With fairly certain speculation that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich will be indicted this week, the Chicago Tribune on Tuesday reported on newly released documentation that follows "a flurry" of negotiations between the governor and the Tribune Company regarding a proposed state purchase of Wrigley Field.
So secret were the dealings that they had their own code name; Project Elwood -- "an apparent reference to a 'Blues Brothers' character," the paper says.
When Blagojevich was arrested on federal corruption charges midstream of the dealings, it was alleged that he had tried to use extortion of the Tribune to seal the deal.
According to federal authorities, the Trib says, Blagojevich wanted to pressure Tribune Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sam Zell to fire members of the newspaper's editorial board who had angered the governor with their critical editorials.
The Tribune insists that it did nothing wrong. Sounds familiar, since Blagojevich has said the same over and over again in recent months.
Records indicate that Blago and Zell talked directly a number of times, and that the then governor reached out to members of the Cubs organization, as well.
Blago's telephone log shows calls to manager Lou Piniella, coach Larry Rothschild and John McDonough, the team's former president who is now with the Chicago Blackhawks.
According to the records, contact between Tribune Co. and the governor's office accelerated after an earlier state effort to buy Wrigley Field fell through in June, according to the paper. That failed deal involved the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the city-state agency that owns and operates the White Sox ballpark, U.S. Cellular Field.
Blago claimed that Zell had spoken, at some point, of tearing Wrigley Field down. So horrifying was that possibility to the avid Cub fan/governor, that he quickly turned to the Illinois Finance Authority to buy the walls of ivy.
As work proceeded on that deal, records show the governor's increasing concerns about the editorial board and its possible efforts to push for impeachment. The Tribune indicates that Blagojevich insisted that no Wrigley deal could be reached as long as certain of his critics were still seated on the paper's editorial board.
On the same day Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy protection -- Dec. 8 -- Blagojevich told a Chicago Tribune reporter: "I'm confident that an astute businessman like Sam Zell is going to turn this around. And [I] offer a polite recommendation to him. One thing he might want to do is change that editorial policy and change that editorial board."