Rod Blagojevich’s Bitter End

Guilty: former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich

Journalist and advice maven Margo Howard reacts to the former Illinois governor’s conviction on 17 counts, including fraud, attempted extortion and bribery

Having covered the high points of the first Blagojevich trial for The New Republic a year ago — when he was found guilty on only one of 24 counts — I was, of course, glued to my Twitter feed and CNN as I waited for the verdict from the retrial. It came on the tenth day of deliberations.

That length of time made some news people uneasy, thinking of the old legal canard that the longer they’re locked up, the better it is for the defendant. I never thought that because … there were twenty counts to consider. I don’t think it was schadenfreude that gave me satisfaction about this verdict — even though the guy was an arrogant nitwit with delusions of adequacy. I was just pleased that this jury could understand things better than the last one. Having listened to hours of Blago tapes being played, myself, I was pretty certain the former governor was guilty, and had, in fact, tried to do what he government said he tried to do: solicit bribes. In fairness, the government, from its first basic failure, had a chance to simplify and tighten its case – which it did. The prosecutors were better understood this time — using fewer counts, and driving it home that you did not need to succeed to be found guilty of trying to break the law. In other words, it was enough to put your hand out; it was not necessary for someone to put something in it.

Because Judge Zagel allowed Blago to use leftover campaign money to pay his lawyers the first time, he at least had qualified counsel, though I found them to be “deez, dems, and doze” kind of guys. I was told by local press, however, that the Adamses, pere et fils, were very effective at 26th and California – i.e., in state court. In hindsight, though I found them rather clownish, they did quite a good job, obviously, because that jury nicked Blago on only one count. Since the money had run out (in fact, late in the first trial, the Adamses and their team went to legal aid rates of $120 an hour,) this time a principal Blago lawyer was the weak sister junior lawyer from the first trial – a Mr. Goldstein. He was overseen, somewhat, by a senior lawyer named Sheldon Sorosky – the man who was Blago’s first employer and part of the first trial. Goldstein was a disaster – to the point of ignoring what Judge Zagel was telling him and sometimes earning 100+ sustained objections in a row from the government. I didn’t even go to law school and I kept thinking: This is the judge, dumbkopf, who will do the sentencing. Why are you irritating him?

I now understand, firsthand, why it is often said a smart defendant will not take the stand. Blago’s arrogance and overblown sense of self propelled him this time to get up there and talk and talk and talk, with digressions I am certain have never been heard in a courtroom before. It turned out to be a great mistake. His efforts to be ingratiating were transparent and he repeatedly did what the judge called “smuggling in” information. He was told not to get into certain subjects but he did it anyway. Hard to believe the guy’s a lawyer, himself — but as he said, trying to curry favor with the jury, “I wasn’t very good.”

In the end, he was found guilty on 17 counts of conspiracy to commit extortion, soliciting bribes, and wire fraud. Two counts were hung. (Big deal.) Jeffrey Toobin, for CNN, predicted Blago would serve six to eleven years. The Twitter people calculated 300 years. (!) He was not remanded into custody, but allowed to be out on bond until sentencing. He will be the third Illinois governor to put on an orange suit. His supposed charm failed him – though he did have his supporters. The twelve men and women of the jury, however, were not among them. Well, you know what they say: hair today, gone tomorrow.

12 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    I admit I haven’t been folloiwng this that closely and really didn’t care much one way or the other how it came out but I think you are right, Margo…Blago’s demise was his insistence on testifying (which I understand he did not do at the first trial).    Perhaps if he had kept his mouth shut, the jury would have gone with a reasonable doubt verdict.  What is that saying?  Better to remain silent and look like an idiot than speak and remove all doubt?


    • avatar Margo Howard says:

      What is that saying?  Better to remain silent and look like an idiot than speak and remove all doubt?>
      Looks like!

      • avatar Katharine Gray says:

        I was too tired to look this up on line last night.  This is one attribution.  Since it is from the net I cannot say it is the true source but if it IS the true source of the quote, it is ironic is is from arguably the most famous politiican from Illinois. 

        Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt. Abraham Lincoln
        16th president of US (1809 – 1865)

        I just have to look up nit picky things like this…


  2. avatar Susan says:

    Mark Twain, I believe, parenthetically.

    So what about our other elected officials who take money from the rich and powerful? Not to get off point, but while I am blissful that he was convicted, he is most certainly not unique in the world of politics.

  3. avatar Jon T says:

    I hadn’t heard of him until the charges were originally brought against him. But between the talk show appearances and his run on “Celebrity Apprentice”(!), he just struck me as a buffoon. Now I know he’s not the first buffoon to be elected into office, but it never ceases to amaze me how people like him manage to get through to the voters. Was there ever a time that he at least gave the illusion that he wasn’t a flake?

    • avatar D C says:

      “…it never ceases to amaze me how people like him manage to get through to the voters.”

      I think if you yell your name loud enough and long enough, people will vote for you just to get you to shut the hell up. 

      • avatar Jody says:

        How sad, DC. If that’s true.
        To think both my grandfathers fought in WWII. I have a great uncle give his life on the USS Indianapolis after delivering the atom bomb (sunk by a Japanese sub). My father was a Marine. My family is Marine Corp on one side and Navy on the other. I have had countless friends serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
        My point: If voters only want someone to shut up, I suggest there are other ways than voting them in to an office. How incredibly sad.

  4. avatar Cubs Girl 72 says:

    Rod Blagojevich is 4th out of the last 8 governors to go to prison. This is from the Chicago Sun Times:
    “Rod Blagoevich is the fourth Illinois governor to be convicted of crimes, his conviction Monday putting him in the company of Democrats Otto Kerner and Dan Walker and Republican George Ryan.
    † Ryan, who was governor from 1999 through 2003, was convicted after leaving office of 18 criminal counts, including racketeering, for actions as governor and secretary of state. In November 2007, he began serving 6½ years in federal prison.
    † Walker, governor from 1973 to 1977, pleaded guilty to bank fraud and other federal charges in 1987 for bilking an Oak Brook savings and loan that he headed after leaving public office. He spent just over a year and a half in federal prison.
    † Kerner, governor from 1961 to 1968, resigned to become a judge, then was convicted of bribery related to his tenure as governor and sentenced to three years in prison.”

    Here in Illinois the running joke is: “Our governors make your license plates.” My sadness is for their families.

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      Corruption among Illinois public officials (regardless of party) appears to be higher than the norm.  I recall the sting of the Chicago Judiciary about 15-20 years ago finding all sorts of state judges on the take to fix outcomes in criminal trials.  (I think it was called *Operation Graylord*).  I have long held the opinion that Blago just got too greedy given his overall place in the Illinois political machinery and had to be taken out.  So, he is shocked and amazed that he is going to jail for what he thought was modus operandi. 

      My favortie big city in the United States is Chicago.  But, I recall my high school principal back in the late 60’s (a Catholic priest) substitute teaching our American history class on day and filling us in on corruption (maybe we were studying Tammany Hall?).  He was born and raised in Chicago and said it was then standard practice for drivers to carry a $10 bill behind their drivers license to hand to the cop when they were stopped for a violation ($10 was a lot more then than it is now) as a bribe to avoid getting a ticket.  He might have been exaggerating somewhat but…I think he was giving us naive girls a dose of reality.

      Obviously, that *everyone is a crook * and doesn’t get caught for it doesn’t excuse the crooks who do get caught.  

      So, I’m glad some justice was done even if it was probably very incomplete given what was going down over that senate seat. 

  5. avatar blueelm says:

    Wow! That picture is absolutely disgusting! Good selection.

  6. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    The first trial honestly should have been the only trial. I really don’t like this “if at first you don’t succeed…” approach to “justice” in this country. It used to be called “double jeopardy.”

    His sole crime appears to have been getting caught. The sole motivation for “justice” appears to be providing the proverbial distance between him and others. The others of course in The White House.  One of whom is now mayor of Chicago. 

  7. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    I’m a Wisconsinite and I can say our state has learned a very important lesson from our last election in which we voted Scott Walker into office. He hid nothing. He was upfront and honest about how he was going to slice and dice funding in all areas. Everyone knew he was a union buster, but many citizens “assumed” theirs would not be the one he would touch because they were supporting him.

    The news reporters and journalists did a great job in uncovering all his dirty dealings in terms of favoritism toward those that gave his campaign the most money. Yet with all this information, the majority walked into the voting booths and voted for him. Just because the drum beat was to vote against democrats. Now as the nation is seeing, Wisconsinites are up in arms.

    The same caustionary tale is at play for Illinois residents. Their history has shown they have a poor judgement of choosing who will lead their state.  The fact that 4 out of 7 of the last governors have been convicted of improprieties and imprisoned……that says a lot. That is ridiculous and disturbing.

    Blago reeked of corruption. How this man believed he wasn’t going to be convicted is beyond me.