By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Over its six-year life, the Blagojevich administration delivered "direct benefits," according to the House special impeachment report, to 75 percent of the 235 donors that gave exactly $25,000 to the campaign. The report defined these benefits as contracts, appointments, and "favorable policy and regulatory actions." Many of the donations, the committee found, "were made shortly before or after the receipt" of benefits. Those who exceeded the $25,000 "pay to play" entry fee—a description of the government freely offered by editorial boards while Tusk was at the helm—did even better: "Benefits were given to donors who made the highest contributions," the report said, "rather than to individuals or companies who were more deserving."
It's hard to imagine that Tusk, an alert and 12-hour-a-day man, was unaware of this mire all around him, even as he spearheaded health care and education funding initiatives that became the keys to Blagojevich's 2006 re-election.
By the November night two years ago, when Tusk was celebrating at Blagojevich's victory party, half a dozen of the governor's closest sidekicks and fundraisers had been indicted or pled guilty, and the campaign had paid more than $700,000 on Blagojevich's behalf to the same law firm that represented his convicted predecessor.
Yet Tusk was jubilant, "vindicated," said one of his friends who accompanied him there, Elliot Regenstein.
The infamous wiretapped Blagojevich statements that appear to show him auctioning off Barack Obama's Senate seat have left most people thinking that the federal investigation of the impeached governor is focused only on that grimy episode.
Actually, the criminal complaint against Blagojevich begins with the words: "From in or about 2002 to the present," Blagojevich "participated in a scheme to defraud" the state.
The first 31 pages of the 76-page arrest affidavit recount events that occurred while Bradley Tusk was at the helm of the government and notes that the government began the probe in 2003. When Blagojevich is actually indicted in April, the case against him is likely to feature many charges that reach back to the Tusk years.
The Bloomberg campaign claimed a couple of months ago that Tusk had never been questioned, much less implicated, in the investigations—by either federal or state officials—of Blagojevich. But the Voice has obtained a copy of his June 22, 2006, interview with the state's Auditor General, William Holland, which establishes his culpability for a flu vaccine program that the state itself conceded, when sued by an unpaid vendor, was illegal.
Wolfson says now that Tusk isn't "familiar with the report" and doesn't recall the interview by Holland investigators. Illinois newspapers also reported in 2005 that Tusk's records had been subpoenaed by state prosecutors, who declined to answer any Voice questions about whether Tusk was quizzed or what documents he provided because, their spokeswoman said, it was a grand jury subpoena. That's the limit of what's known about Tusk as a subject of investigative interest while he was in office.
Since Bloomberg's assertion in early December, however, the impeachment report formally charged Blagojevich with running two Tusk-conceived-and-directed programs—the flu vaccine and the importation of Canadian drugs—that "violated" numerous federal and state laws and, in the case of the importation effort, "exposed" participants "to federal criminal sanctions." The report names Tusk, concluding that the vaccine program, which it said was executed in "utter disregard" of the law, "implicates the highest-ranking officials in the Governor's Office, including the Deputy Governor."
In a letter to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, written just eight days after Tusk's campaign appointment was announced by Bloomberg, the impeachment committee included him on a list of 15 former Blagojevich staffers it wanted to subpoena. Fitzgerald objected, asking the committee not to question any of them, including Tusk, because it "could significantly compromise the ongoing criminal investigation." A spokesman for the office declined to explain how questioning Tusk might interfere with their inquiry because the answer is "outside the public record." What's undisputed is that Tusk never contacted Fitzgerald and offered what he knew about the inner workings of Blagojevich's government, even after this December's bombshell bust.
Fitzgerald's criminal complaint against Blagojevich alludes repeatedly to a Blagojevich flight aboard a chartered private plane to New York in 2003 that Tusk helped organize and that included a press conference with Bloomberg about the drug importation program. Five of the seven people aboard—excluding only Tusk and Blagojevich's bodyguard—have since been charged with federal crimes, and all but the former governor have pled guilty. Tony Rezko, the infamous financier and Blagojevich bagman who was convicted last year, appeared on the manifest for the trip, but didn't show up.
At one point during the trip, Tusk left his seat across the aisle from Blagojevich and gave it to Joseph Cari, a major national Democratic fundraiser new to the Blagojevich circle, according to court documents. Cari, who became the first of the gang to plead guilty to kickback charges in 2005, later testified that the governor immediately began to recruit him to participate in the governor's broad pay-to-play campaign-finance scheme.
Tusk's presence on the trip—which included three fundraising events that raised $75,250 from New York area donors—became a focal point of the Blagojevich critique during the 2006 re-election campaign. Wolfson declined to say if Tusk attended the New York events or met donors, as flight schedules indicated he would. Joe Birkett, the DuPage County State Attorney who was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, charged that mixing top fundraisers "with a high-ranking member of the governor's staff" was "setting the table to exchange your government decisions" for "political benefits." Democratic legislator Jack Franks told the Voice that Tusk's appearance on the trip was "highly inappropriate," noting that Blagojevich's staff was "enabling him" to blur "the line between state and political business."