Rod Blagojevich’s lawyer scoffed at prosecutors’ case against the former Illinois governor, who is accused of trying to trade official acts for campaign cash, saying several times in closing arguments, “give me a break!”
“I had no idea that in two months of trial, they would prove nothing,” Sam Adam Jr. told jurors today at the federal court in Chicago.
The attorney’s two-hour oratory was interrupted frequently by prosecutors’ objections and U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s admonitions. The judge said he will instruct jurors tomorrow on the laws they are to apply in deliberations.
Blagojevich, 53, conspired with his brother and co- defendant Robert Blagojevich and members of his inner circle to profit from his office, an attorney for the U.S. said in closing remarks yesterday. The brothers face as long as 20 years in prison if found guilty of the most serious charges.
The twice-elected Democrat was arrested in December 2008 and later indicted for linking official acts, including the selection of President Barack Obama’s Senate successor, to campaign contributions and personal favors.
He was removed from office for abuse of power by the state’s Legislature in January 2009.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar today spoke in rebuttal after Adam’s closing, telling jurors that Blagojevich and the people around him were corrupt.
‘He’s Not Stupid’
“He’s not stupid. He’s very smart. He didn’t get elected governor two times by accident,” Schar said.
The trial started with jury selection on June 3 and prosecutors rested their case against the siblings after slightly more than five weeks of testimony.
Jurors also heard recorded conversations obtained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation through court-approved wiretaps, in which the governor, his brother and close advisers discussed both pending initiatives --including the Senate seat appointment -- and fundraising.
Prosecutors allege that after Illinois union leader Tom Balanoff approached the governor to relay Obama’s preference that presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett be selected, Blagojevich and his inner circle began discussing what he could get for himself in exchange.
“That man wasn’t selling any Senate seat,” Adam told the jury. “The president-elect sent emissaries to him.”
Adam told jurors what they overheard in the secretly recorded conversations were the overtures of a political negotiation, not a crime.
“You can infer what’s on Rod’s mind from those tapes,” the lawyer said, and “whether or not he’s trying to extort the president of the United States.”
“He wasn’t trying to extort,” Adam said. “How do you know? The tapes!”
The lawyer returned to his opening theme that the former governor was surrounded by duplicitous insiders who were smarter than he was.
Blagojevich has “horrible judgment” about people, Adam said.
“So you get the blame everyone else argument,” Schar said in rebuttal. Noting that Blagojevich has a law degree and is a former state prosecutor, Schar said the ex-governor has more knowledge of criminal law than most people.
“Somehow, he is the accidentally corrupt governor?” he asked.
Adam was initially allotted 2 1/2 hours for his closing statement. His commentary was interrupted several times by prosecutors’ objections to the accuracy of his remarks and by Zagel’s corrective comments.
‘Like a Show’
“It’s beginning to look more like a show,” Zagel said of Adam’s performance. Later, while the jury was out, the judge said the lawyer “can be precise without giving up the loud voice, the whispering and the hand-gestures.”
“This is not a corrupt man. He’s never been corrupt, he isn’t corrupt and we should be victorious at the end of the day,” Adam told reporters outside the courthouse.
The governor’s closing was preceded by almost two hours of discussion between Zagel and attorneys for both sides concerning whether Adam could tell the jury about people the government mentioned during the trial and didn’t present as witnesses.
Zagel turned down the request, telling the governor’s lawyers that if they insisted on telling the jury about absent witnesses, he would be compelled to tell the panel that those same witnesses could have been called by the defense.
“I think the defense has an upward hill to climb,” Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Richard Kling said after hearing today’s closing arguments.
“There were, I think, legitimate objections the government was making,” he said. “Mr. Adam was arguing based on things that weren’t in the evidence.”
The case is U.S. v. Blagojevich, 08-cr-00888, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).
By Andrew M Harris, firstname.lastname@example.org