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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Well I was partially right about the Blagojevich jury. They came back with one guilty verdict - and there was at least one juror who, though not able to persuade the others to see things her way - at least prevented verdicts that would have sent the ex governor away for 30 years or more. But prosecutor Patrick Fizgerald - the Inspector Javert of the Department of Justice, has made clear that he is determined to retry both Rod and Robert Blagojevich and based on the reports of how the first jury voted on various counts - unless another "holdout" is on the panel - they will be hard pressed to escape a lengthy visit to the big house. My advice to Blago would be to follow his brother’s example the next time around and testify. Not testifying wasn’t a winning strategy, so I doubt that there would be anything to lose by doing what he told the world he was going to do for months on end and tell the truth as he sees it.

I’m truly amazed at the one guilty count, considering that the holdout juror couldn’t be moved on any of the other counts. First of all, this was a five year old FBI interview, done without a court reporter or a tape recorder, so what was actually said in the offices of the Chicago law firm of Winston and Strawn was open to interpretation. I don’t know if he was under oath - but if he was - it was criminal - if you’ll excuse the word - to conduct an interview, the outcome of which could have - and as we now see DID place him in jeopardy. He may well have said that there was a "firewall" between fund raising and state business - but without the exact words and the context - it’s a statement that could be interpreted in more than one way and a defendant in a criminal case should be entitled to the benefit of the doubt - especially if his life is virtually on the line. But it was also a charge that referred directly to other charges on which the jurors could not agree - "guilty of doing something that we can’t agree on."

But I’m just as amazed - perhaps more so - that eleven of the twelve jurors bought the accusation - hook, line and sinker - that Blagojevich tried to "sell" Obama’s senate seat. There’s no question about the intemperate language he used to describe his belief that his right to appoint an interim senator could be used as leverage to obtain some political or personal advantage. But that’s a far cry from planning to "sell" the seat - presumably to the highest bidder. Political quid pro quo is standard operating procedure at the ward level and at the highest levels of government. Senator John says to Senator Frank - "your bill won’t do anything except benefit your uncle and six of your cousins but I’ll vote for it if you’ll vote for MY bill to fund a museum to house my stamp collection and old boy scout badges."

When Joe Sestak decided to challenge Arlen Spector in the Democratic Senatorial primary, the White House let it be known that they would prefer not to have Spector challenged and a quid pro quo was floated. If Congressman Sestak would withdraw his challenge, perhaps he could be appointed to a board of some kind. Not one that would reward him financially but with a position of influence on the national scene. The last time I looked, no one from the White House had been indicted or even interviewed by the FBI.

Blagojevich indulged in flights of fancy - an ambassadorship - secretary of Health and Human Services - CEO of a charitable organization funded in the millions through the influence of the president. All in return for appointing Valerie Jarret. But when it became clear that all that the White House was offering was gratitude, Blago responded with scatological derision, some of which was caught on tape - followed by a childlike "I’ll show those s.o.b’s" and tossing out the names of Jesse Jackson Junior and Oprah Winfrey among others - also partially caught on surreptitious tape recordings. If you want to believe Fitzgerald, those discussions were evidence of criminal conduct - just as the expression that you might once have verbalized about someone in a moment of anger - "I’ll kill that son-of-a-bitch" was a conspiracy to commit murder.

I’m not saying that Blagojevich is or was pure as the driven snow - but he was more talk than do and very little was actually done that could be considered criminal. But of course the argument is that if you talk about something you’d like to accomplish that might be considered illegal - even if you never pull it off, that’s enough to indict, convict and send to jail.

Two national papers - the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have called for Fitzgerald to back off and not retry Blagojevich. The Post called him a persecutor The Journal called for his resignation or firing. The Chicago Tribune had a variety of opinion. Columnist Mary Schmich said she would not have voted to convict Blago on the evidence presented. Eric Zorn urged Fitzgerald to drop the chances against brother Robert and advised Blago to cop a plea, serve some time and get the whole sorry mess behind him. Most of the local media - print and electronic -has been finding him guilty on all counts since the verdict was announced - as they did in the months leading up to the trial. Fitzgerald will pay no attention to any of it - pro or con. A true "Inspector Javert" he will proceed with a second trial against both brothers and if a hung jury results, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try a third time.

Whatever happens, I can’t conceive of Blago getting a fair trial - just as I believed that the first trial was tainted from the moment that Blaglojevich was unceremoniously hauled from his house and arrested to the astounding accompaniment of prosecutor Fitzgerald telling the world that he had acted to stop a crime spree that would have caused Abe Lincoln to turn in his grave. Abe’s remains might have been turning - but more likely from the Fitzgerald rant than Blago’s alleged crime spree.