Yesterday, I attended the opening statements in the public corruption case against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Robert.
I attended for no other reason other than, since the Governor's arrest, I found this case interesting. I have blogged about and discussed the case in great detail for the past 18 months.
I had met with the Governor and his staff on several occasions in regard to the issue of pardons. The Governor had approximately 3000 pardon petitions sitting on his desk. The people wanted answers. In fact, I organized a press conference at the State building as a public plea for the Governor to grant (or deny) pardons, as it was his legal duty to perform. (At the time of the press conference, I believe the Governor had granted just one pardon that year.)
How did this man work? What made him tick?
Obviously, each side told completely different stories to the jury:
First, the Government painted Rod as a shakedown artist who sent a clear message to his victims through his middlemen, "Pay up or no state action."
Then, Robert's attorney described him as the retired lieutenant colonel who "followed the rules" and gave 75% of his Friends of Blagojevich salary to charity.
Last was Sam Adam, who gave an Academy Award-caliber opening statement on behalf of Rod. He blamed the case on his client because he trusted the wrong people. For example, he trusted Stuart Levine, a man who fooled everyone, was even knighted by the King of Sweden, but "was about as corrupt as ever. In the history of ever, he's the most corrupt."
Keep in mind, Rod and Robert aren't the only ones on trial. In fact, since Rod's arrest on December 9, 2008, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has been on trial in the court of public opinion after numerous reports, speculation and flat-out attacks accused him of attempting to buy Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat from Rod.
In spite of each side's different theories as to who was dirtier than whom, both made one thing clear: Congressman Jackson looked like the victim of a) either a Governor's attempted shakedown, or b) a serious effort by top Democrats to ensure the Governor did not appoint him to the Senate seat, depending on which side you believe.
Of course, we haven't yet heard any of the evidence, but what we did hear leads me to believe that now, after 18 months, Congressman Jackson can breathe a sigh of relief, no matter how you look at this case. (Surely, those who threw mud on him aren't going to now wipe him off.)
If you believe the prosecution:
Rod learned that President-elect Barack Obama wanted him to name Valerie Jarrett to his vacant Senate seat. Rod then had his staff research jobs that he could ask Obama for, in exchange for the Jarrett appointment. "That didn't work" (I assume because Obama instead added her to his administration), so Rod then considered Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. when he thought "what could be done for me."
You see, Rod operated under the same general pattern: take advantage of the interested person through middlemen, i.e. Lon Monk, Chris Kelly, Tony Rezko and his brother, Robert. So, Rod sought out Congressman Jackson -- not the other way around -- through Robert.
In fact, Rod never spoke to Jackson directly about a purchase of the Senate seat; instead, Robert told Rod that he could get Congressman Jackson's supporters to give Rod $1 million. Rod then told his brother he wanted a fundraising offer "right now and we've got to see it."
The prosecution never suggested that Congressman Jackson knew about any of the supporters' alleged offers, nor of the Governor's attempts to get money from Congressman Jackson in exchange for the Senate appointment. Remember, the prosecution alleged in its indictment that part of the conspiracy was to conceal the purpose of and acts done in furtherance of the conspiracy. Simply stated: the prosecution does not think Congressman Jackson knew about what was allegedly cooking in the kitchen.
If you believe Robert's attorney:
Before Barack Obama was elected President, Robert approached Rod's "politically active" supporters in the Indian community who had contributed before "but not recently." At an meeting on August 28, 2008, Rajinder Bedi told Robert he'd come up with money for Rod if he appointed their favorite Senate option, Congressman Jackson.
Over the course of the next few months, other Indian contributors, namely Raghu Nayak and Babu Patel, offered to raise money for Governor Blagojevich. In fact, Robert received two faxes from Indian organizations in support of Congressman Jackson and gave those faxes to his brother. But Rod told his brother, "Tell them I didn't get it because I don't want them disappointed when I don't appoint him."
Robert actually gave up on helping Rod with the Senate appointment decision and told him, "I'm going to sit back and watch this on the news," because Rod kept changing his mind as to who he was going to appoint to the Senate seat. From Gery Chico (former Daley aide) to Oprah Winfrey to Valerie Jarrett... Rod's list kept changing.
Regardless, Robert's attorney never said Congressman Jackson was involved in or knew of any pay-to-play deals, nor did he say Congressman Jackson knew of the Indians' desire to raise money on his behalf.
If you believe Rod's attorney:
When Governor Blagojevich had the opportunity to make a Senate-appointment, he did believe, as the prosecution stated, he had something that was "golden": a black President.
Given this powerful opportunity, Rod looked to Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Why? Because her father (Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan) didn't like Rod. He didn't "bow down to him" so Mike blocked "everything."
Even though Rod went over 85-90 names of possible appointees, he kept going back to Lisa Madigan, because he believed the appointment of Lisa would stop Michael from blocking the bills he wanted to sign for the benefit of the people of Illinois.
Rod wasn't the only one who understood the importance of the appointee. In fact, the most powerful Democrats also saw the significance because they wanted to make sure the appointee could maintain the seat in the 2010 election. Rahm Emanuel, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama did not think that Congressman Jackson could hold the seat beyond the 2-year appointment, so they conveyed their beliefs to Rod.
In fact, Harry Reid called Rod and told him something like, "Whatever you do, do not appoint Jesse Jackson." And Rahm Emanuel was so concerned that Rod appoint Lisa Madigan instead of Congressman Jackson, he offered to fly to Chicago to "start the process."
[Keep in mind, this was after Harry Reid had verbally committed directly to Congressman Jackson, and had received polling that Jackson was viable statewide.]
Finally, on December 8, 2008, the evening before Rod's arrest, Congressman Jackson, Rod and John Harris met to discuss Congressman Jackson's desire to be appointed. Sam Adam closed by saying, "Here you have the buyer and the seller, face to face. And what do you think they discussed? Health care. Rod asked Jesse, 'Would you support health care if I appoint you?' Not a dime was discussed."
Any way you look at this case, now is the time Congressman Jackson should be allowed to clear his name. Now is the time.
[In the interest of full disclosure and complete transparency, I have worked with Rev. Jesse Jackson for several years, I founded a pro-bono record clearing clinic at Rainbow Push in 2006, and with his support, I obtained a Congressional hearing on one of my cases. I have never been an employee of Rainbow Push nor have I ever been paid by Rev. Jackson or his organization for my time. His son, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., and I have never worked together on a single issue. He and I sit on an advisory board of an organization within the Cook County Jail; however, he has never attended a meeting, nor have I ever communicated with him about this organization, or any other. I have posted this blog with no motive, interest or bias but only with the intent to report the truth and my analysis of the truth.]