Blagogate


A jury of 11 women and one man today found Rod Blagojevich guilty of 17 of 20 charges in the former Illinois governor’s corruption retrial.

I’m sure Blagojevich’s attorneys will file a motion to appeal the verdicts, but I believe the convictions will stand.

Justice has finally been served in this case.

Jury selection continued today for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s retrial on an array of corruption charges.  One man asked to be excused from consideration because “I’m supposed to start a new job today. I’ve been unemployed for 16 months. I have documentation that I’m starting today, or suppose to start today,” he told Judge James Zagel in a note.

That caught my attention because something similar once happened to me. The last time I was unemployed, after The Times laid me off, I went nine months without being called for jury duty. Then as soon as I landed a job to help launch Ottawa Delivered, I received a notice for jury duty — for the week the first issue of Ottawa Delivered was scheduled to hit newsstands and launch online.

The county clerk let me off the hook, though I got another notice for jury duty just a few months later. The second time my jury pool didn’t get called in, so I didn’t have to serve that time, either.

Now a couple years later, I find myself on the unemployment line again (victim of another newspaper layoff), and I sort of wish I would get called for jury duty. I haven’t so far, but both my wife and her brother-in-law have been called for jury duty — and served on a jury — while I’ve been off work. Go figure.

But that’s OK. I’m pursuing a book idea that should keep me busy this summer. As a result, I probably won’t be blogging at The Bread Line as much as I did the first time I was unemployed — but that’s OK, too, if that means I’ll finish writing a book. But I’ll still be posting here semi-regularly — I certainly expect to blog about the Blagojevich trial — and when the time is right, I’ll reveal more about my book project.

It is the best of times and the worst of times on the radio now, at least as far as these two stories are concerned:

First,  the good news. Apparently conservative crazy Glenn Beck has lost significant ground among people under 50 in the Nielsen ratings. In the past quarter, Beck’s FOX News Channel show dropped 46 percent in the younger demographic of ages 18 to 49. It seems the wolf in sheep’s clothing has been exposed, and the only demographic that seems to be sticking with Beck is the 50-and-older crowd, which tends to buy more into his suspicion-feeding, fear-mongering rants than younger people.

Now, the bad news. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is being given a microphone to speak behind again. The Chicago radio station WLS (890 AM) is letting him and his wife, Patty, fill in for the vacationing Don and Roma, who normally occupy the 5 to 9 a.m. time slot. Why does WLS keep giving Blagojevich a platform to spew his half-truths and Blago-spin versions of reality? Other than reporters who have to listen to him for work purposes, I don’t know of anyone who ever listens to Blagojevich on the radio. Then again, I don’t run with a crazy crowd that finds our corrupt ex-governor to be a speaker of truth.

I cannot wait for Blagojevich’s retrial to be over so he can be locked up already. It will be nice to not hear his name or his inane ramblings for a few years.

This is shaping up to be a Rod Blagojevich-filled week. First came the former Illinois governor’s surprise cameo appearance Monday on “The Daily Show”; then, on Tuesday, his lawyers withdrew his request to travel abroad a month before his retrial is scheduled to begin.

Now comes today’s development: Blagojevich’s attorneys moved to have their client sentenced on the charge he was convicted on last year (making false statements to an FBI agent) and have the remaining 20 charges he faces dismissed, partly because the attorneys haven’t been paid in months and they don’t have the funds at their disposal that Blagojevich’s first defense team did. They say Blagojevich would drop his appeal of his lone conviction but not admit guilt in doing so, as long as the federal government drops the rest of its case against him.

There is no way prosecutors will drop the charges against Blagojevich — especially the accusation that he tried to sell a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. This latest motion from Blagojevich is just the latest way for him to try to garner sympathy from people (including potential jurors): poor Blagojevich doesn’t have enough money to afford a defense beyond what the state can afford to give him. Guess what, Blago? If you’re such a man of the people, you deserve to get the same defense as the average person in the criminal justice system. And if you want to avoid your trial, come to a plea agreement with the prosecution beforehand.

Blagojevich’s “motion to dismiss the second trial and proceed to sentencing in the interest of justice and saving taxpayer funds” can be read in its entirety here.

Blagojevich’s second trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday, April 20.

I’m filing this report from my hidden lair along the border between the dangerous Northern Province and the rest of Illinois …

For the sake of those who didn’t see “The Daily Show” Monday evening, I must mention that during a segment wherein correspondent John Oliver searches for the “Wisconsin 14,” Oliver travels through the “Northern Province” of Illinois (which, judging by the “Daily Show” map, appears to be everywhere in the state north of Interstate 80) and calls it a “savage, frozen territory.”

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whom Oliver referred to as a “notorious former warlord,” made a surprise appearance, providing the segment with its (bleeping) golden moment. In a nutshell, Oliver asks Blagojevich if he knows where the Wisconsin 14 are, Blagojevich says he doesn’t, and Blagojevich issues a statement of support for the Wisconsin 14.

“These lawmakers standing up for working people, and the fundamental rights of working people to bargain collectively with their employers — that is (bleeping) golden,” Blagojevich says.

Also, Oliver asks Blagojevich if the convicted ex-governor is allowed to “just walk around here.”

The segment can be found here on NBC Chicago’s website.

In other, more serious Blagojevich news today, the former governor withdrew his request to travel to England to speak to the Oxford Union, a student society at Oxford University. Blagojevich likely would have had to pay for his international airfare out of his own pocket, which would have created a new problem for him since he is using public funds to pay for his defense.

Whether Judge James Zagel would’ve granted permission is unknown, though he did reject a similar request in 2009 when Blagojevich wanted to appear on the TV reality show “I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!” (Instead, his wife, Patti Blagojevich, appeared on the show. I blogged here at The Bread Line about Patti’s jungle adventures on the show, and you can find those posts here.)

I also learned today that Chicago Tribune reporters John Chase and Jeff Coen are working on a book about Blagojevich. Coen’s last book, “Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob,” was widely praised. I already knew that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jimmy Breslin also is working on a Blagojevich book, with Blagojevich’s blessing — which means Breslin’s book will be the BS version of the Blagojevich story.

Unfortunately, Blagojevich’s publicist Glenn Selig previously said the former governor also would like to write another book. Please, no.

Not surprisingly, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has resurfaced in the news in time to try to influence the upcoming Chicago mayoral race.

Attorneys for the impeached governor filed a motion Tuesday seeking supposedly missing evidence in his corruption trial, including records of a phone call between an aide and Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff (and now the clear frontrunner in the Chicago mayoral race). I use the phrase “supposedly missing” because I’m suspicious that the lawyers didn’t notice the evidence missing during Blagojevich’s first trial and the timing of the egomaniac ex-governor’s request coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) is just two weeks before the Feb. 22 mayoral election.

No matter. It is unlikely Blagojevich can do anything to derail the Rahm train. All the polls show Emanuel leading by a wide margin; an ABC7 poll released today suggests Emanuel has a commanding lead, drawing the support of 54 percent of those surveyed. (His closest competitor, Gery Chico, has the support of a mere 14 percent of those surveyed.)

Still, Emanuel addressed the subject of the “missing” tape Tuesday. Here is what he said about it, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog:

He hearkened back to a two-year-old report by then-President-elect Obama’s transition team that concluded there were “about four” conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris, but “nothing inappropriate or any deal-making.”

“It also noted that I was asked at the time by the President’s transition (team) to provide a list of four names for the U.S. Senate: Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowsky, Dan Hynes and Congressman Jesse Jackson [Jr.],” Emanuel recalled, noting there was a separate conversation about Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Trial testimony indicated that Blagojevich and his team considered this list a “BS list.”

“I provided that list. Then, there was a question: The governor’s representative said, `What’s in it for us?’ And I responded, `You’ll get thanks and appreciation‚ [but nothing more]. You also know how the [former] governor responded to the word, `appreciation.’ That’s been detailed over two years ago in the report.”

Testimony at Rod Blagojevich’s trial indicated that it was in fact lobbyist John Wyma who passed on that message to the Blagojevich team in early November, 2008 at Emanuel’s request. Wyma at that point had been cooperating with the feds in their probe against the former governor and provided the government with the necessary information to put up wiretaps against Blagojevich.

Meanwhile in other Blagojevich news, the judge presiding over the former governor’s retrial (U.S. District Judge James Zagel) ruled Tuesday that jurors’ names will remain anonymous throughout the trial and will not be made public until eight hours after the verdict is delivered. You can read the ruling here, again courtesy of the Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog.

My last Ottawa Delivered column of 2010:

It’s been a great year to be a political reporter. Whether it was the Capitol Hill wars, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial or any of many interesting election battles, 2010 was notable in the political realm.

By contrast, it was a relatively quiet year on the La Salle County Board front, though the county certainly had its share of notability in 2010. For example, there was the swift rise and fall of the forest preserve; more administrative changes at the nursing home; controversial pay raises; and the dispute centering on the county’s now-former software vendor, Sikich.

Illinois politics created quite a range of news, from our state’s Blagojevich baggage to the close, contentious race between his successor, Gov. Pat Quinn and state Sen. Bill Brady, to the free-for-all to replace Richard M. Daley as Chicago mayor. State politics provided a couple memorable moments locally, namely Sue Rezin’s victory over state Rep. Careen Gordon and the surprise resignation of state Sen. Gary Dahl, which resulted in Rezin being named to Dahl’s seat.

The political story of 2010 that is most memorable to me is the 11th Congressional District race that saw challenger Adam Kinzinger defeat incumbent U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson by a runaway margin. Covering the race extensively made it memorable, to be sure, but so did the ramifications of the race. The GOP is clearly grooming Kinzinger for bigger things, giving him some plum assignments for a freshman legislator. It will be interesting to watch what happens to his political career.

Kinzinger will be only one of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, but he’ll be weighing in on matters of national importance – and when it comes to national politics, these are interesting times. The year began with President Obama riding high and pushing his agenda forward, only to be slapped back at the polls in November, and ending with Obama’s apparent comeback via compromise with Republican leaders.

Still, it’s too early to tell if Obama’s supposed comeback is indeed that. I suspect it’s more complicated than it seems, but if the president continues his path down the political middle, then he likely is doing himself a favor looking ahead to 2012. Either way, you can safely bet that 2011 will be another year when it’s worth paying attention to politics.

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