Chicago A partner in a prominent, Washington-based political consulting firm is among those secretly recorded discussing ways Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich can cash in on President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
Frederick S. Yang, a top executive at Peter D. Hart Research Group Associates, is identified by prosecutors in the Blagojevich criminal complaint as “Advisor B,” Michael D. Ettinger, a lawyer representing the governor’s brother, said Thursday. Robert Blagojevich, who has not been charged with a crime, runs his brother’s campaign fund.
The Hart firm has represented dozens of Democratic governors and members of Congress. The revelation that a key executive at the company was captured on FBI wiretaps working with the governor could embroil one of the nation’s most respected and influential polling and consulting groups in the Blagojevich scandal.
Blagojevich is accused of using his elected office to exchange official actions for favors, including offering Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder.
The intercepted discussions between Yang, who has not been charged, and the governor involved ways to secure Blagojevich a high-paying union job or persuade Obama to name him secretary of Health and Human Services in exchange for Valerie Jarrett’s appointment to succeed Obama in the Senate.
The Associated Press first contacted Yang in mid-December to request comment and confirm his role in the conversations cited in the complaint against Blagojevich. But he declined on multiple occasions.
“I can’t talk,” he said Dec. 13 when approached outside his Bethesda, Md., home and shown a copy of the complaint, which makes 16 references to “Advisor B” in five telephone conversations with Blagojevich.
Blagojevich, charged with two counts tied to fraud and bribery, has long been a client of Peter D. Hart Research and its political division, Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group. Partner Geoff Garin served as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential run. Hart and Garin also have declined repeated requests for comment from the AP since mid-December.
In a Nov. 7 recorded conversation characterized by prosecutors, Yang told Blagojevich he “should leverage the President-elect’s desire to have ‘Senate Candidate 1’ (Jarrett) appointed to the Senate seat in order to get a head position” with a union organization called Change to Win.
Ettinger and other defense lawyers believe they can show Blagojevich’s actions, and those working with him, were not criminal, just part of ordinary horse-trading in politics. Ettinger said prosecutors have many secretly recorded tapes that could shed more light on the Blagojevich’s actions, including as many as 50 taped conversations with his brother.
Yang’s discussions with Blagojevich, as characterized by prosecutors in the 76-page criminal complaint against the governor, are not proof of a crime, Ettinger said. The governor is caught on tape using profanity and expressing frustrations, but without more details it’s impossible to know what, if any, crime was committed, he said.
“What is beating your chest and what did you really do?” Ettinger said.