At Blagojevich trial, 'dirty schemes' in detail

A federal jury found former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich guilty Tuesday of one count of lying to federal agents, and the judge said he intends to declare a mistrial on the remaining counts.
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

CHICAGO -- As governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich was a bully who rigged state business to build his campaign treasury and line his pockets, a federal prosecutor said Monday, urging jurors to find Blagojevich guilty of two dozen corruption charges.

Blagojevich (D) broke the law repeatedly, ending with a frenzied 2008 attempt to sell the Senate seat once held by President Obama, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner said at the close of a seven-week trial, detailing what he described as "years of dirty schemes."

"It was about him, defendant Rod Blagojevich, and not the people of the state of Illinois whom he'd sworn an oath to serve," Niewoehner said on the first of two days of closing arguments.

Defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. was set to begin his summation, but landed in a dispute with U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who barred Adam from using his closing arguments to criticize the government for not calling certain witnesses, given the fact that Adam could have called the same witnesses. Among them was fundraiser and convicted felon Antoin Rezko.

Increasingly angry, Adam declared that Blagojevich is "fighting for his life" and vowed to defy the judge's order. Zagel said he would cite Adam for contempt if he persisted. He then gave Adam until Tuesday morning to redesign his closing argument "given your profound misunderstanding of the legal rules."

The sudden twist reflected the tension and the stakes as federal prosecutors try to make Blagojevich the second successive Illinois governor jailed for corruption. Ousted by the state legislature and indicted by a Chicago grand jury, Blagojevich has turned his bid for vindication into a crusade, but he called no witnesses and did not testify.

With a 12-member jury expected to begin deliberations as early as Tuesday, Niewoehner spent more than two hours on a methodical rendering of the racketeering, extortion, fraud and perjury case that could send Blagojevich to prison for years.

Niewoehner, speaking to jurors before a packed gallery that included Blagojevich's wife and two young daughters, began by recalling what the governor said about appointing Obama's Senate successor as FBI recorders whirred: "I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden. And I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing."

Blagojevich was "talking, scheming," Niewoehner said.

At first, Blagojevich was hoping to appoint Chicago businesswoman Valerie Jarrett, an Obama friend and adviser, in exchange for a job as secretary of health and human services. When that seemed out of reach, he discussed seeking lucrative appointments from Obama's team for himself or jobs for his wife, Patti.

Blagojevich also entertained an overture by supporters of Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), a Senate aspirant, who said they could raise $6 million for the governor's campaign fund, according to testimony. Jackson denies doing anything improper and has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Niewoehner, anticipating defense arguments, told the jury that Blagojevich was no dupe and could not plausibly argue that he was relying on smarter advisers. As a former Cook County prosecutor, he said, Blagojevich knew what he was doing as he told associates what to say, including instructing them to beware of moles and listening devices.

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