Lawmakers Look Ahead Following Blagojevich Verdict
A jury has found former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents.
The maximum penalty for making false statements to federal authorities carries a five year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Judge James Zagel said he will declare a mistrial for the 23 other counts against the former governor, including the most serious charge - trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.
Juror Erik Sarnello, 21, of Itasca, Ill said the panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of that conviction. Sarnello said a female holdout "just didn't see what we all saw," but that the counts around the Senate seat were "the most obvious."
During the trial, prosecutors relied heavily on FBI wiretap recordings where Blagojevich could be heard spewing profanity, and speculating about getting a Cabinet level post or campaign contributions in exchange for the Senate appointment. Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said the jury confirmed the former governor's pattern of dishonesty even though they were deadlocked on many charges.
Blagojevich's attorneys plastered Washington and Illinois with subpoenas - including White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - but by the end of the trial, none of them had testified, sparing Democrats any potentially embarrassing testimony. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said she is concerned the defense team may have sent the wrong message to the public that Blagojevich was just doing politics as usual in Illinois.
"If there is one thing that elected officials need to do in Illinois, it is to send a strong signal that the politics of the past are over, regardless of what the final verdict may be in the Blagojevich trial," she said.
Lawmakers threw Blagojevich out of office when they impeached him in January 2009. Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose served on the Illinois House committee that drew up the impeachment charges. Rose said the former governor implicated himself with his own words, as heard at the trial in wiretapped phone conversations.
"There were a hundred things to impeach him for," Rose said. "I just completely can't believe anybody in their right mind could hang this jury."
While the impeachment of Blagojevich was sparked by criminal charges, Rose said the two processes are different. He said the burden of proof is higher for prosecutors in a criminal trial, while lawmakers considering impeachment can also look at non-criminal charges, such as dereliction of duty.
Prosecutors say they intend to put the ex-governor on trial again, but Attorney Sam Adam, Jr. said federal prosecutors do not have a case for a mistrial.
Robert Lobe, a criminal defense attorney who teaches at Loyola University, said if prosecutors were able to convince 11 jurors that Blagojevich was trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat, then they should feel confident about getting a conviction next time.
"I don't even think they have to change their approach if this is just one very independent holdout," said Lobe.
Democratic State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign said he cannot explain how the jury was deadlocked on 23 counts.
"The only thing I can think is this proves the old maxim that you can fool some of the people some of the time," said Frerichs.
It is clear now that Blagojevich will stay in the spotlight as the prosecution retries the case, according to Frerichs.
Former Illinois Governor Dan Walker was convicted in the late 1980s after his time in office of improprieties connected to a Savings and Loan scandal, and he served 18 months in a federal prison. Walker said the worst part of Tuesday's verdict is that people will likely have to hear more about Blagojevich rather than turn their attention to problems that current state officials are facing.
"I just wish like a lot of other people I think feel the same way," said Walker. "We've just got to rebuild Illinois and the Land of Lincoln."
Walker said while he worked hard as governor, Blagojevich disgraced the office. Current Governor Pat Quinn said Rod Blagojevich's conviction is a "sad day for our state." Quinn said he is the first honest governor Illinois has had in a long time, and dismissed the notion that as Blagojevich's former running mate, the prolonged saga will hurt him on election day.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich's brother, Robert, was acquitted of all four counts the jury was weighing against him. The Tennessee businessman said he feels sorry for his brother, and he thanked his legal team and the jury for what he said appeared to be a "serious deliberation."
Rod Blagojevich spoke to reporters on Tuesday after the jury found him guilty of the one count of lying to federal agents. He vowed to appeal the conviction, and said he wants the "people of Illinois to know that I did not lie to the FBI."
Blagojevich's trial was another chapter in Illinois' history of crooked politics. His predecessor, George Ryan, was convicted of racketeering in 2006 and is serving a 6 1/2 year-sentence.
A hearing about a retrial is set for Thursday, August 26.