U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald wants former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his attorneys to shut up and stop talking to the press.
But why? Is it really because the Government fears "a real possibility of this trial becoming a circus show performed outside the courtroom?" Or is it something else? Is the Government's filing of a motion for a gag order a sign of insecurity?
Fitzgerald chose to be the opening act in this circus.
Who can forget the lengthy press conference that Fitzgerald held just hours after the Governor's arrest on December 9, 2008? Fitzgerald basically laid out the entire case against the Governor and his alleged co-conspirators. The almost-10,000 word transcript reads like it's the Government's opening statement at Blagojevich's trial. Yes, 10,000 words. (To put this in perspective, President Obama's speech on the BP oil spill was about 2600 words.)
Fitzgerald told the press:
This is a sad day for government. It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree. We acted to stop that crime spree...
You might have thought in that environment that pay to play would slow down. The opposite happened. It sped up. Government -- Blagojevich and others were working feverishly to get as much money from contractors, shaking them down, pay to play, before the end of the year...
But the most cynical behavior in all this, the most appalling is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama...
The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.
Then, FBI special agent, Rob Grant, spoke:
This wiretap I can tell you, from the FBI agents that participated in this wiretap investigation, were thoroughly disgusted and revolted by what they heard, and I think even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked.
(Read the transcript in its entirety here, posted by Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times.)
Any person who doesn't live in a cave knows that Blagojevich has been on an "I'm innocent" campaign since his arrest, appearing on every TV and radio show, from The View to Greta Van Susteren to Cliff Kelley. Blagojevich has been running his mouth about the case for 18 months.
Regardless, the mainstream media has not necessarily cast him in a favorable light. Many find his comments self-serving and flat-out pathetic.
To further his innocence campaign, Blagojevich created a Twitter account in anticipation of his trial. But, prior to opening statements, Judge Zagel banned him from using Twitter while in the "well" of the court.
The judge also admonished Blagojevich with regard to his loose lips; he (essentially) told him, "You get to a point where if you say things on TV or radio, impeachment by omission becomes an issue if you take the stand." Clearly, the judge was aware of Blagojevich's behavior and warned him on the record, "You run your mouth, it may be used against you."
And yet Blagojevich continued to yap. After his former best friend, Lon Monk, testified against him, he and his attorney, Sam Adam, Jr., spoke to the press.
I couldn't help but to think about his mother, uh and his father. Especially his father and, and the shame that his father probably feels. And of course, I felt a real deep sadness for him. And uh, knowing that uh, he's made statements, said things that were not true, and is now going to spend time in jail for something uh that he didn't do.
Then Sam Adam, Jr. said:
End of the day, when it comes to it, he couldn't tell you one deal that they had done that was illegal, he couldn't tell you one dollar that the Governor took. In fact he said uh, very clearly that he took cash but the Governor never did and never would have approved of anyone taking cash. He couldn't name one deal that the Governor attempted, he couldn't name one deal that the Governor did anything, he couldn't name one State Action that he was asked to do. Nothing!
These comments were apparently the last straw for the Government. So, prosecutors filed a 16-page motion seeking a gag order against Blagojevich and his defense team.
Prosecutors gave a detailed account of where the Blagojevich team was interviewed, even mentioning a defense attorney's appearance on Chicago Tonight before the trial began where he stated that Blagojevich was a "good governor" while in office. (I feel sorry for the interns assigned to monitor every Blagojevich media appearance and write the 16-page motion.)
Prosecutors then claimed Blagojevich and his defense
have "demonstrated a desire to manipulate media coverage to gain favorable attention." They repeatedly have made inflammatory statements to the press, and have "openly forecast" their intent to continue to do so.
Fitzgerald was the first person to comment on this case and he did so in great detail. For the past 18 months, prosecutors made no showing that they were concerned about Blagojevich tainting the jury pool with his constant interviews.
Which brings me back to my original question: Why is the prosecution now, all of a sudden, so concerned about what Blagojevich and his defense team have to say?
Genearlly, a confident opponent's feathers aren't ruffled by the other side's grandstanding. Generally, a confident opponent says to itself, "Let the other side talk all it wants; we have the facts to prove our case; you know, the facts that would make Lincoln roll over in his grave."
Sam Adam, Jr. did a great job on his cross-examination of Lon Monk.
Could the Government be feeling a bit deflated? A little insecure?
(Judge Zagel tabled his decision on the gag order. He asked the parties to try to work out their differences without the court's intervention. I'll be surprised if they come to an agreement.)