This article incorrectly said former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D) was impeached last year by the Illinois Senate. The state Senate held an impeachment trial, but it was the state House that voted to impeach Blagojevich.
Blagojevich is convicted of 1 of 24 counts; prosecutors vow retrial
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
A federal jury in Chicago convicted former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich of one count of lying to the FBI but deadlocked on 23 corruption counts Tuesday, a setback for prosecutors who spent years pursuing the voluble and theatrical Democrat.
Prosecutors immediately vowed to retry Blagojevich after the judge declared a mistrial on charges that he schemed to sell President Obama's former Senate seat and shook down businessmen for campaign cash in return for state business.
The former congressman and two-term governor faces up to five years in prison after jurors found that he lied to federal agents when he said he did not track campaign contributions and kept a "firewall" between political campaigns and government work.
The 12 jurors reached their decision after 14 days of often torturous deliberations, first signaling to the judge last week that they were stuck. The jury also deadlocked on four felony counts against Blagojevich's brother, Robert, who was accused of joining the plot to trade a Senate appointment for campaign money. He will also be retried.
Jurors said they voted 11 to 1 for conviction on some charges -- including, one said, the charge of trying to sell or trade Obama's seat -- while remaining far apart on other counts.
The verdict culminated a 20-month legal and political saga that frequently bore elements of the absurd. Blagojevich proclaimed his innocence as the trial approached, hosting call-in shows, performing Elvis impersonations for cash and appearing on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice." His attorneys portrayed him as a dim bulb, presenting no witnesses to contest the prosecution's evidence and hours of secretly recorded audiotapes of Blagojevich ranting at his political enemies.
Observers of the seven-week trial said the former governor, who was impeached by the Illinois Senate last year, might have outfoxed his pursuers. "His efforts to poison the jury pool may have borne fruit," said longtime Chicago political consultant Don Rose. "All of his antics, all the theatrics, it was intentional. I suspect he made a friend in the jury room."
But the case had a serious side, with political ramifications from Chicago to Washington. It nearly entangled some senior members of Obama's inner circle, whom Blagojevich's legal team had threatened to call as witnesses. And the publicity has hurt Democratic prospects in Obama's home state in November's elections.
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who replaced Blagojevich and is seeking a full term, has struggled to emerge from his predecessor's shadow, and Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias has been attacked by Republicans for his ties to Blagojevich. The prospect of a Blagojevich retrial in the next several months could hamper Democrats in Illinois and nationally, political analysts said.
"I think Republicans across the country will probably be having a victory celebration" Tuesday night, said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago alderman. "This will be in the headlines again, right as we go into the midterm elections.''
In his typically pugnacious style, Blagojevich claimed vindication after the verdict was read to a packed courtroom and vowed to appeal his one conviction. "The government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me," he said. "They could not prove I did anything wrong -- except for one nebulous charge from five years ago."
He added: "I want the people of Illinois to know I did not lie to the FBI."
Prosecutors thanked the six-man, six-woman jury and said they were preparing a retrial. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 26 to determine how to proceed.
Legal observers said Blagojevich has little reason to celebrate. He is now a convicted felon, his political career is in tatters and the evidence at trial showed him to be an inveterate wheeler-dealer who cared little about governing, some weeks spending only a few hours in the office.
And U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, one of the nation's most aggressive prosecutors, will learn from Tuesday's verdict and retool his case.
Jeffrey Cramer, a former prosecutor in Fitzgerald's office, predicted that prosecutors "will get their man. . . . The most interesting thing is, what does the government do differently next time?"
Cramer, who monitored the trial, said jurors might have thought that, although the tapes showed Blagojevich trying to extort money, it wasn't always clear that he took actions to follow through.
"A lot of times he barked out orders, but his advisers ignored him," Cramer said.
The investigation that led to Blagojevich's administration began in 2004 with a focus on Stuart Levine, a longtime Republican appointed to a state board that granted health facility licenses, and Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a major Blagojevich fundraiser.
Prosecutors and FBI agents began to focus on the governor's hiring practices in 2005, while a major Democratic fundraiser, Joseph Cari, pleaded guilty to helping steer lucrative state pension contracts to businesses in exchange for contributions to an unidentified top public official. Three years later, that official was revealed to be the governor.
In December 2008, FBI agents arrested Blagojevich and his chief of staff at their homes. The government's racketeering, extortion and fraud case included allegations that Blagojevich tried to shake down a racetrack operator and a road contractor and that he sought a $50,000 campaign contribution from a Chicago children's hospital executive in return for releasing $8 million in Medicaid payments owed to the hospital.
A public corruption case is an expensive type of criminal probe, as it is often conducted in secret to keep potential targets from realizing they are under scrutiny.
Cost estimates of the Blagojevich inquiry were not available, but Fitzgerald's investigation of White House officials in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity spanned 45 months and cost about $2.6 million.