Prosecutor: Rod Blagojevich a liar and a swindler, his testimony ‘absurd’
BY LARK TURNER AND NATASHA KORECKI Chicago Sun-Times June 8, 2011 8:00PM
Former Gov Rod Blagojevich as he arrives at the Federal Court Building for his ongoing corruption trial. Wednesday, June 8, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: September 18, 2011 12:15AM
Her words were sharp, emphatic and clear.
Rod Blagojevich was a liar. A cheat. A swindler. His testimony was “absurd” and “ludicrous.”
Hands behind her back, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton took great care to speak plainly to the jurors who soon will decide the former governor’s fate.
A stoic Blagojevich sat up straight, hands folded, face blank as Hamilton painted the damning picture.
Hamilton was likely keeping in mind that a jury in the first trial ended up hung on most counts, complaining they were confused by the case.
Summing up the case, she told jurors as they weighed the evidence, they need only keep one question in mind:
“Did the defendant try to get a benefit for himself in exchange for an official act?”
“That’s really all this case and these charges boil down to, and it’s really not any more complicated than that,” Hamilton said.
Her closing argument addressed what’s been long been viewed as a weakness of the case — that Blagojevich was all talk; he never actually completed the acts.
Hamilton tried to hit home that it doesn’t matter that the former governor was unsuccessful in getting something in exchange for the Senate seat appointment. The fact that he asked a union leader and friend of President-elect Obama about a Cabinet position while considering Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat was enough to break the law.
“The law protects people from being squeezed,” Hamilton said. “The harm is done when the ask is made because that’s the violation of the people’s trust.”
Hamilton again and again pointed back to the recorded conversations of Blagojevich.
She urged jurors to listen to them all, in order, saying Blagojevich’s guilt would be “crystal clear.”
“How do you know a scheme exists?” Hamilton asked jurors at one point.
She lifted a hefty transcript of the calls. “Well, you got this.”
Hamilton likened Blagojevich’s scenario to that of a traffic cop who shakes down motorists for $50 after they’re pulled over. Hamilton told jurors it would be “ludicrous” if that cop could only be held responsible when the motorists actually paid the bribe.
“But the defendant had so much more power than the traffic cop,” she said. “He was the sitting governor of Illinois. He had a U.S. Senate seat. And it was effing golden.”
Hamilton, who spoke for 90 minutes and will continue Thursday, dismissed Blagojevich’s seven days of testimony as lies under oath and recast it as a series of concoctions to get around what he said on tape.
As Hamilton continued, Blagojevich could not always maintain his composure, at times leaning back in his chair, whispering with his lawyers, pursing his lips or shaking his head. His usual animation was absent; instead, the expression Blagojevich most often wore was a blank stare, even as his wife, Patti, appeared at times to react emotionally to the prosecutor’s argument.
Hamilton said Blagojevich used messengers to convey a message to Rahm Emanuel, rather than just answer the then-congressman’s phone calls, because he knew he was crossing the line in his conversations about the Senate seat.
“This one’s really good. Listen to him stammer,” Hamilton told jurors as she discussed a Dec. 4 call where Blagojevich says he’s considering appointing Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate and tells advisers about the “tangible, political, support” he could get “upfront.”
Blagojevich is later heard on tape directing his brother to meet with Jackson fund-raiser Raghu Nayak. On the stand, Blagojevich admitted that Nayak’s offer of $1.5 million for the Senate seat was “illegal.”
Hamilton mocked Blagojevich’s explanation: that he was simply telling his brother to meet with Nayak to relay that Jackson had better advance some good legislation — including a mortgage foreclosure bill — if he wanted the Senate seat. Hamilton told jurors that explanation was a “whopper.”
“He’s the bribe guy,” Hamilton says incredulously. “He’s not the mortgage foreclosure guy. This is completely made up.”
Hamilton told jurors not to be confused when Blagojevich says he wanted a political job in exchange for official action. That’s still illegal, she said.
“It’s not just politics,” she says. “This is a politician engaging in criminal conduct.”