Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blagojevich Wins Small, Hollow Victory In Public Corruption Case Appeal

A 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel today threw out five of the eighteen public corruption felony convictions that resulted in the imprisonment of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to a harsh, 14-year prison sentence. All of those convictions overturned by the Court of Appeals today related to charges he tried to land appointment as a member of President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to fill Obama's Senate seat from Illinois. Unfortunately for Blagojevich, today's decision will not likely lead to a reduction in his sentence. Federal sentencing guidelines would have allowed the trial court judge to sentence him up to 20 years for the original 18 convictions.

The trial court errors corrected by the Court of Appeals' opinion authored by Judge Frank Easterbrook related to the jury instructions used to find Blagojevich guilty of attempted extortion, bribery and mail fraud charges related to the conversations he had with Obama and his surrogates concerning the exercise of his power to appoint Obama's Senate replacement. Those discussions included offers to appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat if Obama appointed Blagojevich as a member of his cabinet, helped him land a suitable job in the private sector or help raise funds to establish a nonprofit organization to be headed up by Blagojevich. In each of the five convictions overturned by today's decision, the government was required to prove the existence of a quid for quo.

To prove a quid pro quo, the government must be able to prove the performance of an official government act in exchange for a private benefit, such as money. The problem with the trial court's jury instructions is that it permitted the jury to find Blagojevich guilty for trading one official government act for another. Blagojevich could agree to appoint Jarrett to the Senate seat in exchange for a promise from Obama to appoint him to a position in his cabinet without committing a crime the Court of Appeals reasoned. Political logrolling, the swap of one official act for another, is not a quid pro quo within the meaning of the applicable federal public corruption laws. "Governance would hardly be possible without these accommodations, which allow each public official to achieve more of his principal objective while surrendering something about which he cares less, but the other politician cares more strongly," Easterbrook wrote.

Theoretically, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago could retry Blagojevich on these five charges with proper jury instructions, but that is unlikely to occur since the bulk of the government's charges against him were affirmed. Blagojevich has already faced two trials. At his first trial, the government obtained only one conviction against him for lying to federal investigators; the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the balance of the charges. The government won convictions on all of the remaining charges at his subsequent trial. The trial court judge, James Zagel, will immediately re- sentence Blagojevich if the government chooses not to retry him on the five charges thrown out by the Court of Appeals. Judge Zagel could reduce Blagojevich's sentence, but the chances of that happening are probably not very likely.

As you can see from the video below, Blagojevich's attorney was extremely disappointed by today's ruling. He believes the Court of Appeals panel still got the law wrong in upholding the other convictions against the former governor, such as soliciting campaign contributions from supporters of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson in exchange for an agreement to appoint him to the Senate seat, which of course failed to come to fruition before federal prosecutors had Blagojevich arrested. He reminds reporters his client was not convicted of accepting one dime for his own personal use. That's an interesting observation given that at least one witness in the investigation told federal prosecutors convicted political fixer Tony Rezko had delivered bags of cash to Barack Obama and had helped him financially in the purchase of his south side mansion. At one point during the investigation, someone leaked to the media a claim that Rezko had paid building contractors for work they were hired to perform on Blagojevich's home. Federal prosecutors pursued no charges and presented no evidence of such payments at either of his trials. In fact, they never called Rezko as a witness, even though information he supposedly furnished them served as the basis for their lengthy investigation and prosecution of Blagojevich.


leon dixon said...

Easterbrook is well regarded. Was Fitzgerald or Fitzpatrick (whoever the scum was as special prosecutor on scooter libby) also a prosecutor in this case? If so, he needs to be horsewhipped.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Yes, the federal prosecutor was Patrick Fitzgerald.

Anonymous said...

Fitzgerald is now working for the State of Illinois after retiring.
I have a question for the legal beagles out there in blog land, Fitz would not allow the hearing of phone calls from Obama and Blago, I didn't hear the conversations but it was told that Obama was part of the deal, and Fitz held back evidence that would implicate President Obama was part of the scheme Blago was involved in.
As a novice, I find this evidence would point a finger at Obama thus have him as a co-conspirator in a common practice in Illinois?

leon dixon said...

Commentary Magazine has a long article on the crooked bastard, Patrick Fitzgerald. I have no dog in Blago's fight but the world knows Fitz is no good. Of course he would hold back evidence...it was Chicago, after all. Tony Rezco has probably also been railroaded by Obama.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I lost all respect for Fitzgerald when I learned he prosecuted Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame leak case knowing full well that it was Richard Armitage who had identified her CIA role to reporters. Armitage later confirmed Fitzgerald had asked him to stay quiet about his role in the leak. Fitzgerald now works for Skadden Arps in Chicago protecting those deemed too big to jail from being held culpable for their crimes. It's now clear his office engaged in prosecutorial misconduct in its handling of the Blagojevich and related cases as well.

Josh said...

Why would Jarrett step down from president that she is to become the governor of Chitcago?

Josh said...

I was kinda hoping that blag would take down the 0bamaregime with him but nooooooo.