It took more than two years and two trials, but disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was finally brought to justice on Monday, June 27. He becomes the state’s fourth governor, and one of at least 79 Illinois public officials, to be found guilty of a crime since 1972, proving that Illinois has certainly lived up to its reputation as a cesspool of corruption.
According to CNN:
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was convicted…on 17 of the 20 public corruption charges against him related to his attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat held by Barack Obama before he resigned to become president.
The 11 women and one man reached the verdicts on their 10th day of deliberation in the trial, which began April 20. As the verdicts were read, Blagojevich turned to look back at his wife, Patti, who dropped into her seat. None of the jurors would look at the defendant as the verdicts were being read.
Technically, Blagojevich could spend the rest of his years in prison due to the compounding charges. However, legal experts believe he’ll serve six-to-ten.
Blagojevich is a colorful character — and a TV star, owing to his appearance on Donald Trump’s program “Celebrity Apprentice.” And he certainly captured an enormous amount of public attention. But lost in all of the pomp and circumstance of his two very public trials is the potentially criminal role that high ranking officials inside the Obama administration — perhaps even the president himself — played in this corrupt scheme.
A few weeks ago, JW blogger Irene Garcia’s reported from the trial. (You can read our blog, Corruption Chronicles, here.) According to sworn testimony, White House officials were intimately involved in the back-and-forth horse-trading over Obama’s then-vacant Senate seat. (In fact, the FBI had a “sit-down” with Barack Obama to talk things over even before he was sworn in as President of the United States, which is, I believe, unprecedented.) Of course, it was Obama’s bagman, former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who allegedly acted as Obama’s key go-between:
As Irene reported:
Rod Blagojevich’s onetime chief of staff, John Harris, testified about negotiations between his former boss and President Barack Obama to fill the U.S. Senate seat once held by the commander-in-chief… Shortly upon taking the stand…Harris testified that he and Blagojevich discussed the Senate appointment in October 2008 and Blagojevich asked him “What do you think I can get for this?”
Obama’s top aide, Rahm Emanuel, called Harris in 2008 to suggest the then-governor appoint Obama’s close friend Valerie Jarrett, according to Harris’s testimony…In the first trial Harris testified that Obama sent Blagojevich a list of “acceptable” Senate candidates to fill his old seat. The list included then Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and Congresswoman Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Obama eventually named Duckworth to a top position at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
You may also recall in 2009, JW obtained public recordsthat prove Obama and Blagojevich had repeated contact after Obama became president even though the White House vehemently denied it.
So again, we have the alleged crime inside the Obama administration (attempting to strike a deal over the then vacant Senate seat) and the cover-up (lying about it publicly).
In the first Blagojevich trial, prosecutors jeopardized their case against Blago in an effort to protect Obama White House officials such as Emanuel, and the jury deadlocked on the charges. This time around Emanuel did take the stand, but denied everything in his scant five-minute testimony.
But while Emanuel appears to have been spared any accountability for his role in the Blagojevich scheme, another Illinois politician might not be so lucky, as ABC News Chicago reports:
The end of one case could be the beginning of another: A congressional investigation of South Side U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr.
In this Intelligence Report: Now that Rod Blagojevich’s trial is finished, the door is open for House Ethics investigators.
An investigation by the House Ethics Committee was set to begin last November, looking into whether Congressman Jackson offered to raise campaign funds for Blagojevich in exchange for Jackson’s appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. But last November, with federal investigators preparing for Blagojevich’s retrial, Justice Department officials asked the House Ethics Committee to hold off until the ex-governor’s trial ended.
Irene explains the details of Jackson’s alleged involvement:
Prosecutors claim Blagojevich considered awarding the seat to Jackson because the congressman’s emissaries had promised to raise at least $1 million for the former governor’s campaign fund. In fact, Jackson is mentioned as “Senate Candidate 5” in the government’s original 76-page indictment, though he has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of a bribery scheme on his behalf.
“Appearing somewhat nervous,” Irene reports, Jackson again denied the charges when he took the stand.
Blagojevich deserves to be sitting in prison for his crimes. But it’s clear he did not act alone. Negotiations are two-sided affairs. If Blagojevich was wheeling and dealing, someone was on the other end holding the cards. Let’s hope that at least Rep. Jackson, Jr. is held to account if he played a role in yet another sad chapter in Illinois political history. And don’t believe the spin that this scandal doesn’t eventually lead to the Oval Office.