CHICAGO – In a secretly recorded phone call, the FBI captured Rahm Emanuel asking then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to consider appointing his choice as his successor in Congress when he left to become President Barack Obama's chief of staff, according to a transcript Blagojevich's attorneys filed at his corruption retrial Tuesday.
On the call in November 2008, Emanuel tells Blagojevich that he is looking into the legality of such an appointment. And he raises the name of a county official as a potential appointee because the man is only interested in the seat for one or two terms and then "wants to go to the cabinet."
"I am happy to appoint your guy," Blagojevich tells Emanuel on the call, according to the transcript submitted by the Blagojevich attorneys. "If I can do it, I'll do it."
"This is between you and I ...," Emanuel tells Blagojevich. "I will not forget this."
Emanuel is not accused of wrongdoing. Asked earlier Tuesday about testimony at Blagojevich's trial regarding the conversation, he said he answered all questions lawyers thought necessary when he testified for about five minutes last month. His spokeswoman echoed that comment later in the day.
The transcript, which had not been released publicly before, was part of a motion filed by Blagojevich's attorneys as they sought to clarify testimony on Monday in which prosecutors asked Blagojevich to confirm that Emanuel had asked for the favor and that the then-governor's aides had told him it was unconstitutional.
The attorneys argued Blagojevich was not trying to do anything wrong and that he told Emanuel a special election was required.
Judge James Zagel rejected their request to have a tape of the conversation read to jurors in court, but defense attorneys filed the motion later in the day. It is not clear whether it is a full transcript of the conversation.
The conversation was just one of hundreds of Blagojevich calls captured by FBI wiretaps — secret recordings that have underpinned the government's case against the impeached Illinois governor. Some of the tapes have become public only after being approved by the judge as evidence in the trial.
Christine Mather, a spokeswoman for Emanuel, who is now Chicago's mayor, did not respond directly to questions about the conversation, referring to his earlier comment.
In a book published after his arrest in December 2008, Blagojevich claimed that Emanuel wanted him to appoint a "placeholder" who would step aside later so Emanuel could win the seat back when he was done as chief of staff.
Blagojevich is charged with 20 counts of corruption in his retrial. Last year, a jury deadlocked on 23 of 24 charges against him in the first trial and convicted him on one count of lying to the FBI. On Tuesday, he ended seven days of testimony in which prosecutors sought to portray him as a serial liar.
The transcript released Tuesday is the first time some of Emanuel's own words were made public regarding his 2008 conversation with Blagojevich.
In the conversation, according to the transcript filed in the motion, Emanuel tells Blagojevich the appointment would give a successor an advantage in winning the seat in an eventual special election and that he wanted someone who didn't want the job in Congress as a "lifetime commitment."
Emanuel tells Blagojevich that Forrest Claypool, then a county official, was interested in the congressional seat for "like one term or two max." Emanuel recently named Claypool to head the Chicago Transit Authority, which oversees one of largest subway and bus networks in the nation.
A CTA spokeswoman said Tuesday that Claypool had no comment.
In the transcript, Blagojevich seems eager to help Emanuel.
"That's a good play," he says. "So how can I help? ... What can I do?"
Blagojevich says his lawyers tell him there's no way to make an appointment to the seat, that a special election would have to be held.
Emanuel responds he knows that to be true and suggests a legal alternative: If Emanuel steps down three weeks before the end of his term, Blagojevich could make an interim appointment of someone who would take the seat up to the election.
"OK? You would appoint somebody to finish those three weeks ...," Emanuel says in the transcript. "It gives him a head start (over other candidates) and a presumption. So I am going to check that legally out, and then we will, uh, and I, this is between you and I ..."