Three questions for Rod Blagojevich:
If you were a juror sitting in Judge Zagel's federal courtroom on the 25th floor of the Dirksen Building in Chicago yesterday afternoon, you probably had three questions you wanted to ask defendant and former IL Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, as the government finished the 7th day of its case:
1. If the Senate seat discussions were so innocent, why was the fact that Cong. Jackson's supporters were offering something "so tangible, so upfront, so concrete," as a cash campaign contribution of about 1.5 million dollars so important to your consideration of whether to appoint Cong. Jackson to Barack Obama's Senate Seat. If you were not seeking a personal gain in exchange for the senate seat, why did you tell your confidants Doug Schofield and Bob Greenlee that you had told Tom Balinoff, emissary to and from the White House, that you would be willing to give the seat to Obama's close friend- Valerie Jarrett, in exchange for having President Obama appoint you to his Cabinet (HHS Secretary).
2. Why did you hold off on announcing the 8 to 12 million dollar increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for Children's Memorial Hospital, which presented no real budget issues, if not to make sure you got a CMH campaign contribution ($25,000 to $50,000) in the door first?
3. Why did you hold off on signing the racetrack bill since the allocation of money from the casinos to the racetracks had already been discussed and approved by you, if not to make sure you got a racetrack campaign contribution in the door first?
Well, at least the prosecution must have hoped these were the questions the jurors were thinking about. Yes, there were and will be more facts admitted into evidence that are intended to cement the interactions, above, and others, into quid pro quos, but the essence of what is going on in this trial, from the prosecution's perspective, is the above.
Sexy stuff for the U. S. Attorney's case; Exploiting the wiretapped recordings
The U. S. Attorney's office has streamlined its case, getting the good stuff, the sexy stuff, up front when the jury is hopeably still awake. It doesn't take much sophistication and alertness to understand the Jarrett to the Senate for a great job for Rod deal (prestige and good money).
Further, the prosecutors are leaving no stone unturned to make sure the jury gets it, i.e., understands what the case is about. Former Deputy Governor Bob Greenlee, who sounds on some wiretaps like a college intern, is sounding in the courtroom more like a teacher. With the more important wiretap recordings Greenlee started out, under the guidance of attorney Reid Schar, telling the jury what they are about to hear. Then the jury hears the wiretap, often with Rod swearing like a drunken sailor, which helps keep the jury awake during some of the boring portions of the wiretaps.
Finally, Greenlee takes the jury through the wiretap, including almost a word by word explanation of the wiretap. Along the way, Greenlee gives a condensed government and politics 101 course, explaining how Medicaid works, why the reimbursement rate increases for medical services rendered were of value to Children's Memorial Hospital, who runs Springfield and why Jackson could help Blagojevich win a third term--not just with campaign contributions, but with Rod's African-American base (a prominent theme of Rod's discussions).
Of course, the jurors have their tabbed notebooks of exhibits and sometimes a blow-up of the transcript of the wiretap recording, to make sure, once again, they "get it."
Judge Zagel: Tilting toward the Prosecution?
To make things worse for the defense, aside from bad facts, bad law, lack of good witnesses and lack of money for high priced legal talent, the judge has decided to penalize this legal team for the sins of their predecessors. Judge Zagel said he gave the defense too much latitude for cross examination in the first trial, and they abused it, so he is sustaining most of the objections by the prosecution of the defense's cross examination. He keeps reminding the defense that it will nonetheless have an opportunity to put on a case, just not in their cross. Could this be appealable error? Possibly. I mean cross is cross. Aren't all lawyers trained to say, "But, this is cross, your Honor," and the Judge responds, "Okay, objection overruled."
So, the conventional wisdom by the pundits, after seven days of trial testimony, is that barring another runaway juror or two, as in the first trial, Blagojevich is on his way to getting some serious prison time, in addition to the one to five years he is facing from his conviction for lying to the FBI. One courtroom wag has said if this were a prizefight, it would have been stopped long ago.
If the jury stays focused on the first three questions we started this essay with, and if the defense has no answers and puts on no case, it will be over for Rod and Patti. But, Rod, of course thinks he has a case.
Rod's case: Leveraging Cong. Jackson to get Lisa Madigan into the Senate Seat
Governor Blagojevich commented to me yesterday during a break what he thought about Greenlee's testimony that he didn't "trust," Rod's statements to him that Greenlee was using the Cong. Jackson deal to leverage the national Democrats to push IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan for the Senate seat. That is, according to Rod's wiretapped conversation, Cong. Jackson was so disliked by the national Democrats, they would help Rod get Lisa to take the Senate Seat, and Lisa's father, Speaker Mike Madigan, would reciprocate by helping Rod pass his blocked legislation "for the people." Now, this is political behavior or horse trading that is at the core of our democracy.
Further, Rod thinks that his former Deputy Governor, Greenlee, had to say what he said about not trusting Rod's statements, because he was being squeezed by the U. S. Attorney's office and was under pressure to protect his family.
Rod told me yesterday they were "this close," to getting former White House Chief of Staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do the Madigan deal. As Rod said with a smile, Rahm was just the person to oversee the deal. Indeed, he said that was why they arrested Rod, to stop that deal. Could that argument, if refined and made strongly by the defense, bring about a runaway jury? Could it offset the legal problems with some of Blagojevich's other deals? Remember, the judge gives jury instructions to the jury but the jury decides what to do with them. Stay tuned.
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Tags: Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Blagojevich, Bob Greenlee, Children's Memorial Hospital, Doug Schofield, Emanuel, Judge Zagel, Jury nullification, medicaid reimbursement, Obama, racetrack casino allocation, racetrack legislation signed by Blagojevich, runaway jury, Speaker Madigan