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.