“Let’s talk about the Tribune Company,” said David Ellis, delivering his closing argument to the Illinois Senate Thursday in the impeachment trial of Rod Blagojevich.
“The evidence clearly showed that the governor attempted to put a price tag on the provision of financial assistance to the Tribune Company. And what was that price tag? He wanted some editorial board members at the Chicago Tribune fired. Fifteen conversations with [chief of staff] John Harris over a one-month period. Fifteen conversations in which the governor repeatedly directs Harris to talk to high-ranking members of the Tribune Company. Fifteen conversations in which the governor makes it clear the message he wants delivered – ‘No money from the state unless those editorial board members are fired.’
“The governor was secretly recorded directing John Harris to tell a Tribune official, ‘Everything is lined up. But before we go to the next level we need to have a discussion about what you guys are going to do about that newspaper.’ Harris replies back, ‘I wont be so direct.’ And the governor says, ‘Yeah, you know what you got to say.’
“Repeatedly, the governor follows up with John Harris. Repeatedly, Harris reports back that he delivered the directive. More than once we read the exchange between the governor and Harris — ‘He got the message, right?’ ‘Right. He got it loud and clear.’
“And ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake — the governor knew what he was doing was wrongful. He agreed that Harris should not be so direct. He agreed that Harris should deliver the message in person, not on the phone. When Harris described his conversations with the Tribune Company as delicate, very delicate, the governor said, ‘I know, I know. Don’t push too hard. But you know what what you gotta do, right?'”
If you’re like me and find the Tribune Company count of the article of impeachment particularly mysterious and fascinating, it’s here that Ellis got really interesting. He said, “Now, the governor will say that there are people around the Chicago Tribune, or the Tribune Company, who would say that they did not have improper conversations. We don’t know who those people are or if they’re telling the truth. What we do know, from intercepted wire taps, intercepted oral communications, and friends of Blagojevich, is that the governor repeatedly directed John Harris to reach out to the Tribune. And whether it was true or not, Harris was telling him back, ‘I’ve been talking to him. I’ve delivered the message.'”
One day I suppose the Tribune will give us the story of how this shakedown looked from their end. If Tribune Company bosses like Sam Zell who might have had those conversations with Harris deny they happened, it didn’t matter to Ellis whether they’re telling the truth or lying. It matters to everyone else with any regard for the Tribune, and most of all to the paper itself. Will we have to wait for Blagojevich’s criminal trial to find out more?