"If I get convicted of this, every politician in America should!" That's what former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich told me during a courthouse lunch break in the midst of closing arguments. Is he right? That's for the jury to decide.
In closing arguments the prosecution argued that "the ask" is enough to send the Blagojevich brothers--Robert and Rod-- to prison for perhaps the rest of their lives. Well, "yes" and "no." If the "ask" conditions getting state business on getting a campaign contribution, then the answer is "yes." But on the tapes the government played in court, it was never so naked and bold.
The government, in its rebuttal, said the jury must infer the words that are not there. That are not uttered on the tapes. "It's unsaid," admitted the government. Then adding, "The connection is there."
So, it comes down to this. Will the jury send two brothers to prison for "the unsaid"? For what's not said on the tapes played in court? All twelve jurors must agree. The verdict must be unanimous.
Learned Loyola Constitutional Law Professor George Anastaplo, "sitting shoulder-to-shoulder" scrunched next to me, whispered: "I think it might be healthy to get a hung jury in this case. After all, he has been impeached and removed from office. His career has been ruined."
Then as I ducked out to go to the bathroom, I ran into a retiree who said he is one of a group of four who go to the courthouse at 6:30 AM most mornings so they can snag some of those few coveted public seats to watch the trial. He pulled out his free senior transit card which has a golden border and said, "This is what's golden!" A reference to Blagojevich on tape, saying that the opportunity for him to appoint a US Senator to replace President Obama was "golden."
I asked the retiree, who said he was a physician, what the consensus was among his group of four as to the ex-guv's guilt or innocence. He said that the two lawyers and American airlines pilot who rounded out his group all thought he should be found "not guilty."
"Because the government didn't prove he took anything," the good doctor said. "Only that he's stupid." I asked him if he and his friends were liberals. "No, we're all Republicans, and I like him standing for not raising state income taxes."
Later on, I ran into a stockbroker who thinks the prosecution proved its case and Blagojevich is guilty. He told me about a conversation he overheard in the men's bathroom between a lawyer/TV analyst for a Chicago TV station and defense attorney, Sam Adam Sr. The TV analyst asked the attorney-father how he thought his son's closing went. "I saw the jurors' faces. My son did well."
Meanwhile another court buff, stressing the Blagojevich brothers' right to a public trial, and who said she knew the whole Blagojevich family, especially the father-in-law, said she showed up to "make sure the defendants were treated fairly." She came armed with a library copy of Judge James Zagel's 2002 novel, Money to Burn, which she said she was reading during trial breaks.
Even U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, along with seven others, made a surprise appearance in the overflow courtroom, where you can hear the trial but not see what is going on. If he can't even squeeze into the actual courtroom, the drumbeat for televising federal trials grows even louder.
Of course, when all is said and done, the only opinions that matter are those of the twelve jurors. We owe them a debt of gratitude. They only get paid $40 per day, which is shameful. Not to mention lost salary and lost time from work or the need to hire child care.
The jurors and alternates have to sit in uncomfortable chairs all crammed together with no leg room and no opportunity to put their legs up, with the whole courtroom staring at them trying to divine what their facial expressions mean. Their bathroom breaks are controlled by Judge Zagel. So a juror can't simply raise his hand and ask to be excused when the urge hits him.
As we thank them for their service, know that it is now in their hands. Of course, in keeping with Judge Zagel's instructions, if they read this, it should be after they reach their verdict.