Feds: Blago Aide Blew Off Order to Fire ‘Trib’ Editorial Writers Order

By: E&P Staff

Sam Zell and other top Tribune Co. executives won’t talk about what, if anything, they knew about impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposal to swap a big tax break on Wrigley Field for the firing of some Chicago Tribune editorial page writers. The editorial board itself has said from the start of the scandal they never had a hint anyone wanted them fired.

Now a proffer from federal prosecutors suggest those jobs never really were threatened — because the top aide simply ignored Blagojevich’s order to negotiate their firings in the weeks before the governor’s arrest in December 2008. The Chicago Tribune Thursday carries an account of the proffer by Jeff Coen, John Chase and David Kidwell.

The proffer, released after requests from several Chicago news organizations, says Blagojevich’s chief of staff a the time, John Harris, refused the governor’s repeated directives to threaten to withdraw a $100 million deal that would have a state authority own Wrigley Field, which Tribune was trying to sell along with the Chicago Cubs baseball club. According to prosecutors, Harris never approached Tribune Chairman Zell or other executives with the demand that certain editorial writers be fired. No one was fired.

“Harris agreed to do so, although he never had any intention of doing so,” the proffer says. Prosecutors say Harris even lied to Blagojevich, describing imagined threats made to the company’s financial adviser.

“Despite Blagojevich’s directive to him, Harris did not convey to Individual K, Blagojevich’s request to remove editorial board members, nor did Harris give the impression that this was a ‘do it or else’ situation,” the proffer says.

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