Tuesday, August 17, 2010

As Blagojevich celebrates, prosecutors plan

By Jamey Dunn

While Rod Blagojevich and his legal team seemed to celebrate a victory almost akin to an acquittal, federal prosecutors did not hesitate in getting the ball rolling on another corruption trial for the former governor. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said a hearing to set a new trial date is scheduled for Aug. 26.

The jury did find Blagojevich guilty on the charge of lying to federal agents. The count alleges he made a false statement to FBI agents in 2005 ,when he told them that he kept his role as governor and his fundraising enterprises completely separate, saying he kept a “firewall” between the two.

However, jurors did not come to a conclusion on the 23 other counts, including those connected to Blagojevich allegedly attempting to sell Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat and holding up funding for a children's hospital and a school to gain personal benefit.

Jurors also couldn’t agree on the four corruption charges that Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, faced stemming from his time heading the former governor’s fundraising efforts.

I didn’t let you down. The jury has shown that the government couldn’t prove that I did anything wrong,” Rod Blagojevich said at a courthouse news conference. Blagojevich accused the prosecution of persecuting him since his arrest last December and called the felony charge he was convicted on “nebulous.” He said he plans to appeal the convictions.

Blagojevich’s father-and-son legal team, Sam Adam and Sam Adam Jr., both took personal responsibility for the single conviction ,saying it was a result of their showings as lawyers, not Blagojevich’s guilt.

Sam Adam Jr. said that the verdict proved a claim he had made early in the trial. “You are going to find out that he is a fundamentally non-corrupt individual. He is not corruptible.”

Adam went on to say that a retrial would be a waste of taxpayers' money and that prosecutors should instead give “the money that [they] would spend on a retrial … back to the people of Illinois.”

Republicans — who will likely revisit the trial and verdict throughout their campaigns for the November general election — were quick to respond by issuing a flurry of statements.

“While we hoped this decision would mark the end of an unfortunate chapter and put this embarrassing episode behind us, today’s conviction of Rod Blagojevich for lying to federal law enforcement officials will likely result in further action in the pursuit of justice. But one thing is clear: The people of Illinois are rightly frustrated about the unchecked power of politicians like Rod Blagojevich who put the special interests before taxpayers. This important election in November marks the single best opportunity in our lifetime to finally clean house in Springfield,” Sen. Bill Brady, Republican candidate for governor said in a written statement.

However, Gov. Pat Quinn was a little slower to give his thoughts. After canceling two public events at the Illinois State Fair, he held a news conference late in the evening and called for unity.

“Whatever your party, whatever you region, whatever your beliefs, we are Illinoisans and we are all Americans.”

Quinn added: “Clearly today is a sad day for our state. Another former governor was convicted of a felony by a jury of 12 men and women, good and true.”

He declined to discuss the other counts against Blagojevich, saying they still had to be decided by a jury. After giving his statement, Quinn started to walk toward his office as reporters shouted questions. He then seemed to reconsider and returned to the lectern.

When asked if he had any culpability in Blagojevich’s alleged corruption because he ran for reelection with Blagojevich after rumors of wrongdoing had surfaced, Quinn said: “When I saw something that wasn’t right, I decided to go for the power of recall. … I think that is the best way to deal with an issue that we saw in government. If there is a situation where the voters feel an incumbent is not keeping true to the public, then there ought to be a way for the public to act.”

Political scientists and Statehouse watchers took a long view, saying Blagojevich should not be treating the verdict as a victory and that the system worked — at least to some degree.

“It is serious. It’s a felony. … He’ll probably lose his law license. He’s going to jail,” said Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and director of the Sunshine Project, a nonprofit campaign contribution database connected to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Charlie Wheeler, longtime Statehouse reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times and current director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said until the jury talks to the media, it is too early to speculate on what the outcome may mean or on the odds of conviction in a retrial. “The only thing on which there is any clarity is the fact that 12 people decided that he did lie to federal agents. … It’s only a [Blagojevich] victory in the sense that [he hasn’t] lost yet.”

(Note: Juror's reportedly left the courthouse today without making statements. For some insight on the jurors' deliberation, see the Chicago News Cooperative, Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times' Blago Blog, which are reporting on jurors' early statements. )


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