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Blagojevich trial has taught us about ex-gov

Updated: September 15, 2011 12:28AM



Has it been a lucky seven days on the witness stand for Rod Blagojevich, or a kamikaze crapshoot?

It goes without saying that the decision to testify in his federal retrial has been the gamble of all gambles for our former governor.

In his first trial last summer, Blagojevich swore he would take the stand. But he didn’t. His lawyers claimed that was because the feds had failed to make their case.

That turned out to be almost true.

Out of 24 counts, the first jury could reach unanimity on only one count, lying to the FBI. And it could come to no agreement at all on the four counts against Rod’s fund-raiser brother, Robert.

The feds, who pride themselves on a 96 percent conviction rate, returned with a vengeance.

This time around, Rod Blagojevich had no choice but to go for broke. Take the stand. Tell his story. Prove that f-bomb-laden undercover FBI recordings of his conversations do not paint a full or accurate picture of who he really is.

Quite apart from whether you believe him guilty or not guilty, there are some things we now know for sure about this defendant and this case.

†An undisciplined mouth.

In an abundance of understatement, Robert Blagojevich a couple of months ago offered this description in an NBC5 interview:

“My brother . . . he’s got a very undisciplined mouth,” adding, “He is an unconventional executive.”

So unconventional that Rod Blagojevich worked from his Chicago home whenever possible — the clank of weights being lifted is heard on some tapes — or from his campaign office in Ravenswood.

Prosecutor Reid Schar cast Blagojevich’s style in a starker light during cross-examination this week, asking the defendant, “Wasn’t it a fact you were largely disengaged . . . ?”

† You’re so vain.

“I have a vain quality,” said Blagojevich on his first day of testimony. “There’s a certain narcissism.”

And an insecurity dating back to being a blue-collar kid attending Northwestern. Lacking expensive clothes, he counter-attacked with his hair.

“Those were the days when your hairbrush was an extension of your hand,” he told a packed courtroom.

The Elvis mane and exquisitely cut Oxxford suits have been in the jury’s constant view.

†Loyal family.

Equally constant, but outside of the jury’s view, has been a ritual during every day of Rod Blagojevich’s testimony.

Before the jury enters the courtroom, the defendant walks to the witness box to await their arrival. But before and after each trip, Blagojevich gives his wife Patti a kiss on the forehead or some touch of affection.

Whatever the public has decided about this pair, they are in this family calamity together. And almost every day, either Patti Blagojevich’s sister, state Rep. Deborah Mell, or her brother, Richard Mell, sits beside her, usually with an arm around her.

†The lawyers.

On the prosecution side of the room are three experienced, tough and talented attorneys. Reid Schar, Christopher Niewoehner and Carrie Hamilton are veterans of the U.S. attorney’s office and demonstrate a fierce discipline.

On the defense side of the room, with the exception of veteran Sheldon Sorosky, Blagojevich’s team — Aaron Goldstein, Lauren Kaseseberg and Elliot Riebman — are younger, less seasoned and have far fewer resources than the government. And yet notable during the trial has been the composure and courage of Kaeseberg, in particular, to stand up to federal Judge James Zagel’s withering reputation.

Not an easy thing for a new lawyer.

Then again, neither is defending Rod Blagojevich.



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