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.

This week Washingtonian magazine released its “Best and Worst of Congress” list that appears in its September issue, and both of our U.S. senators placed prominently.

Not surprisingly, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin did better in the polling than U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. (and now convicted felon) Rod Blagojevich.

In the survey of administrative aides, press secretaries, legislative directors and other congressional staffers, Washingtonian found that Durbin is considered the most eloquent member of the U.S. Senate, as well as its top workhorse. Burris, on the other hand, was named the Senate’s most clueless member and the third-most likely senator to be involved in a scandal. (Fortunately, time is quickly running out for Burris to get embroiled in another scandal – though the Blagojevich one is already enough.)

As of this writing, I haven’t heard either senator’s response to the rankings, but I can imagine them. Durbin, for instance, might play off his ranking as the Senate’s top workhorse and channel Lou Gehrig, who was known as baseball’s “Iron Horse.”

“Today,” Durbin might say, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Well, besides my fellow Illinoisan, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, who was named the House’s top male hottie and third-best dresser in the same survey.”

Microphone reverb would be added for effect, of course.

But now that we know Durbin is considered the most eloquent member of the Senate (Who knew?), I now have higher expectations for his speechifying.   And when I think of eloquent, I think of Shakespearean-style soliloquies.

“O, what a rogue this news inspires me to be,

Always second to one, Barack or Reid,

But in a dream of passion, I come out on top,

Obama’s now president, and Reid may be out,

Should Harry lose re-election, I shall not weep much,

For the next move is obvious, I have a hunch,

The Senate’s best speaker would be majority leader!”

As for Burris, he is known for his brazen disregard for reality and tendency to refer to himself in the third person. He probably would call himself a visionary and try to make his first-place ranking sound like an award rather than a raspberry. Then he would have it etched in the side of his mausoleum.

Indeed, his “acceptance speech” might go something like this:

“People said I was either crazy or divinely directed. I accept the latter. I believe, without a doubt, that I am predestined to be a role model.”

It’s not like that is too far-fetched – Burris actually uttered that quote to the Chicago Sun-Times when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1994.

Actually, considering the ranking Burris received, I’d love to hear Crazy Uncle Roland paraphrase some quotes from the Alicia Silverstone movie, “Clueless.” Instead, we probably would hear something like this:

“My friends in the media,” he might say, “I would just like to state that the attitude in the Senate is a disgrace. I mean, all this nonsense about Roland Burris might be corrupt, Roland Burris is clueless, let’s shun Roland Burris. I doubt any of them are cleaner than Roland Burris.”

And he might even be right about the holier-than-thou attitude directed toward him by his fellow senators. But, what Burris has always failed to grasp is this: He makes it so easy to cast stones at him.

Burris, however, can always take solace in this fact: Two months from now, we won’t have him to kick around anymore.

This column was also published in the Sept. 2 issue of Ottawa Delivered.

The verdict is in – and verdict is definitely singular in this case – former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is guilty.

As I predicted last weekend, the Blagojevich jury was ready to end deliberations soon, and on Tuesday we learned they could agree on only one charge, that Blagojevich made false statements to an FBI agent. Unanimous decisions couldn’t be reached regarding the other 23 charges against Blagojevich, although the jury was ready to convict him of trying to sell President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat until one juror had a change of heart Monday.

That’s not quite the acquittal Blagojevich wants us to believe it is. A hung jury means a mistrial on 23 of 24 counts, and there already is a hearing set for Thursday, Aug. 26, when a retrial will be set in motion. (Double jeopardy only applies if a verdict has been reached regarding a particular charge.) Eventually – and probably sooner than later – it will be Showtime at the Dirksen again.

Of course, we taxpayers will foot the bill for the retrial, which isn’t too appealing to our collective pocketbook. What is appealing, however, is justice being served. There should be resolution to whether Blagojevich is guilty of the major offenses he is accused of committing, particularly the attempted sale of a U.S. Senate seat. And if Blagojevich’s life is tied up for another year, I won’t feel too sorry for him, considering the deep fiscal hole he helped dig our state in during his five years as governor.

Hopefully the next jury will put some more time into deliberating. Not that the first jury didn’t do any hard work, but I got the impression that all the jurors’ hearts weren’t completely into it. Yes, they put in a lot of time, put their lives on hold during the workweek as the attorneys argued their cases, but when the time came to deliberate, they asked for Fridays off and seemed to throw in the towel relatively early, especially considering they told Judge Zagel they hadn’t even discussed the 11 counts of wire fraud as of last Thursday. They didn’t deliberate on Friday, so they considered the wire fraud charges only on Monday? If they were confused, they should have asked more questions for clarification’s sake.

Regardless, we’re in for a second round of Blagojevich in court beginning next week. And don’t forget, he plans to appeal his conviction, so he’ll also be making more court appearances regarding that matter.

It will be interesting to see how both sides adjust their approaches to the case during the retrial, and whether Blagojevich will even have the same defense attorneys. Until then, those of us who enjoy following political pageantry and its fallout still have the analysis of the first trial to get us through the night.

After two weeks of deliberations, the jury literally is still out on whether former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is guilty of 24 various charges of corruption.

The jury is still out metaphorically, too, in regard to predictions about how the Blagojevich case will end, especially after Thursday’s development.

In a note to Judge James Zagel, the Blagojevich jury said they have reached verdicts on only two counts, cannot reach agreement about 11 other counts, and haven’t begun deliberating the remaining 11 counts of wire fraud. The jury asked for guidance as to how it should proceed.

Many observers now believe the outcome of this trial won’t be good for the prosecution. I agree, and here’s why:

While only the jury knows which counts it has reached verdicts on, I’m going to assume that the decided counts were ones they quickly dismissed as unproven. I believe this, rather than the opposite scenario, because the jury hasn’t been able to reach an agreement on any other charge. I think it is more likely for a jury that is still divided on so many counts to have dismissed a couple rather than decide Blagojevich is guilty on those charges but then have a hard time coming to that conclusion on so many others.

I also get the impression that the jury is about to announce itself as hung on the remaining counts, since it asked for direction regarding what to do next. I believe the jury is ready to throw in the towel on this case – two weeks of deliberations is enough for them. By their request, they already have been taking off Fridays, deliberating only on Mondays through Thursdays. That leads me to believe they’re more concerned about getting three-day weekends than coming to a consensus about this case.

Speaking of those three-day weekends, Chicago Tonight correspondent Elizabeth Brackett reported Thursday that the jury has already asked for the next two Fridays off, too. That indicates they probably don’t think they can reach a verdict on many, if any, of the remaining undecided counts anytime soon. But, again, I believe this just means an increased chance of a hung jury on most or all of those charges, and that scenario probably would come sooner than later.

Of course, if there is a hung jury, then the former governor could be retried on the charges without verdicts. But first Blagojevich surely would talk triumphantly (and ad nauseam) about how “the truth” prevailed, even if he is found guilty on those two counts the jury agrees on.

In any case, I’ll continue to wait with great interest to find out what the jury decides. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll brush up on my ’80s trivia in case I ever find myself stuck in a cafeteria with Blagojevich.

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