Dispatches From the Blago Trial (Part 4)

by Margo Howard | June 11, 2010

Click here to read Margo Howard’s first dispatch from the Blagojevich trial. Click here to read her second. And here for her assessment of the opening statements.

Even though I think I’m an opening statements kind of girl, I did want to stick around to see the first witnesses. Number one was Daniel Cain, the the FBI agent who oversaw all Blago-related wiretaps. Formerly an accountant, he answered questions like a federal agent from central casting: precise and almost without inflection. His area of specialty is white collar crime, public corruption, drugs, and fraud. The investigation began, in December 2003, when someone complained about being extorted by Stuart Levine, who was on two State of Illinois boards. One thing led to another … well, to be accurate, Levine led to Blagojevich, and the tapes just kept rolling. The defense went after his testimony that the Blago tapes used “minimization”—that is, when talk veered off into the personal, the agent stopped recording and checked back in one or two minutes. The defense tried to make it seem like a big whoop that there were breaks in the tapes; didn’t that mean the investigation was less rigorous than it might have been? This defense strategy struck me as fishy. A red herring, to be exact.

The second and last witness of the morning was one of the insiders who has turned and is cooperating with the government: Alonzo “Lon” Monk (the one with the peacocks on his father’s lawn who was previously described—by Blago’s lawyer—as a volleyball agent). The former governor’s chief of staff for his first term, Monk is now unemployed and awaiting sentencing by this trial judge. He has admitted to more than one crime. It turns out that he was a sports agent, mainly for tennis players, and his friendship with Blago began in 1981 when they were both going to law school at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, and took a program in London together, living in the same hotel. Monk was an usher at Blago’s wedding, then lived with the couple for eight weeks as he got settled in Chicago, where he had moved to help Blago. This friendship will prove to have been very costly. And who knows? They might be lodging together once again.

I believe I am one of the few people involved with this trial who is free to leave at this point. I mean, the serious reporters can’t go, the jury can’t go, and the defendants sure as hell can’t go. And this is supposed to go on for another three or four months. It is an odd routine, a big deal criminal trial. One can only imagine penny ante civil cases where the boredom factor would be multiplied by 100. So here are some impressions as I have one foot out the door.

My last day, for whatever reason, I was seated with the “permanent press,” i.e., Chicago-based media, so I had a different view of everything. For one thing, Sam Adam, the father, has a rather substantial neck and from the back looks like a Shar-Pei. Also, the government has next to its table grocery carts full of documents. The two defense tables have briefcases with folders.

I also found the cafeteria scene to be odd. Everybody goes down there. Blago goes down there, and he greets people! A defendant from another case was pointed out to me: John Burge, a now quite infamous former police commander who is alleged to have tortured African-American prisoners into confessions in the ’70s and ’80s. Do not ask me what the delay is about. This being Chicago, I guess it’s possible there may have been 30 years worth of continuances.

But back to Blago. I seriously wonder if he knows where he is. (Judge Zagel has already instructed him that he may no longer tweet from the courtroom.) When he saw my seatmate from a few days ago, Jimmy Breslin, he raced over to shake his hand and to schmooze him. He smiles, laughs, glad-hands people. I do not know whether he is a narcissistic exhibitionist or if he thinks this approach will somehow charm people. And of course there is always the possibility that he is nuts. Alternatively he may be acting out the old dictum, “Never let ’em see you sweat.”

Hard for me to believe, but some people (Breslin among them) think he will be acquitted. I find that idea so bizarre that I may have to return to hear the verdict for myself.

Margo Howard is a syndicated advice columnist for Creators Syndicate and www.wowowow.com. Last year, she covered the Clark Rockefeller trial for The New Republic. 

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Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/politics/75466/dispatches-the-blago-trial-part-4