THE BLOG
07/19/2010 11:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Blagojevich Trial: Where's the Beef?

After the government rested its case months ahead of schedule, it became apparent to anyone who was paying attention that what we have here is a perfectly premature prosecution.

The government's wiretaps of ex-governor Rod Blagojevich and his trusted advisors show a lot of trash talking going on. Options being offered and rejected. Cursing, Venting. But no action. In fact, what those secretly taped conversations show is Blago as a man of all talk and no action.

When did talking without action become a crime? With all the focus in recent weeks on whether Chicago's 28-year-old handgun ban would survive a Second Amendment Supreme Court challenge, did the First Amendment in Illinois, get lost in the shuffle? Don't U.S. citizens have the right to speak with friends and trusted advisors without fear of governmental eavesdropping? Because it is not clear from what the government played in court that the wiretapping was warranted.

Instead of being a criminal plotting crimes, Blagojevich came across on those secretly recorded government tapes as frankly an inept, insecure and indecisive chief executive. A waffler. Changing his mind from day to day. From hour to hour even. Heavily dependent on his advisors to tell him what to do. What was legally permissible. Or not.

Many of these same trusted advisors are now testifying against him in attempts to save their own necks. One after another on the stand, admitting they have law degrees and even law licenses, then claiming not to be lawyers. Not to be giving Blago legal advice. But on the wiretaps, Blago asks them for advice as to what is legal and what is not, and they give him that advice. So when is a lawyer not really a lawyer? Let's stop parsing around.

As to choosing who would replace Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate, it became a game of musical chairs. Who'd be left standing when the music stopped? Lisa Madigan, Tammy Duckworth, Dan Hynes, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Valerie Jarrett, Oprah Winfrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jan Schakowsky, Rahm Emanuel, Danny Davis, even Blago himself.

Everybody had a list. President Obama. Senate leader Harry Reid. Heck, Reid's list was splashed on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times' January 4, 2009 edition. Blago had his own list and then added everyone else's picks to it.

Blagojevich's ultimate appointment of Roland Burris would not have come about if Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan had rallied his troops to hold a special election for the seat as had been expected that he would do in the aftermath of Blago's arrest. Both then Lt. Governor Pat Quinn and still Gov. Blagojevich, were pushing for Madigan to pull the trigger. Madigan never did.

So Blagojevich, in order to comply with state law because he would have been derelict in his duties as governor if he hadn't, was legally forced to make an appointment. After all, the people of Illinos were entitled to be fully represented by two Senators at the start of the new session of Congress in January, 2009. Not half-representation, especially with a new president from the Land of Lincoln, pushing for change we can believe in.

On the secretly recorded tapes, Blagojevich appeared to be leaning towards Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan before his arrest. Was he being offered any money to do this? Was he being offered any goods or services or a higher governmental position? No, he was doing it in the hope of currying brownie points with her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, according to the tapes played in court. Nothing illegal about that. No exchange of nuttin' here. No quid pro quo.

Blago did end up appointing another attorney general to the seat, Roland Burris, the first African-American to win a statewide election in Illinois. No quid pro quo evidence presented in federal court about that appointment either.

Blagojevich did not in fact sell Obama's senate seat. He did not quid pro quo it. He replaced an African-American male with another African-American male, and if he hadn't there would be zero African-Americans in the US Senate. Something to think about.

In contrast to the uproar about the possiblity that Blago might appoint himself to President Obama's senate seat, there was not a lot of yelling and screaming going on recently, when West Virigina Governor Joe Manchin floated the notion of appointing himself to fill the seat of the longest serving member of Congress, the late US Senator Robert Byrd. Manchin ended up tapping his chief lawyer, Carte Goodwin. How cozy is that? It is reported that Manchin still plans to run for the seat.

It's true that as of January 1, 2009, the new state ethics law went into effect, prohibiting seeking campaign contributions from those doing a certain dollar amount of state business. But that wasn't illegal in 2008 when Blagojevich did it.

The prosecution has rested its case but the public has the right to ask, "Where's the beef?"
P.S. The Patti Melt sandwich being sold for lunch at the courthouse cafeteria, doesn't count.