacted Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Chicago whom he said "asked me to come in and share with them my insights and thoughts about the selection process."

Jackson said, "I don't know" when asked whether he was Candidate No. 5, but said he was told "I am not a target of this investigation."

Jackson said he agreed to talk with federal investigators "as quickly as possible" after he consulted with a lawyer.

...

The FBI says that during an Oct. 31 conversation, Blagojevich described an approach from an associate of Senate Candidate 5: "We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know, he'd raise me 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him [Senate Candidate 5] a senator."

On Thursday, the FBI says Blagojevich "was giving Senate Candidate 5 greater consideration for the Senate seat" because he might "get some [money] up front, maybe."

It goes on:

Jackson said Tuesday that he met with Blagojevich Monday "for the first time in years" and voiced his desire to fill Obama's empty Senate seat. He said he was "shocked" to find gambling in this establishment by Blagojevich's arrest, adding that "if these allegations are proved true, I am outraged by the appalling, pay-to-play schemes hatched at the highest levels of our state government."

Another sad point to all of this, as Josh Marshall pointed out earlier: Blagojevich isn't just a former lawyer, he's a former prosecutor.

On the ground in Chicago

The biggest controversey about today's news at my client's office comes down to this: who is actually the stupidest governor in the US, Blagojevich or Palin? The morning's events bring this important question to the fore.

Happy Arrogant Stupidity Day, Chicago!

Exhibit A: The governor.

On the issue of the U.S. Senate selection, federal prosecutors alleged Blagojevich sought appointment as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the new Obama administration, or a lucrative job with a union in exchange for appointing a union-preferred candidate.

Blagojevich and Harris conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.

Blagojevich and Harris, along with others, obtained and sought to gain financial benefits for the governor, members of his family and his campaign fund in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state jobs and state contracts.

"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement. "They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."

U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald's office put out a press release (pdf) that is worth reading.

Exhibit B: The newspaper.

Mr. Zell isn’t the only one responsible for this debacle. With one of the grand old names of American journalism now confronting an uncertain future, it is worth remembering all the people who mismanaged the company before hand and helped orchestrate this ill-fated deal — and made a lot of money in the process. They include members of the Tribune board, the company’s management and the bankers who walked away with millions of dollars for financing and advising on a transaction that many of them knew, or should have known, could end in ruin.

It was Tribune’s board that sold the company to Mr. Zell — and allowed him to use the employee’s pension plan to do so. Despite early resistance, Dennis J. FitzSimons, then the company’s chief executive, backed the plan. He was paid about $17.7 million in severance and other payments. The sale also bought all the shares he owned — $23.8 million worth. The day he left, he said in a note to employees that “completing this ‘going private’ transaction is a great outcome for our shareholders, employees and customers.”

Well, at least for some of them. Tribune’s board was advised by a group of bankers from Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, which walked off with $35.8 million and $37 million, respectively. But those banks played both sides of the deal: they also lent Mr. Zell the money to buy the company. For that, they shared an additional $47 million pot of fees with several other banks, according to Thomson Reuters. And then there was Morgan Stanley, which wrote a “fairness opinion” blessing the deal, for which it was paid a $7.5 million fee (plus an additional $2.5 million advisory fee).

Good times, good times.

More on Tribune BK filing

First, hoping to capitalize on their sterling reputation for honesty and good management, Tribune claims that the Cubs sale will continue as planned:

Tribune Co. did not include the franchise and Wrigley Field in its bankruptcy petition, allowing the media company to retain control of the sales process. Nonetheless, Tribune Co. will have to keep creditors informed about the auction, and the winning bid will have to be signed off by a bankruptcy judge, sources close to the situation told the Chicago Tribune.

Moreover, the bidders are unsure of how to proceed. "I really don't know enough to comment," said one bidder. "Some very complex issues have arisen."

Some issues, yes. I'm sure publisher Tony Hunter can clear things up:

What does all this mean for our readers, viewers and advertisers? As a practical matter, very little. Tribune is continuing to operate its media businesses, including its newspapers, television stations and websites. And, at Chicago Tribune, we remain dedicated to providing you with the level of service and news coverage you've come to expect from us every day.

The decision to restructure our debt was driven by the dramatic and unexpected operating conditions we've encountered this year. We have experienced the perfect storm -- a precipitous decline in revenue and a tough economy has coupled with a credit crisis, making it extremely difficult to support our debt. All of our major advertising categories have been dramatically impacted.

In other words, we had no way of knowing that taking on $8.2 billion in debt during a credit crisis while denuding our news departments of reporters under the direction of a man who doesn't actually read newspapers could, in any way, get in the way of us transferring vast amounts of wealth to our major shareholders. Hoocoodanode?

Sad. Very sad.

Tribune files for bankruptcy protection

It's official:

The Chicago Tribune's parent company was working with bankruptcy advisers at investment bank Lazard and law firm Sidley Austin to weigh financial options, sources told the Chicago Tribune for this morning's paper.

Tribune Co. has been struggling under a $13 billion debt load since real estate magnate Sam Zell took the company private last December in an $8.2 billion leveraged buyout. The company faces a deadline today on $70 million of unsecured debt it took on before Zell's deal.

More:

Analysts have said the sale of the Chicago Cubs baseball team by the end of this year is critical to keeping Tribune Co. within its existing debt covenants, which prohibit borrowing more than nine times its earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization.

But even a potential windfall of a Cubs sale might provide only temporary relief if the Tribune Co. and its advertisers continue to be dragged down by the current economic crisis, which has compounded the effects of splintering audiences for media companies.

My question is, did Zell expect this outcome? Or did he figure, as others have done in the past, that because he made a lot of money in one arena he was therefore qualified to work in another?