As I wrote here, political corruption quid pro quos often are heard to prove because those involved in auctioning off state action benefits know better than to connect the state action they are offering with the campaign contributions they want. In other words, it pays to have a little finesse if you want to avoid successful prosecutions. In today's tenth day of trial testimony in the Blagojevich retrial, we heard testimony and wiretaps about a quid pro quo that left little to the imagination. In part, that is because Rod Blagojevich's longtime friend, colleague, staffer and mentee, lobbyist John Wyma, who was the only Blago involved insider able to cut a deal with prosecutors that ended up avoiding any charges being filed against him, provided information to the Feds that allowed them to get permission to wiretap Governor Blagojevich for almost two months before he was arrested.
Blagojevich cries out: Et tu Monk
Today, lobbyist Lon Monk, Blagojevich's first chief of staff and Rod's law school roommate who stood up for Rod at his wedding and has been a friend most of their adult lives, provided some lethal testimony against Rod. When I asked Rod today which friend turned foe, Wyma or Monk, bothered him more, he said unquestionably Monk, citing his role in his wedding and their continued relationship. Moreover, that was before Monk delivered some knockout punches this afternoon.
Monk and Rod plan and plot the Ask
What Monk testified to today was basically how Rod and he rehearsed and then executed a request for $100,000 campaign contribution in exchange for signing a racetrack subsidy bill that would benefit racetrack owners in Illinois, including Balmoral and Maywood racetrack CEO and minority owner John Johnston. Rod never got his campaign contribution but that does not matter in the eyes of the law and shouldn't matter in the eyes of the jury. He and Lon planned and made "the ask," six days before Rod's arrest. Rod signed the legislation six days after the arrest, even though he had not received the contribution, and that is likely not to matter either. Indeed, Rod might have thought he could argue--look I signed the legislation even though I had not received the alleged bribe to do so. Of course, his arrest might have had something to do with that.
There are a variety of conversations and meetings leading up to December 3, 2008 that relate to the racetrack legislation quid pro quo, but it is the conversations on December 3 and 4, 2008 that make the evidence against Rod Blagojevich almost irrefutable.
Rod Blagojevich, Robert Blagojevich (Blago's chief fundraiser) and Lon Monk (lobbyist for Johnston and others, as well as Blago fundraiser adviser) were at the Friends of Blagojevich campaign offices on December 3, 2008. Rod said to Lon, "Let's go into my office to discuss the racing bill." They discussed what to say to John Johnston to get the targeted contribution. One approach was for Lon to say, "Rod is concerned about signing the bill because if he does, you will pull back from your campaign contribution." But they did not want to give Johnston the idea he could get by without contributing to Rod. Rod suggested that he hold off on signing all 30 of the bills before him until after the 1st of the year, as that would allow him not to sign until he got the Johnston contribution. They were pushing to have all contributions in before the 1st of the year because the new Ethics Law took effect then and made it much more difficult to obtain contributions of that size legally.
Confessions of the illegal tie?
Lon said to Rod at the meeting, "I want to say to Johnston, give us the Fucking money, but say one has nothing to do with other." Lon testified this afternoon "I was trying to justify this but this is confessing the two items--contribution and signing the legislation--are related. "
Rod Blagojevich said they could tell Johnston that it was a long time since he contributed, so just make another one. They could then set up a bill signing event for late December or early January in Southern Illinois and get publicity for the event for Rod, which would be an excuse for holding up the bill signing until the contribution came in. Rod told Lon Monk to be careful- don't say anything to connect the two items--bill signing and campaign contribution.
Rod worried that Johnston could get skittish?
Rod told Monk that if Rod signed the bill, John Johnston might get skittish about giving a contribution. Lon responded that he would use the word skittish with Johnson. Rod said yes to that. They thought this would deliver a message that the bill signing and contribution were related and that the bill signing should follow the campaign contribution by a week.
Monk met with Johnston later on December 3 at the Maywood racetrack. Monk called Rod and Rob Blagojevich after the meeting and reported to them what happened. The wiretapped call was played to the jury. Monk said that Johnston said "I will give you the contribution in two weeks because I am going out of town then and I know I have to have the contribution to you." Monk told the Blago brothers that he told Johnston that Rod Blagojevich would be skittish if the bill gets signed before the campaign contribution. Monk said Johnston responded, "No, I know I have to get the money to you."
Monk testified that he did not want to connect the bill signing with the contribution but he believed they were connected in Rod's mind. Monk also thought that Johnston believed the two items were connected and that Johnson was planning to make the contribution before he left town in two weeks to go on his vacation.
Rod pressures Johnston?
Monk called Gov. Blagojevich the next day, December 4, 2008, on his way to the Dominican Republican for a golf outing with buddies, which he had lied to Blago about because he feared being criticized for taking time off to frolic during the crunch to raise money. Lon Monk told the Governor that he should call Johnston the next day and say, in two minutes, "This has to get done." Monk testified that he told Rod that it was better for Rod to make this call than Chief of Staff John Harris, from a pressure point of view.
The above is one quid pro quo that may prove persuasive to even the strongest Blago runaway juror. We'll soon see.
Cross of Monk and Rod takes the stand?
This morning's testimony starts with Defense counsel's cross examination of Lon Monk at 9:30 am. Unless the defense can do some serious damage to Monk's credibility and unless John Johnston doesn't support the above in his scheduled testimony later today, it might be time for Rod to start singing "Turn out the lights, the Party's over."
It appears the prosecution may rest its case by tomorrow. Last time it was three days for Monk. This time it was three hours. The government seems to have learned its lesson: less is more. As to the Governor, I asked him for one substantive comment as he walked to his car at the end of the day. He said, "The birds will always sing after the storm." Who knows, maybe that means he will take the stand.