Federal prosecutors are asking a court to allow lawmakers investigating Gov. Rod Blagojevich to hear tapes of four potentially incriminating phone calls the governor had with a lobbyist.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald filed a motion Monday seeking court permission to give a House impeachment committee the conversations secretly recorded by wiretaps.
According to the motion, the conversations show Blagojevich conspiring with a lobbyist to collect a campaign contribution in exchange for the governor signing gambling legislation.
Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI Dec. 9 on a variety of corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from naming President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate. The governor denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to fight both impeachment and the criminal charges.
Blagojevich's attorney, Ed Genson, has played down the significance of the wiretaps. He has repeatedly told the committee that the quotes included in a federal complaint against Blagojevich don't reveal any criminal activity.
"It's just talk. That's what it is. Unfortunate talk, talk that shouldn't have been made perhaps. But not actions," Genson said Monday.
But Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, chair of the House impeachment committee, said that it would be extremely significant if the tapes show Blagojevich offering to sign legislation for a campaign donation.
A House committee was appointed to recommend whether Blagojevich should be impeached. If so, the full House would then take up the issue.
The 21-member committee has reviewed the criminal charges as well as a long list of other misconduct allegations. They include claims that Blagojevich unconstitutionally defied legislative decisions, spent money without proper authority and impeded audits of his administration's activities.
The committee has asked prosecutors for details about their case against Blagojevich and for permission to interview witnesses. Fitzgerald's office has rejected most of those requests but said Monday it wants to release recordings of four conversations that aren't central to the Blagojevich investigation.
A judge was to consider the prosecution's request next Monday. Genson said he hadn't seen the motion and didn't know yet whether he would support or oppose releasing the tapes.
In a two-hour presentation to the committee Monday, Genson acknowledged the quotes in the federal complaint don't make his client look good. They include the governor talking, sometimes using foul language, about how to benefit from appointing a senator, withholding state money from a children's hospital unless he got a political donation and pressuring the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers.
But Genson said there's no evidence the Democratic governor ever took action to make any of that happen. "We are fighting shadows, and that's not right," Genson said.
To support his position, he introduced a report from Obama's transition that found none of the president-elect's aides were approached by Blagojevich about cutting an improper deal over the Senate seat.