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Gov. Candidate JB Pritzker On Tape With Blagojevich Discussing Political Appointments

By Rachel Cromidas in News on May 31, 2017 10:56PM

J.B. Pritzker / Facebook

Back when Rod Blagojevich was governor and the FBI was wiretapping his phones in late 2008, the disgraced ex-governor, since convicted for attempting to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat, chatted about political appointments with billionaire businessman and current Illinois governor candidate J.B. Pritzker.

According to an extensive Tribune report on the tapes, Blagojevich apparently asked Pritzker if he wanted Obama's Senate seat, to which Pritzker replied he was "really not that interested," and asked Blagojevich if he would instead like to appoint him as Illinois State Treasurer. At the time, it seemed likely that the treasurer role would be left vacant by its occupant, Alexi Giannoulias. (Ultimately, it wasn't.)

After the conversation turned to the treasurer role, Blagojevich asked Pritzker for a large campaign contribution. He also asked Pritzker whether he would like to be Illinois' attorney general.

"My interest in holding public office is, you know, always large," reportedly Pritzker replied on the Nov. 6 call.

Pritzker, a top Illinois campaign donor, had developed a close relationship with Blagojevich over years of democratic campaign contributions and public comments both men made supporting each other. In the Tribune's transcript of a later call Pritzker and Blagojevich had over the potential treasurer appointment, the pair were cagey when talk turned to campaign donations. They also got in some jabs about Pritzker's sister, Penny Prizker:

Pritzker already had raised the idea of being named state treasurer if an opening occurred, and he followed up during a Nov. 14, 2008, call with the governor.

"I've got a lot of reasons why it makes sense. The problem for you would be the same problem with the Senate really," Pritzker said. "I've given you contributions."

"Total nonissue," Blagojevich replied. "First of all, you give money to everybody, like (Attorney General) Lisa Madigan, OK?"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, no question," Pritzker said.

"Which, incidentally, if you can do for me what you did for her, before the end of the year. Can you think about that?" Blagojevich asked, aware that Pritzker had donated $50,000 to Madigan during the previous year.

"I can't, I mean, not while everything's up in the air, but I hear ya," Pritzker said. "I hear ya and, and and … But anyway …"

"If we go in that direction, though, if that does happen, I mean there's some other people who can help us that you know," Blagojevich said.

"Sure," Pritzker said.

"If you feel skittish about that, which I believe you shouldn't, but go ahead," Blagojevich said.

"Yeah," Pritzker replied, "I don't think we should even talk about it but I understand what you're saying."

Earlier in that same call, Blagojevich talked about Pritzker's qualifications for treasurer that included "banking and financial experience and know-how."

"Yeah, I don't know about banking, right?" Pritzker said. "You throw my sister (Penny) and Superior Bank in."

Both laughed.

"What happened to her bank?" Blagojevich asked. "Did it collapse or something?"

"Yeah, she was chairman of the bank," Pritzker said. "It had subprime loans. I mean bad stuff."

"Superior Bank turned out to be an inferior bank," the governor remarked.

"Inferior. Exactly, exactly. Very good," Pritzker said. "I like that. Inferior Bank. I haven't thought about that. That's a good one."

Pritzker also reportedly laid out a case for why it might make sense to appoint him to the Senate seat after all: It could work, he told Blagojevich, "if the announcement was you're doing this because it's a good government move, because this is going to be a terrible couple of years, that you need somebody with financial expertise, and someone who's above politics and not running for it and not beholden to anybody and, you know, whose only interest is in fixing the economy and so on."

In separate conversations with his aides that did not include Pritzker, Blagojevich boasted about Prizker's ability to raise millions of dollars for the governor and asked staffers whether it would be worth it to give him the Senate seat. "Incidentally, he asked me for it. Don't repeat that," Blagojevich said. Of course, as the Tribune notes, Pritzker did not in fact ask Blagojevich for the Senate seat in the recorded calls obtained by the paper.

Pritzker's campaign responded to the Tribune's story Wednesday afternoon with a statement denying that anything improper was discussed in the phone calls described by the Tribune:

"If one listens to the actual calls released in the story there was nothing untoward about JB’s conversations with the Governor," said Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen. "Throughout JB’s life he’s had an interest in serving the people of Illinois and that’s exactly what he expressed when discussing a potential opening in the Treasurer’s office. In fact, when the Governor brings up whether JB would be interested in being appointed to the Senate, on multiple occasions JB expresses he is not and moves away from the type of conversation that landed Rod Blagojevich in prison.

"This is just a continuation of attacks made by Bruce Rauner and Republicans and it’s no coincidence that it was published by the Chicago Tribune on the last day of another session where Governor Rauner has failed to pass a budget."

As Capitol Fax noted in its story on the report, Prizker last donated to Blagojevich in 2006, two years before the conversations.