It's time for the feds to cut Robert Blagojevich loose. Let the man get back to Tennessee and reclaim what remains of his old life.
I didn't know much about the older Blagojevich until this year, but like a lot of folks in Illinois, I followed his (and his brother's) criminal trial closely. My day job kept me away from the courtroom, so I relied on local media coverage -- some of which was excellent -- to keep me informed. I obviously didn't have the chance to hear testimony or size up witnesses, but based upon what I read, saw, and heard in the media, I didn't think for a minute that the jury would convict Robert of any of the counts against him.
In fact, the retired lieutenant colonel is likely guilty of only one thing: bad judgment for having trusted his shameless brother. Trusting Rod, however, was a mistake that cost Robert and his family dearly.
Robert's fate is now in the hands of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. If Fitzgerald decides to cast Robert in a supporting role as Rod's co-defendant sidekick in Blago 2: Electric Boogaloo, it will also be a mistake. Here's why: (1) a jury is again unlikely to convict Robert if he's tried on the same counts -- unless, of course, the feds sat on a lot of evidence during the first go-round; (2) prosecutors will only muddy up their case against Rod by keeping Robert around; and (3) Robert and his legal team are doing an excellent job making ordinary people feel Robert's pain.
Fitzgerald should not discount the importance of that third factor. I happen to be a hardcore "good government" type, and by and large I think Fitzgerald and his team have done an excellent job prosecuting public corruption cases over the years. But by the end of the trial, I actually felt sorry for the non-delusional Blagojevich brother. It turns out a number of the jurors did, too. That should concern Fitzgerald.
It's no surprise when the U.S. Attorney is taken to task by Rod Blagojevich's lawyers during post-trial spin sessions. And no one should be shocked when the editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal pick on Fitzgerald for his prosecutions of Scooter Libby and Conrad Black. But when "good government" types like me and a number of my friends start to empathize with one of Fitzgerald's targets, noting just how quickly the power of the federal government can turn a seemingly decent man's life upside-down, then Fitzgerald should wonder whether he might be losing his (for lack of a better term) "base."
A lot of us look to the U.S. Attorney's office as one of the only real checks on political corruption in this state. Unless Fitzgerald has a storehouse of new evidence against Robert Blagojevich, the prosecutor should exercise his discretion and send the guy home.
It'll help the case against Rod in the short run, and it'll help the institutional credibility of Fitzgerald's office in the long run.
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