Blagojevich prosecution raises troubling questions

Yes, he may be foul-mouthed and irreverant; boastful and egotistic; and he often appears to be living in a world not always in synch with that in which we expect and wish elected officials operated.  But you gotta give credit where credit is due; and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is one tough cookie.  For over a year and a half, facing a federal indictment with two dozen charges that could subject him to decades behind bars, Blagojevich never backed down, never even hinted at caving to the tremendous pressure to try and cut a deal, and never lost his sense of humor (which is extensive). 

About three months ago, the Main Event got under way, with a federal jury trial in Chicago.  The government presented the results of its multi-year undercover investigation of Blagojevich, his brother, and former associates.  For week after week, the jury listened to some of the literally hundreds of hours of surveillance tapes the government made of the former governor’s conversations and those of others.  They heard from witnesses who had already cut deals and were required to testify against Blagojevich; all part of a massive effort to prove what the feds hyperbolically called a “crime spree” of virtually unprecedented proportions. 

The former governor’s defense team, in a move for which the government may have been totally unprepared, rested without presenting a single witness, Blagojevich included.  Thus, the entirety of the case on which the jury deliberated for two weeks, was evidence presented by the government to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Blagojevich had engaged for years in criminal activity while serving as the state’s chief executive.  In this, the government failed – if not completely, certainly embarrassingly.

In the final analysis, the 51-year old former congressman and governor, who the government tried to embarass by arresting him in his own home early one morning in December 2008, very nearly beat the rap entirely.   In all fairness, it does not appear that every one of the 12 jurors concluded that the former governor had done nothing wrong; and they did find him guilty on one charge of making false statements to government investigators during an interview several years ago about how closely he tracked campaign contributions. 

All in all, this had to have been a pretty disappointing day for the government; actually, a pretty disappointing five years or so for the feds.  And it raises a number of not-insignificant questions about how appropriate it is for the government to spend years probing surreptitiously into the blusterings of a politician when no actual monies or other payoffs were ever made.  It should also be asked whether it is appropariate or fair for the government to send a politican to jail for five years (the sentence Blagojevich now faces on the single count on which he was convicted) for not divulging to federal agents trying to make a case against him what they wanted or needed to learn from him.

But, judging by the government’s reaction to this week’s jury action — it announced it would continue its efforts to get Blagojevich and launch a quick retrial — answers to these important questions about just how far the government should go in trying to ensnare blustering political figures will have to await another day.  Unfortunately.

46 comments Add your comment

Karl Marx

August 20th, 2010
6:45 am

One Juror held out, only one, on all but one count in which Blago was convicted. That convection for for in lying. BUT yare ou now saying it is OK the “try” to sell a seat of any government office as long as no money changes hands? Boy Bob you have fell a long way from your days as a prosecutor. Sad.

Karl Marx

August 20th, 2010
6:49 am

Wow I can’t type this morning One Juror held out, only one, on all but one count in which Blago was convicted. ” That one count was for lying.” But you are now saying it is OK to try to sell a seat of any government office as long as no money changes hands? Boy Bob you have fell a long way from your days as a prosecutor. Sad.

markatl

August 20th, 2010
7:02 am

He did not sell anything to anyone.

Buzz G

August 20th, 2010
7:32 am

This guy supposedly was trying to sell a Senate seat. Hell, that was nothing compared with what the Democrats have done under Obama. They use our tax money every day to reward the unions for their support and the press hails it as good economics. Graft and corruption is an every day event in Democratic controlled Washington. Why pick on Rod B. He is just copying what he sees around him every day.

Ragnar Danneskjöld

August 20th, 2010
7:32 am

Too many laws ans too many prosecutors with too much time on their hands. This sort of prosecution is stupidity on a par with the Ted Stevens prosecution or the Scooter Libby prosecution. The cure for the waste is to cut the DoJ budget to around 10% of its current level.

Sid

August 20th, 2010
8:11 am

ONE juror held out – that can happen in any trial and to call that proof that the prosecutor failed to prove their case is absurd! you can make an argument that they failed their voir dire but its just too easy for one bad faith juror to slip though which seems far more likely here.

The Apprentice

August 20th, 2010
9:29 am

Blago was exposed as a total incompetent on Trumps TV show. A hung jury is an indication of the short attention span and low IQ of most Americans.

Most just can’t connect those dots. Had the prosecution had me aboard to dumb it down and show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Blago is guilty, then he’d be doing five to ten as we text while driving. Of course Bob Barr is cheering obliviously. He’d be convinced of Blago’s guilt if only the government had made any 1984 or soylent green analogies.

The prosecutor should have opened with, “I’m chicken little and I’m here to help.” OH! What a Perry Mason moment for Bob Barr!

barking frog

August 20th, 2010
10:06 am

If the G-man wants you, the G-man will get you.

Lawrence

August 20th, 2010
10:14 am

It is impossible to find 12 people in Chicago that think stealing is a crime. Obviously, Barr must be from there.

Lawrence

August 20th, 2010
10:41 am

They should not require a unanimous verdict on non-capital cases.
He was convicted by 11 of 12 jurors. That should be enough.

Understanding Atlanta

August 20th, 2010
10:47 am

It was only 11 out of 12 on the trying to sell the Senate seat. That makes 2 counts. What about the other 21! No talk about how close those were, probably because they weren’t clost at all.

The prosecution did a poor job of showing the actual crime and wanted the jury to convict because Blago is a loud, arrogant, filthy-mouthed politician which last time I checked wasn’t a crime.

Elephant Whip

August 20th, 2010
10:53 am

Lawrence:

11 out of 12…unless you’re the defendant, right?

Lawrence

August 20th, 2010
11:05 am

Elephant Whip..

If 11 out of 12 I am guilty, I probably am guilty.

Lawrence

August 20th, 2010
11:06 am

missed the work “find” after 12

Grumpy

August 20th, 2010
11:35 am

11 people thought he was guilty. One pinhead dissented, basically saying “aw shucks, everyone does that”.

Well that’s just dandy. I know I feel better.

At this point, asking 12 people to analyze and discuss anything more complex than the extra value menu at Mickie D’s is unlikely to result in unanimity.

That’s not a failure by the government. That’s a failure of the system itself.

HDB

August 20th, 2010
12:09 pm

There are moments where the majority is NOT right; that’s why it takes a UNAMINOUS jury to convict someone of a crime….and only a preponderance of evidence in a civil case!! The system did not fail…the prosecution did!!

Moderate Line

August 20th, 2010
12:50 pm

I think it is a little naive to believe that politicians do expect something in return for the actions they take. I grew up in a small town so it was easier to see how politics works. Basically you do someone a favor but you don’t ask for anything in return but you expect it.

Moderate Line

August 20th, 2010
12:50 pm

Meant do “not” expect

scrappy

August 20th, 2010
1:02 pm

I would like to know how many millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted so far in this case? I am assuming it is a very large amount, and to waste the same or more amount of money re-trying the case is absurd. The gov’t failed to make its case. period.

How about using that money to try to clean up the south side of Chicago, they could sure use some more police.

N.Ga. Nut Lover

August 20th, 2010
1:14 pm

The same behavior is rampant with politicians, lobbyist and other power brokers. Does anyone disagree?

Tosh.No

August 20th, 2010
1:16 pm

So glad the goverment is more worried about a guy acting like they do all the time then the millions of people sitting at home without jobs right now. Jobs? Who cares about that, Roger Clemons took some steroids. NEWSFLASH a lot of athletes take steroids. Thats not a surprise to one person outside our government. Yet they spend more time on that than they do actually trying to fix this country that they have broken. Sad. Can I move in with you Canada?

sam

August 20th, 2010
1:33 pm

He only had to buy one juror. That is cheap in Chicago. I have been on a jury. I know that every jury has its idiot. I would never want to be a prosecutor.

The Cynic

August 20th, 2010
2:31 pm

Oh for goodness sakes. The man is a politician – of course he is a crook. It’s part of the job description. An honest politician is simply one who stays bought.

John G. Brown

August 20th, 2010
2:54 pm

Sir, I am new to this area and have never read much of your comments before, but you certainly are a devout “head in the sand Republican,” aren’t you! If you are so politically deluded as to not comprehend how one idiot juror can steadfastly cause a hung jury by refusing to listen to the facts and fairly interpreting them, then, you sir should never be a jury member. Needless to say, I will not waste my time with any more of your commentary!

Bob Elliott

August 20th, 2010
2:57 pm

In the past 18 months of the Obama administration, there have been indications that his lieutenants have also offered positions of power to others in exchange for political favors. Probably every president who has ever held office has traded positions for political and economic favors. Rod Blagojevich’s statements may be too direct and harsh, and a bit profane, but he is no more guilty of these charges than hundreds of politicians before him. I think it might be better to prosecute Patrick Fitzgerald – look at all of the millions he has been paid to ineffectively prosecute two different politicians. Fitzgerald is the “crook!’

Moron Juror

August 20th, 2010
3:04 pm

The only question to be raised ,imo, is to how stupid,criminally inclined, or who paid off the moron juror who held out????

jim

August 20th, 2010
3:05 pm

Enter your comments here

jim

August 20th, 2010
3:09 pm

Puleeze – One juror holds out and Barr puts this article together? Surely there are more relevant and important things to opine about there Bobby. The ex gov is a sleeze who truly deserves a room in general population with the other thugs. The govt. did its job and as can happen, they ended up with a hung jury ( one holdout for innocent). Might be interesting to check and see if any money changed hands between Blago and the juror – That would be something worthy of a column, not this junk.

Michael

August 20th, 2010
3:22 pm

I once picked a guy who kept asking stupid questions during jury selection because I knew he would hang the jury. He did. Client was convicted on the retrial because I couldn’t find that juror again. Should have changed venue to Chicago.

Dave

August 20th, 2010
3:46 pm

If you didn’t sit through the trial, listen to the prosecutors case and see the evidence presented how do you know he is guilty?? Several news stories have insinuated that 1 juror held out on one of the “more serious” charges, which means absolutely nothing and could have been a total lie. The feds asked a jury of his peers to judge him on the evidence they presented and that is what happened. The problem is that the prosecutor now has to save face by having the defendant found guilty, that in and of itself is a serious perversion of our justice system. Blago has already been impeached it should have left at that.

Al

August 20th, 2010
4:11 pm

Regardless of the verdict of the jury, the injustice occures because the government is permitted to retry this defendant and any other defendant as many times as it desires or until a not guilty or guilty verdict is returned. Of course the defendant has to pay the costs and fees for his defense. The system should be changed so that the government gets only one “free” chance to convict.After which the government may continue to prosecute upon the payment in full for fees and losses incurred by the Defendant in his defense. Make the prosecutor pay.

Beretverde

August 20th, 2010
4:24 pm

I know if Bob Barr was running the show… there would be results! He might have not been liked by many “Atlantans” when he was the U.S. Attorney here, but I assure you on two counts: 1.He was respected by all and 2. Feared by the crooks. Rev. Andy Young still shudders and cowers when Barr’s name is mentioned! As a former Atlanta cop, I relished the work he did!

David S

August 20th, 2010
4:28 pm

Its not surprising that we have come to a point in the history of our sorry republic where the government lies every time one of its employees opens their mouths (with the exception of Ron Paul), yet any attempt to tell the truth is twisted into a charge of lying to the government. Martha Stewart was the first well-publicised victim of this prosecutorial abuse, but it has been going on for decades.

The government is the greatest danger there is to the citizens of the United States. That will not change with the election of republicans. It is the nature of the beast and the beast must be peacefully dismantled and liberty restored.

Cherokee

August 20th, 2010
4:48 pm

Off topic, I know, but I wonder why so many Republican politicians, like Mr. Barr, become sane after they leave office. Barr, Joe Scarborough, and others manage to be conservative, without being blithering idiots (like Price, Gingrey, and Broun…)

Good column.

itpdude

August 20th, 2010
5:06 pm

Some of you people are outrageous. If you don’t like our system of needing 12 people voting to convict for a criminal offense, change it. Make it a majority thing.

Show your true colors with regards to justice and civil liberties.

This country is going to hell because of people like YOU. People like you who wanted the Patriot Act. People who wanted to go to war under obviously false pretense. People who wanted to juice the economy with deficit spending and easy credit.

It’s the Republican Party: The party that wrecked the US.

jason

August 20th, 2010
5:11 pm

Even for Bob Barr, this was an idiotic piece. Getting a little selective with your “law and order” mantra, Bob??

Astropig

August 20th, 2010
5:13 pm

Everybody is all hot and bothered about what they perceive to be naked buying and selling of political power but the real scandal here is what can be done legally ,in plain sight that should give you pause.Political incumbents have so tilted the playing field in their favor to ensure re-election that its more likely that you will die or move to a higher office than be defeated in a reelection . That is the real scandal here.

S

August 20th, 2010
5:46 pm

Pat Fitzgerald I believe was the Prosecutor who went after those in the Bush Administration who outed Valerie Plame a CIA official. Who he got was poor Scooter Libby the scape goat in that mess. Who he should have gotten a conviction on of crimes were Cheney, Rove and probably Bush the real criminals in that case.
Politicians have to sell their souls to the devil to get elected and reelected, anyone who doesn’t know that is Naive. It’s all about the bacon these Representatives bring home, how wealthy they become, and how much they can snow the voters to get reelected. That is why voters have to do their research before voting. When you start digging there are very few who are really out to perform a service for their states or this country…A very sad and dire outcome for this Country is in our future if we don’t start electing those who care about the people, and not just corporations.

PeterD

August 21st, 2010
8:42 am

Bob, thanks for this excellent column. I wrote the following letter to the Glens Falls, N.Y. Post-Star: It was published in today’s editions. “The outcome of Rod Blagojevich’s trial demonstrates that people are finally catching on to the government’s antics, generally suppported by the mainstream media. The message the FBI and the Justice Department wishes to send to all elected officials is that “we have someting on you too, and you could be next, if you step out of line.” We know that the Justice Department had to drop charges against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens because of evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, but the damage had already been done. Our own duly elected governor, Eliot Spitzer, was forced to resign after embarrassing information surfaced during an “investigation.” Your own newspaper reported recently through Associated Press that a judge put on indefinite hold the case against four men in a supposed terrorist bombing case because of the undisclosed involvement of an FBI informant. FBI higher ups quashed requests by agents in the field to investigate the activities of suspected terrorists who were later said to have perpetrated the 9-11 “attacks.” The FBI is a discredited organization, and the public is catching on. I hope to see Blagojevich fully exonerated, as Stevens was. It should not be a crime to lie to the FBI.”

MR. NADS

August 21st, 2010
10:01 am

Blagojevichs hair looks like my groin hair-do……………

Just Curious

August 21st, 2010
10:53 am

This, IMO, is a prosecution arising from Blago’s refusing to appoint the Obama favorite, Valerie Jarrett. to fill Obama’s vacated Senate seat. 24 counts? You’d think this is a serial murder case. Just throw as many mudballs as possible against the wall to see if one or two stick. If the best Fitzgerald can do in the Valerie Plame outing is the conviction of one lower-tier person, there’s no reason to have confidence in him here. Fitzgerald is a publicity hound.

Sure, Blago’s an obscene sleazeball. But so are the rest of the pols. I would love to see the feds plant bugs in the offices of the others.

MR. NADS

August 21st, 2010
1:52 pm

just hanging out………………..

Jenifer

August 21st, 2010
7:25 pm

IS THAT BIG NAD OR LITTLE NADS??

KKK

August 21st, 2010
7:26 pm

Thyra

August 22nd, 2010
7:40 am

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

Don't Forget

August 22nd, 2010
4:13 pm

11-1 is not exactly a ringing endorsement.