Blagojevich attorney says prosecution didn’t prove former Ill. governor guilty of corruption

By Michael Tarm, AP
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blagojevich attorney: Government didn’t prove case

CHICAGO — Rod Blagojevich is insecure, he talks a lot and he’s a bad judge of character — but he is not a criminal, the ousted Illinois governor’s defense attorney told jurors at his corruption trial Tuesday during a theatrical closing argument.

Sam Adam Jr. told jurors right as he began that he did not call Blagojevich to testify, as he had promised when the trial started, because the government did not prove its case.

“I thought he’d sit right up here,” Adam shouted, walking over to the witness stand and pointing at the empty chair. “I promised he’d testify. We were wrong. Blame me.”

“I had no idea that in two and a half months of trial that they’d prove nothing. … They want you, you and you to convict him” with no evidence, he yelled, moving along the jury box and pointing to individual jurors.

Instead, he portrayed Blagojevich as a victim of overzealous prosecutors.

Adam, known for his dramatic style, dismissed prosecution claims that Blagojevich tried to sell or trade the nomination to Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, telling jurors they knew for themselves that wasn’t the case that after listening to hours of FBI wiretap tapes played by prosecutors during the trial.

“You heard the tapes and you heard Rod on the tapes,” he said. “You can infer what was in Rod’s mind on the tapes. You can infer from those tapes whether he’s trying to extort the president of the United States. We heard tape after tape of just talking.”

Adam had wanted to name potential witnesses that prosecutors didn’t call to testify, while Judge James B. Zagel warned him not to, saying if he did he would be in contempt of court. He never mentioned those specifically, but did find a way to work in names from Obama to presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

He also discussed allegations that the former governor considered naming U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to Obama’s old seat, after a businessman offered to raise millions for Blagojevich.

Adam said Blagojevich was trying to float the idea that he would appoint Jesse Jackson Jr. to give him more leverage trying to persuade state House Speaker Mike Madigan to promise help with things like health care if Blagojevich appointed Madigan’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, to the Senate instead.

“That man wasn’t selling any Senate seat,” Adam said. “You know what he was doing, ladies and gentleman … he was trying to get 300,000 people health care, make sure a capital bill was passed” and other efforts.

Adam also said prosecutors never presented evidence of any fundraisers from anyone that Blagojevich was allegedly shaking down.

“Tell me one state contract tied to fundraising?” he asked. “Did they bring one state contract based on fundraising? Just one? No.”

Adam said that a big reason why Blagojevich is on trial is that he is a bad judge of character.

“He’s got absolute horrible judgment on people. And that’s this case and they want you to find him guilty of these horrible crimes because of that,” he said.

Adam told jurors that some of Blagojevich’s ideas were, as the former governor himself said outside court last week, stupid.

“He even talked about Oprah Winfrey” to replace Obama in the Senate, Adam said. “These are ideas that nobody’s going to say he’s the sharpest knife in the drawer. But he’s not a crook.”

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts, including trying to sell or trade an appointment to Obama’s vacated Senate seat for a Cabinet post, private job or campaign cash. His brother, Nashville, Tenn. businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has also pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.

In the prosecution’s closing argument Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner methodically laid out the government’s allegations of how Blagojevich tried to “shake down” everyone from a racetrack owner to a children’s hospital executive to Obama. He opened his remarks by repeating the most famous phrase of the seven-week trial, a quote that will be forever associated with Blagojevich.

“I’ve got this thing and it’s (expletive) golden,” he recalled Blagojevich saying on one of dozens of phone calls secretly recorded by the FBI. “I’m just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing.”

But in a pre-emptive shot at the expected arguments from Blagojevich’s defense, Niewoehner also told jurors that that Blagojevich need not have made money or gotten a high-profile job in order for his alleged schemes to be illegal.

“You don’t have to be a successful criminal to be a criminal,” he said.

Robert Blagojevich’s attorney, Michael Ettinger, said in his closing argument that jurors never heard any testimony linking his client’s fundraising to demands for anything in exchange.

“Raising campaign funds is not illegal. It is not against the law,” he said.

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