CHICAGO — With the fate of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich now in the hands of the jury, here's a look back at some of the key moments in his two-month corruption trial.
—THE CURTAIN RISES: With his future hanging in the
balance, Blagojevich began his criminal trial much like he ended his
political career: proclaiming his innocence, clinging to supporters and
flouting authority. On the first day of jury selection, the U.S.
Marshals Service had asked him to enter the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse
without addressing the news media or speaking to onlookers, but
remaining silent — at least early in the trial — proved too much for
Blagojevich. "I feel great," he said as he shook hands and waved to the
crowd. "The truth shall set you free." Once inside the courthouse, the
Blagojeviches swapped roles as Patti stepped before a bank of
television cameras and asserted her husband's innocence. In contrast to
the former first couple's splashy entrance, the ex-governor's brother,
Robert, walked into the courthouse by himself and shot a startled look
at a woman who yelled, "We support you!"
—'FOUR-EYED, CHUBBY, YELLIN' LAWYER': That's how attorney Sam Adam Jr.
described himself during his long-awaited opening statement on behalf
of the former governor, the Blagojevich defense's first chance to
formally answer the spectacular charges, including that he had tried to
auction off President Barack Obama's old Senate
seat. The task was left to the bombastic Adam, who earned his stripes
in big murder cases and defending R&B superstar R. Kelly from
child-pornography charges. Adam didn't disappoint, calling Blagojevich
an insecure dummy but saying he wasn't corrupt. The federal government
had brought its full arsenal against the onetime governor and had
failed to find dirty dollars landing in Blagojevich's pocket, he
contended. "The same people chasing bin Laden are chasing him," Adam
said. "And how many illegal checks were made out to him? None."
—CORRUPTION BY NUMBER: The first major witness was former Blagojevich chief of staff Alonzo "Lon" Monk,
who offered up memorable testimony about the former governor and the
use of code numbers "1, 2, 3 and 4" when they were in secret meetings
about using Blagojevich's powers to make money. The numbers were used
instead of names when Blagojevich, Monk and fundraisers Antoin "Tony" Rezko and Christopher Kelly
referred to their illicit plans, the jury was told. Monk said in two
meetings Rezko actually went to an easel and drew up notes on specific
schemes, though he was short on details on cross-examination.
Blagojevich wound up using the numbers as well, especially during talk
about the federal probe of him, Monk said. Monk testified that
Blagojevich once held up one, two, three and then four fingers as he
declared: "If you're ever asked about this, don't say anything."
—DESPICABLE ME: In both wiretaps and testimony from close advisers, Rod Blagojevich
comes off as possibly the Worst Boss Ever. Tell him what he doesn't
want to hear and he freezes you out or even threatens to fire you. He
rarely shows up in the office, hides in the bathroom to avoid
uncomfortable budget talks and hangs out at his tailor's as a backlog
of bills to sign or veto piles up on his desk. He badmouths former
aides to current ones, whines about his dead-end job as governor and
heaps scorn on everybody from the incoming president of the United States
— "(expletive) him" — to ungrateful voters — "I gave your (expletive)
baby a chance to have health care." Blagojevich's decision not to
testify in his own defense meant that the only words that jurors heard
come from his mouth were those on undercover recordings that were laced
with profanity, scorn and self-pity.
—WHAT I WANT TO BE WHEN I GROW UP: He'd already been a state representative, congressman and governor. So why not ambassador to the United Nations? Or Indonesia? Germany? England? France? Canada? Or how about secretary of Health and Human Services or Commerce? Maybe head a union political advocacy group or get Warren Buffett
to bankroll a nonprofit foundation for him to run? For days, jurors
heard secret wiretaps of Blagojevich pestering his wife, chief of staff
John Harris and other advisers about his next career
move, one that he thought could be launched by leveraging his power to
appoint a successor for Obama in the U.S. Senate.
Blagojevich convinced himself that he could cut a deal with Obama and
cash in, though he often seemed to know little about the positions he
was hoping to land. On Election Day in 2008,
Blagojevich bounced the Indian ambassadorship idea off his wife as she
surfed the Internet for details. "What does it pay?" he asked at one
point while his wife called up a picture of the New Delhi
embassy on the screen. "How are the running routes around there?" he
asked. Blagojevich also mused about becoming ambassador to Canada. "Yeah, Canada's important," Patti Blagojevich responded.
—EMPEROR HAS A LOT OF CLOTHES: An IRS agent testified that Rod and Patti Blagojevich lived far beyond their means, carrying more than $90,000 in credit card debt and a $220,000
home-equity loan. Perhaps nothing explains Blagojevich's financial
problems more than his love of fine suits. Blagojevich dropped $205,707 alone with Oxxford, the Near West Side
custom tailor known around the world for its handmade suits that cost
thousands of dollars each. In total, the couple spent more than $400,000
on clothing in a little less than seven years. While it is not a crime,
the government said the couple's lavish lifestyle served as the motive
for the governor's desire to enrich himself and his family. And to
reinforce their point, prosecutors sought to portray Blagojevich as the
Imelda Marcos of Illinois
on the same day that they played wiretaps of him complaining loudly and
profanely that he might not be able to afford college for his girls. He
insisted that sacrifices he had to make as governor wrecked his wife's
real estate business and left the family's finances in shambles.
—WYMA CHOICE WAS TO FLIP: As the government's case drew to a close, prosecutors put on the stand John Wyma,
the man whose cooperation kick-started the final act of the years-long
investigation of Blagojevich in 2008. The lobbyist was under subpoena
for his dealings with a corrupt state board when Blagojevich allegedly
pulled Wyma into alleged fundraising schemes and asked him to
strong-arm clients who had pending business with the state. "I was
increasingly alarmed about the level of aggressiveness that the
fundraising had taken on, and it made me uncomfortable," Wyma told
jurors. When Wyma sat down with the FBI that October, he
flipped on the governor. Using Wyma's information, the feds went to a
judge and got permission to bug the governor's campaign office and
later tap his phones. Wyma never agreed to wear a wire but did report
to investigators on his dealings with the administration, earning him
the "spy" label from the defense.
—BROTHER'S KEEPER: Inseparable as children, Rod and Robert Blagojevich drifted apart in adulthood as one brother landed in Congress and the Illinois governor's office while the other made his way in the U.S. military and the business world in Tennessee. But that changed in the summer of 2008 when Robert Blagojevich returned to Chicago
to help his younger brother raise campaign cash. Just months later, his
life was turned upside down when he was charged in the sweeping
political corruption case that knocked his brother from office. Taking
the stand in his own defense, Robert Blagojevich
described himself as a political novice who agreed to join the campaign
only because of a promise he made to his dying mother to stay close to
his lone sibling.
—SILENCE IS (EXPLETIVE) GOLDEN?: From the day of
Blagojevich's arrest in 2008, he had been adamant about two things: his
innocence and his determination to testify in his own defense. In his
opening statement at the trial, Blagojevich lawyer Sam Adam Jr.
flatly promised jurors that his client would take the stand — something
a defendant is not required to do. But Blagojevich, a natural at giving
campaign speeches, flopped as a witness during rehearsals, said sources
with knowledge of the sessions. The Blagojevich spin, later echoed by
Adam in closing arguments, was that he opted to go back on his pledge
because the government's case was so weak. "I've learned a lot of
lessons from this whole experience," Blagojevich told a throng of
reporters in the courthouse lobby. "Perhaps the biggest lesson is that
I talk too much."
—SHARP STICK OR DULL KNIFE: The dueling images of
Blagojevich carried through to closing arguments as prosecutors
described him as smart and a skilled communicator who wasn't elected
governor twice for nothing, while his own lawyers painted him as blabby
and not "the sharpest knife in the drawer." Sam Adam Jr.
said prosecutors had clearly shown that the former governor likes to
run at the mouth on the telephone to no apparent end. "If you put Joan and Melissa Rivers in a room, you wouldn't get that much talk," he said. But that wasn't the view of Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, who described "defendant Blagojevich" as a master at the art of "the ask" without being overtly blatant.
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