Blago works the rope line
Former IL Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, 54, seemed to be one happy pol as he was working the rope line of citizens waiting to be permitted to enter the courtroom on the 25th Floor of the Dirksen Federal Building on Thursday. Federal prosecutors are focusing in that Courtroom on five criminal charges against Democrat Blagojevich: the alleged attempt to try to sell the U. S. Senate Seat of President-Elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder as well as alleged shakedowns of a road-building executive, a racetrack President, the President of Children's Memorial Hospital and then Congressman Rahm Emanuel.
This journalist asked the smiling Blagojevich, who was removed from the office of Governor by a unanimous vote of the Illinois Senate on January 29, 2009, if he missed pressing the flesh. Blagojevich, looking more serious, responded "I miss being Governor." When a young student in the line told Blagojevich he was studying political science, Rod responded that was fine, but that he should not go into politics.
Could Blago pass a polygraph test?
The former assistant State's Attorney of Cook County, who held state and federal political offices from 1992 to 2009, added that "Even if you surround yourself with lawyers, as I did, the U. S. Attorney's office will come after you and try to get you." Whatever you think of Blago, that's no doubt a sincere belief on his part. Hot Rod, as he is sometimes called, could pass a polygraph on that statement.
Criminalization of politics, says Blagojevich
When Rod started talking basketball, this journalist asked if he played much B-Ball in the Congressional gym. That query reminded him of his vote against unionization of the airport screeners in December, 2001. The Republicans were opposed to the bill, Democrats for it, and Rod voted with the Rs for National Security reasons, he said. Rod said there were only six Democrats who bucked their party on that vote. He noted that Cong. Gutierrez (D-Chicago, 4th CD), who was one of the six, had obtained 12 million dollars for his District for his vote. Rod, on the other hand, didn't get anything for his vote. He said he just believed for national security reasons we shouldn't unionize the airport screeners.
The reason why the basketball discussion made Rod think about the above discussed vote is that Rod was the first to vote when the bill vote came up and the Democrats made a strong effort to find him, while the vote was open for 45 minutes, so they could try to get him to change his vote. However, they couldn't find him because he was "shooting free throws in the Congressional gym." Like Rod hiding from his staffers in the bathroom? Not quite.
Blagojevich didn't have any trouble with Luis getting 12 million dollars for his district. He said that's just politics but "these guys (the U. S. Attorney's office) want to criminalize politics." Is there a difference between a congressman voting for a bill in anticipation of his District receiving 12 million dollars in funding, as opposed to "in anticipation of his campaign fund" receiving 12 million dollars in funding? Probably so, at least in the eyes of the law. Giving money to Luis' District in exchange for Luis supporting a bill may come under the category of logrolling or horse trading, especially if the two items are not tied directly together.
How important are jury instructions?
Well, the discussion of what is criminal behavior takes us to this morning's hearing in the Blagojevich retrial. On Friday, Judge Zagel denied defense counsel's request to start calling witnesses for the defense on Wednesday, and instead asked defense counsel to proceed with their case on Monday, but suggested that the court would also address the issue of jury instructions on Monday, if the witness schedule left time to do so. But, as Sheldon Sorosky said, Blagojevich's witnesses are not the kind of people one can just pick up the phone and call directly to try to schedule their court appearance. Reliable sources suggest senior defense counsel Sorosky had Mayor Rahm Emanuel in mind when he said that. Further, Rahm appears to have relevant testimony to offer on the sale of the senate seat charge.
Late Friday afternoon, the Clerk of the court gave notice that trial testimony would not resume until Wednesday (Judge Zagel is tied up on Tuesday). It appears the Judge will meet with counsel for the parties on Monday at 9:30 am to discuss jury instructions and the issues they raise.
Did Rod solicit a bribe from the President?
For example, the Government proposes (Instruction No. 27) that the judge instruct the jury that, "A public official commits bribery when he directly, or indirectly, solicits, seeks or asks for ...something of value from another person in exchange for a promise for, or performance of, an official act." Under the proposed jury instruction, "something of value" is defined as money, property and prospective employment.
So, when President Obama, through union boss Tom Balanoff, communicated to Governor Blagojevich that the President's close friend and adviser, Valerie Jarrett, would like to be appointed to Obama's U. S. Senate Seat and Blagojevich responded to Balanoff (according to Balanoff's testimony of May 9, 2011) that he would like to be Secretary of Health and Human Service, or have the President's rich friends help Blagojevich start a foundation that would focus on healthcare (and employ Blagojevich after he left office), did Blagojevich solicit a bribe under the Government's proposed instruction No. 27? Perhaps. Of course, there is other evidence for the jury to consider on this issue.
For example, as AP reported on May 9, 2011:
Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein pressed Balanoff [on cross examination] about whether the former governor ever asked specifically for the Cabinet post in exchange for naming Jarrett to the Senate seat. "Those were not his specific words," Balanoff said. "But I felt that's what he was implying."
Is what Governor Blagojevich was implying sufficient for the jury to convict him of illegally soliciting a bribe? Aside from other relevant evidence, the answer may depend on what defense counsel propose for instruction No. 27 and which version Judge Zagel gives to the jury. Perhaps we will get an answer to that this morning. This is where the rubber hits the road.