Divided Jury Convicts Blagojevich Of Single Count

Rod R. Blagojevich, the ousted former governor of Illinois, was convicted on Tuesday of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but the jury in the corruption case against him also reported that it was hopelessly deadlocked on 23 out of 24 counts against him.

Rod R. Blagojevich, the ousted former governor of Illinois, was convicted on Tuesday of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but the jury in the corruption case against him also reported that it was hopelessly deadlocked on 23 out of 24 counts against him. The jury’s findings, which came on the 14th day of deliberation, were seen as a victory for Mr. Blagojevich and his defense team and a significant setback for federal authorities, who arrested Mr. Blagojevich almost two years ago to stop what they described unambiguously as “a political corruption crime spree,” including attempts to sell the appointment to fill the Senate seat once held by President Obama.

“The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave,” Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said of Mr. Blagojevich at the time.

Judge James B. Zagel accepted the verdict on the false statements count on Tuesday and declared a mistrial on the remaining counts, the bulk of the case. Federal prosecutors said immediately that they will try Mr. Blagojevich once more.

Mr. Blagojevich’s trial, which began in June, featured prosecution testimony from several of Mr. Blagojevich’s former chiefs-of-staff as well as numerous secretly-recorded telephone calls in which Mr. Blagojevich or his aides seemed to seek financial benefits for official state actions. But the trial also exposed two notions that favored the defense: Mr. Blagojevich rarely managed to actually succeed in getting such financial benefits, and much of what he did might also be viewed by some as common, if especially ugly, political deal-making.

Jurors had been unable to reach a verdict in any of the four counts against Mr. Blagojevich’s older brother, Robert, who had briefly served as a fund-raiser for the former governor.

It was uncertain when the former governor would face sentencing on the false statement count, which carries a maximum of five years.
The events surrounding Mr. Blagojevich mortified Illinois, a state that is hardly naïve about politics, setting off a wave of commissions and committees with proposals to reform state ethics rules, campaign finance laws and policies on making state business open to public view.

Mr. Blagojevich, 53 and a Democrat, was the fourth Illinois governor in recent memory to face the possibility of prison. It seemed a remarkable shift for a politician who won his first race for governor, in 2002, by portraying himself as a reformer who would clean up state politics after his predecessor, George Ryan, a Republican, was convicted of corruption and sent to federal prison.

On Dec. 9, 2008, Governor Blagojevich, then in his second term, was awoken around dawn at his Chicago home and arrested. Federal prosecutors accused him of turning his state office into a criminal enterprise to benefit himself, citing what they said were brazen efforts to get political contributions in exchange for legislation to help a local pediatric hospital, state funds for a school, a law to benefit the horse track industry and, most infamously, for Mr. Blagojevich’s choice to fill Mr. Obama’s Senate seat.

Government agents had secretly recorded some 500 hours of telephone calls with Mr. Blagojevich and his advisers, and a portion of those recor dings became a crucial element of the prosecution’s case.
As a whole, the recordings painted Mr. Blagojevich as an insecure, isolated man who was jealous of Mr. Obama, obsessed with schemes for getting out of being governor as quickly as possible, worried about deteriorating family finances, who rarely went to his office and cursed a lot.

For months, Mr. Blagojevich, a former congressman who came up through the political operation of his father-in-law, an alderman from Chicago’s Northwest Side, proclaimed his innocence to all who would listen. He was impeached and removed by state lawmakers, but he refused to fade away.

Leading up to his trial, the former governor, who is known for his thick mop of jet-black hair, transformed from someone who once imagined himself as a serious contender for president to something of a national spectacle, appearing on the television show “Celebrity Apprentice,” impersonating Elvis Presley (a hero of his), writing a memoir, hosting a weekly radio talk show and even turning down an offer to play for a minor league baseball team, the Joliet (Illinois) JackHammers.

Mr. Blagojevich pleaded not guilty and often said that he would testify at his trial. In the end, he did not. The defense presented no witnesses.

Sam Adam Jr., one of Mr. Blagojevich’s lawyers, argued that the government had utterly failed to prove its case, and had done little more than show that Mr. Blagojevich was broke (testimony showed he spent $400,000 on tailor-made suits and other clothes) and made deals like every other politician. Mr. Adam portrayed Mr. Blagojevich as not particularly sharp and a poor judge of friends— but by no means a crook.

For the moment, at least, the end of the trial seemed to come as welcome news for Democrats here, who are locked in tight races for governor (the party’s nominee is Patrick J. Quinn, the former lieutenant governor who replaced Mr. Blagojevich after he was impeached) and for the Senate seat that Mr. Blagojevich was accused of trying to peddle (Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic nominee, was subpoenaed but did not testify at the trial).

Democrats had feared that the trial might last nearly to Election Day and, even though Mr. Blagojevich was unpopular among party leaders here, news of the trial could have tainted anyone who had interacted with him. Republicans, meanwhile, could not pass up an opportunity, announcing this summer that they were marketing a line of “Blagowear,” with T-shirts and tote bags, to keep the former governor in voters’ mind. The trial had threatened to draw in officials from the White House and political leaders in Washington, mainly because of the charges tied to the senate seat that Mr. Blagojevich, as governor, was required by law to fill when Mr. Obama was elected President. But in the end, most from Washington was spared. Defense lawyers had tried to subpoena Mr. Obama, but the judge denied the request. And a long list of people received subpoenas but ultimately were not summoned to appear, among them Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff; Valerie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser who had once been considered for the senate appointment; Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., who had once hoped to be appointed to the Senate seat; and two Democratic senators, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip.

The prospect of a second trial could reignite concerns of Democrats here and in the White House about who may yet be drawn in.

Representatives for the White House have long said that Mr. Obama and his aides took no part in any improper deal with Mr. Blagojevich over his selection to fill Mr. Obama’s former seat, and no testimony here conflicted with that notion. But testimony in the trial did suggest an involvement by Mr. Obama on the matter of a replacement that had not been previously made public.

The day before his election in 2008, Mr. Obama called a union official, Tom Balanoff, and spoke about the topic, Mr. Balanoff testified. In the call, Mr. Obama said he would prefer that Ms. Jarrett work with him at the White House but also said that she was qualified for the Senate job, Mr. Balanoff testified. Mr. Balanoff said that he then told Mr. Obama that he would contact Mr. Blagojevich, and proceeded a few days later, to recommend to Mr. Blagojevich that the governor select Ms. Jarrett for the seat. Mr. Balanoff also testified that when Mr. Blagojevich later suggested that he be named to Mr. Obama’s cabinet, Mr. Balanoff told him no such thing would occur.

Shortly thereafter, Ms. Jarrett removed herself from consideration for the Senate seat, and Mr. Blagojevich had conversations about the possibility of appointing Mr. Jackson, who represents Chicago’s South Side and southern suburbs. Mr. Jackson wanted to be appointed to the Senate, but has said that he knew nothing of and never authorized campaign donation offers that his supporters made to Mr. Blagojevich at the time.

But a comment by a prosecutor in court here suggested that Mr. Jackson was present during one meeting in which his supporters discussed a contribution to Mr. Blagojevich. No further details came out during the trial, and representatives for Mr. Jackson, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, has not commented publicly on the matter.

In the end, Mr. Blagojevich was arrested before selecting anyone for the Senate. A few weeks later, however, even as he faced certain removal from his job, Mr. Blagojevich took harsh criticism for proceeding to appoint a new senator anyway. He picked Roland W. Burris, a former state attorney general who the Senate Ethics Committee later admonished for making misleading and inaccurate statements surrounding his appointment by Mr. Blagojevich. Mr. Burris chose not to seek election to the seat this fall.

Source : nytimes