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Monday, August 2,2010

Memorable moments in the Blagojevich trial

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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.


(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.

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