Bla(g) Bla(go) Bla(o)

My latest FindLaw column argues that Rod Blagojevich differs in (substantial) degree but not in kind from other American politicians. My core claim is not that everyone is at least a bit corrupt but that what makes corruption of the Blagojevich variety objectionable is present to varying degrees in ordinary lawful politics.

Here I'll briefly address the efforts to tie the incoming Obama Administration to the sins of Blagojevich. There are the silly claims: They're both from Illinois! And then there are the
superficially plausible claims: If Obama's people have nothing to hide, why did they have to change their answers about who spoke to Blagojevich when? And aren't Rahm Emanuel's conversations with Blagojevich aides inherently illicit?

I have no inside information and so I acknowledge it's theoretically possible that a conversation like the following took place:
Emanuel: We'd like you to name CANDIDATE X to the seat.

Blagojevich: Well, a Senate seat is a fucking valuable thing. You
don't just give it away for nothing.

Emanuel: What's your price?

Blagojevich: Make me either Secretary of Energy or Ambassador to
Switzerland. And use your influence to get my wife some well-paying
foundation job.

Emanuel: Done! You give us the quid and we'll give you the quo.
But what are the odds? It seems much more likely that Emanuel, in discussing possible candidates to fill the Illinois seat, didn't realize that he was dealing with a psychopath, and so thought it not at all improper to make suggestions---because, frankly, when dealing with a normal governor, that would be completely fine. If we learned that Hillary Clinton had a conversation with David Paterson in which she suggested a name for her vacated seat, no one would bat an eyelash. Indeed, even if Emanuel had an inkling that Blagojevich was unhinged, it still wouldn't have been improper to suggest names, so long as he didn't agree (expressly or tacitly) to a quid pro quo.

Indeed, as I argue in the column, arrangements that come pretty close to a quid pro quo are quite routine.

Posted by Mike Dorf