John Wyma, now portrayed as a D. C. lobbyist, perhaps knew Rod Blagojevich as well as anybody as Blagojevich rose in political power and Wyma became wealthy from that connection. After working and socializing with Rod and profiting from his relationship with him all those years, Wyma decided to cooperate with the Feds. But, did he do so, as he told the jury, because of what he learned Rod was doing to Children's Memorial Hospital and road builders (essentially, trying to trade state benefits for campaign contributions) and he had a duty to report that information to the Feds? Or, was it simply that Wyma thought it was time to play his "stay out of jail" card? The answers to those questions may affect the jury's final decision on Rod's guilt or innocence. We will probably hear those questions, or similar ones, when Wyma is cross-examined by Blagojevich's counsel tomorrow morning. The jury heard Wyma's direct testimony on Thursday in the 8th day of Blagojevich's retrial.
The evolution of a lobbyist-informant
It is not just that Wyma and Blagojevich were long-time friends. It is also the case that former Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich was responsible for John Wyma's, 44, accelerated move up the political ladder and the financial ladder. David Axelrod, recently a senior adviser to President Obama and now chairing Obama's reelection campaign, introduced Wyma to Blagojevich when Rod was elected to Congress in 1996 and Wyma became Blagojevich's chief of staff at that time. Wyma left to become New York Senator Charles Schumer's Chief of Staff in 1999 and rejoined Team Blago in 2002 as Blagojevich's key political adviser and confidant in his 2002 run for Governor (when Rahm Emanuel was elected to replace Blagojevich in Congress).
After Blagojevich's election as Governor, Wyma was soon earning more than a million dollars as a lobbyist, but also functioning as a fundraiser and counselor to Governor Blagojevich. Will Wyma be asked on cross if that is when pay to play kicked in for his clients and him? Did Wyma's clients pay Wyma to influence Rod and did Wyma in a sense share some of that payment by holding fundraisers for Blagojevich?
"You can't get much closer than they are to each other," said Rich Miller, publisher of CapitolFax, when describing the Wyma-Blago relationship, circa 2003 to 2008. Miller said, "Wyma is a lobbyist but he's almost never in Springfield lobbying legislators. He virtually only lobbies the governor at his home in Chicago."
What does the Wyma-Blagojevich relationship tell the jury?
Why does the Wyma-Blagojevich relationship matter to the issue of Rod's guilt or innocence? Rod can't avoid a guilty verdict by arguing Wyma was involved in the pay to play dance but wasn't even charged by the Feds. But, the Blago defense team might use the Blago-Wyma history to argue that this is how government and politics operate. People work together in both government and politics to advance, generally, the interests of their constituents, and as that happens politicians may benefit, as well, but that is not illegal. This is a bit different from the "this is just politics argument," that lost in the law years ago in prosecutions of this type.
If the Blago defense team can argue that Blagojevich never engaged in a direct quid pro quo, i.e., never made a direct offer to give something from government in exchange for a personal benefit to Rod, then what the jury has been hearing is, as the defense puts it, "A lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Strategizing, brainstorming, thinking out loud--some of it crude, some of it self-serving and wacky, some of it crass and contemptible, but nothing that demonstates an illegal offer or exchange was ever attempted, made or accepted by Blagojevich.
For much of Rod's rise in politics and government, his defense team will argue that John Wyma was a part of that same government and political world. Yet, to this day, Wyma testified he never did anything wrong. But, he had to deal with the Feds because he was subpoenaed about his own problems. So, the credibility of Wyma's testimony has to be viewed in that light. The testimony is not that of a whistleblower, but, of a man drowning and looking for a lifeline--a man who decided he could use his close ties with Rod Blagojevich to benefit himself one last time-- by embellishing what he knew about Blagojevich's actions.
A similar argument may be made with respect to the testimony of others who worked closely with Blagojevich, e.g., Chief of Staff John Harris. It is not an easy argument to make, especially in light of the wiretap recordings, and comes close to jury nullification, but it might buy Blagojevich a hung jury and it might be the only possible winner Blagojevich has left.