Rezko Watch: Blagojevich kept informed on extortion attempts

The trial of Tony Rezko has promised an explosive look at Illinois politics, and yesterday it delivered a large detonation regarding Governor Rod Blagojevich. After an attempted shakedown of a Hollywood producer failed to generate the million-dollar payoff for Blagojevich’s campaign, fixer Stuart Levine testified that Blagojevich agreed to cut state business with Tom Rosenberg in response:

A Chicago businessman-turned-Hollywood producer who believed he was being shaken down by two of Gov. Blagojevich’s campaign fund-raisers threatened to “take them down” if they didn’t back off, according to a recording played at the Tony Rezko corruption trial today.

And the governor was made aware of the “situation” and agreed the producer shouldn’t get any more state business, star prosecution witness Stuart Levine testified this afternoon. …

Levine, who has pleaded guilty to taking part with Rezko in schemes to get kickbacks from companies seeking state business, testified that the decision to approach Rosenberg for cash came after Rezko and fellow Blagojevich fund-raiser Chris Kelly learned Rosenberg won big-money deals with the state but hadn’t given to Blagojevich’s campaign fund. On the recording, Cellini tells Levine that Rosenberg angrily rebuked Cellini’s attempt to squeeze him for a campaign donation.

“ ‘I’ll take them down,’ ” Cellini recounts Rosenberg telling him, speaking about Kelly and Rezko. “ ‘They’re known by the G” — the government — “as to what they’re doing. They’ve got 48 hours. If they’re going to do this to me and think they’re going to blackmail me — I’m going to take them down.’

When informed of the conversation, Blagojevich didn’t react by saying, “The state’s business affairs have nothing to do with campaign contributions,” or “How dare you try to force Rosenberg into contributing to my campaign because of his business connections with the people of Illinois!” That might make a great line in a future Rosenberg film, however, akin to “I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling in this establishment!”

No, the Governor of Illinois instead agreed with his fixers to lock Rosenberg out of any more state contracts as a result of Rosenberg’s intention to expose their sleazy kickback scheme. That, if corroborated, would be a prosecutable abuse of power. The governor’s office immediately issued a denial, but the trial continues — and if more evidence arises, then Blagojevich may find himself out of a job, or worse.

The exposure of this shakedown racket shows that Rezko is no anomaly in Illinois politics. This testimony also highlights the deeply corrupt nature of Tony Rezko and his associates in that environment. Rezko was no overeager fundraiser who got tripped up by Byzantine campaign-finance regulations, but a political gangster who worked to abuse government power for his own ends. His association with Barack Obama should send up all sorts of red flags — and by the time the trial is over, perhaps it will.

Update: Rod, not Roy.  Thanks to the Hurtibises for the correction.