CHICAGO (CN) – Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s Chief of Staff John Harris pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud during Blagojevich’s alleged attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.
Harris pleaded guilty Wednesday in a plea agreement, admitting he helped “Blagojevich’s efforts to carry out the scheme by suggesting means by which Blagojevich could secure personal benefits for himself in exchange for appointing a United States Senator.”
Harris worked for Blagojevich from 2005 to December last year, when they were arrested on suspicion of racketeering and conspiring to sell the U.S. Senate seat. Wiretaps of phone calls between Harris and Blagojevich, which were released to the public, made national news.
But Harris also claims that he “expressed opposition to Blagojevich’s efforts to enrich himself,” and often refused to follow Blagojevich’s requests.
According to the Plea Agreement, Blagojevich asked Harris what he could get in exchange for the seat, to which Harris replied “that the appointment could either reward an ally or make a new ally but that Blagojevich could not trade the Senate seat for something for himself.”
Harris admitted that he helped Blagojevich strategize, and even offered ideas on how Blagojevich could sell or trade the Senate seat. He admits that he presented “Blagojevich with an idea by which Blagojevich could become the national coordinator for an organization named ‘Change to Win,'” in exchange for the seat. Harris says he told Blagojevich that such a position would “keep him politically viable, pay him a salary, and provide him with union support and connections …”
Harris says Blagojevich wanted one candidate to surrender his campaign funds in exchange for the seat, and that he had also been enticed by a ‘third party’ offer to raise $1.5 million for the appointment.
Yet Harris says that he told Blagojevich an “offer to raise funds should not be a factor in his decision.”
According to the 25-page Plea Agreement, in November and December of 2008 Blagojevich demanded that Harris go to the Chicago Tribune and tell “Tribune financial advisors that Blagojevich was going to withhold state financial support that would benefit the Tribune Company, unless the Tribune owner fired people on the editorial board,” who had given Blagojevich bad press.
Harris says he talked to the Tribune about the “negative editorials,” but did not relay the threat, as he promised Blagojevich.
Federal court officials have deemed Harris as a “minor participant in the criminal activity.”
He has agreed to cooperate in the government’s investigation, and is expected to serve no more than 35 to 44 months in jail due to his clean criminal record, according to the document.
Harris was represented by Terry Ekl.