Prosecution and defense close with disagreement on Blagojevich's intelligence

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
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CHICAGO -- Bombastic to the end, his voice shifting from a shout to a whisper and back again, the attorney for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich disparaged the federal corruption case against his client on Tuesday and urged the jury to find him not guilty.

"He ain't corrupt," Sam Adam Jr. said in closing remarks to jurors. "And it's proven in this case." He portrayed Blagojevich (D) as a well-intentioned pol who followed the advice of his staff and "never intended to bribe or extort anyone."

Blagojevich had plenty of ideas, Adam told a packed courtroom, but "no one's going to say that he's the sharpest knife in the drawer."

Repeatedly admonished by U.S. District Judge James Zagel for misstating the evidence, Adam barreled onward. At one point, he told the jury: "I have been chastised. I have been held down. If that has offended anybody, don't hold that against my client."

Zagel ordered the comment stricken from the record.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid J. Schar closed the high-stakes two-month trial with a review of the most damning evidence from witnesses and secretly recorded audiotapes. Even-toned but no less pointed, he called Adam's argument "desperate and ridiculous."

"He is not stupid," Schar said of Blagojevich, a former Chicago prosecutor and congressman elected to two terms as governor. "He is very smart."

Because of his professional background, Blagojevich had more ethics training than the average politician, Schar said, "yet somehow he is the accidentally corrupt governor."

Zagel will ask jurors on Wednesday to decide whether Blagojevich is guilty on 24 felony counts that include charges of extortion, bribery and lying to the FBI. They must also decide four charges against Blagojevich's brother, Robert, who spent four months in 2008 in charge of the governor's fundraising committee.

According to the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI, Blagojevich turned the governor's office into a racketeering enterprise. According to the defense, Blagojevich was a family man who listened to advice and did what politicians do, with no criminal intent.

Adam said the prosecutors who spent years building the case against Blagojevich are trying to convict him for having "absolutely horrible judgment" when choosing his friends and associates.

"Come on!" Adam said in addressing the charge that Blagojevich illegally tried to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire an editorial writer by threatening to withhold state money for Wrigley Field, then owned by the same company. "That this is some kind of extortion? Come on! This is supposed to be some kind of a federal case. Come on!"

Schar concluded the government's case by insisting that Blagojevich alone is responsible for his actions, and that over and over he acted with criminal intent.

"There is no 'politician defense' in the law," Schar said, as nearly 150 spectators, including U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, listened from an overflow courtroom. "The witnesses are not lying. The tapes are not lying."

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