Dispatches From the Blago Trial (Part 5)

by Margo Howard | July 21, 2010

Click here to read Margo Howard’s first, second, and third dispatches from the Blagojevich trial. And click here for her assessment of the opening statements.

So where were we? When last I was in Chicago, it was early June for the opening of the Blagojevich trial. It really had everything. An impeached blabbermouth showman of a governor who favored 2-to-8 hour work weeks. A foul-mouthed wife. 500 hours of wiretaps. $400,000 spent on clothes. 24 corruption charges. Two chiefs of staff turned government witness. A key associate who offed himself. A good schnook brother who “helped out” for only four months and wound up as defendant #2. A crack prosecution trio. A small mob of so-so defense lawyers who seem not to have figured out they’re no longer in state court. (The pattern has been that they ask a question, the government objects, the judge sustains.)

During the past two months, we have been treated to a parade of prosecution witnesses, those who felt state contracts were held up or monkey-wrenched depending on a contractor’s stomach for “pay-to-play.” It was entertaining to hear Blago on the tapes badmouthing everyone from President Obama on down. He referred to both Jesse Jacksons as “effing” this, and “effing that,” a female office-holder as “effing incompetent, and an effing liar,” etc. etc. (There are now free ring tones, you should know, with Blago attaching the F-word to almost any sentence.)

And the best part: Blago’s courthouse behavior suggested he cares not a whit about how scummy he comes off. From the beginning of the trial, he has been playing to the crowd. He must have thought that schmoozing press people during breaks would be advantageous. I was somewhat startled when Blago bounded out of his seat at the defense table on the first day when he spotted Jimmy Breslin in a press row. He wanted to say hello, pay his respects, and compliment him on his writing style. Blago would mingle with whoever was in the hallway outside the courtroom, accept good wishes in the men’s room, shake hands with those in the cafeteria, and hold mini-press conferences when he exited the building at the close of each day’s session. Judge James Zagel (a smart, tough judge and—full disclosure—a friend) turned down a prosecution motion to nix the outside-the-courthouse schmoozefests with pedestrians because, he said, “When you say, every day, ‘I am innocent,’ it all becomes pretty pointless.”

The prosecution rested on July 15, weeks before expected. July 19 the defense took over. Its first witness was Julie Blagojevich, the wife of Blago’s brother, Robert. Julie’s purpose was to show that the brothers weren’t close, and that in fact it was she who encouraged her husband to help his brother (when most everyone had quit or been indicted). This was because their mother’s deathbed wish was that the brothers get closer. So I guess you could say the mother done it. Mrs. Blagojevich #2 also said that Blago told her and her husband that “the investigations were behind him.” (He had, in fact, been under federal investigation since 2004—and it had never stopped. That is six years of sleuthing and listening.) After 20 minutes she was done.

Her brief testimony was followed by poor hapless Robert’s: he of the normal hair, Republican affiliation, and lack of political background. His stance was one of denial and ignorance of misdeeds and being indignant about suggestions that he may have picked up the politics of his brother. One high point was when he flat out denied putting the strong arm on the head of [Children’s Hospital, and the prosecution played a tape showing that he, shall we say, misremembered. A few times he became what older folks from the South would call “sassy.” Then he apologized, as he did for the profanity he “never expected anyone to hear.”

When Robert concluded his testimony, it was assumed that Blago himself would take the stand. However … there was an 11th hour news leak Tuesday saying that Blago’s two lead lawyers, father and son, as it happens, disagreed on whether he should. Even more intriguingly, a seasoned judicial source told me that the father-son duo spends all its free time chatting up press people, and the “disagreement” was the message they wanted to get out. My source felt the decision had already been made not to let Blago take the stand because 1) it would be quite dangerous in the opening-new-doors-department, 2) his brother had gotten tripped up, and 3) Blago’s “rehearsals” hadn’t gone particularly well. One hopes the jury has not been reading or watching any news, since the disgraced governor has said, almost every day, “I want to testify so the truth can come out.”

For comedic purposes, the silencing of Blago is a great loss. He clearly allowed wiser heads to prevail. (The ones that paid attention in law school). For skeptics, however, his blowhardness has been confirmed—if it ever was in doubt. Alas, the cooked goose could not fly.

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/76427/dispatches-blago-trial-blagojevich-part-5