Closing Arguments Completed In Blagojevich Trial
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UPDATED 06/09/11 7:25 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Rod Blagojevich’s fate is now in the hands of a federal jury after prosecutors and defense attorneys wrapped up their closing arguments on Thursday.
Jurors received their final instructions from U.S. District Judge James Zagel late Thursday afternoon and he said he expected the jury to begin deliberations on Friday.
Lead prosecutor Reid Schar summed up the government’s case Thursday afternoon, saying the evidence proved that Blagojevich took actions to get campaign contributions in exchange for official actions and that he tried to get something for himself in exchange for a U.S. Senate seat in 2008.
“You’re the only ones who can show this defendant what is right,” Schar said. “Your verdict will speak the truth and the truth is he is guilty. Find him guilty.”
But defense attorney Aaron Goldstein said Blagojevich never shook anyone down or took any actions to exchange his power as governor for any personal benefits.
“Rod didn’t make one shakedown, one demand,” Goldstein said. “He didn’t come anywhere close to doing any of that.”
Goldstein emphasized that in each and every shakedown scheme alleged by prosecutors, Blagojevich “didn’t get a dime, a nickel, a penny, not in campaign contributions, not in his pocket, nothing.”
He also attacked the credibility of the government’s witnesses, accusing them of either intentionally lying to the jury or to appease prosecutors or just telling jurors what the government wanted them to hear.
After court on Thursday, Blagojevich said “this has been a very long and difficult journey.”
Blagojevich described the past two and a half years since his arrest as “a very long and hard ordeal for our children, for Patti, for me. And it’s been a very lonely ordeal.”
The former governor once again accused federal prosecutors of trying to hide evidence that would have cleared his name, pointing out that jurors heard only a fraction of the secretly recorded FBI wiretaps of his phone conversations.
“So much of what I’d like to be able to say about this case is under seal,” Blagojevich said. “And those very people who’ve accused me, who’ve twisted my words, and who continue to do it even now in the 11th hour are twisting some of the facts and what’s actually happened here.”
Blagojevich, 54, is charged with 20 criminal counts, including allegations he tried to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, and that he tried to shake down a number of executives for campaign cash.
Schar emphasized to the jury that Blagojevich didn’t need to get anything from his shakedown attempts for his plots to get campaign cash, a high-paying job or other benefits in exchange for official actions to be a crime.
“It’s like the bank robber who goes in, hands the note to the teller, then gets arrested for the attempt,” Schar said, adding that the robber can’t then say, “if she put the money on the counter, I’m not sure I would have taken it.”
Schar also ridiculed Goldstein’s assertion that the prosecution’s witnesses, many of whom were testifying under immunity agreements or plea deals, were misleading the jury.
He said the defense seemed to be painting the case against Blagojevich as “one of the largest government frame-ups,” but later added sarcastically that Blagojevich himself must have been in on it, pointing to his own words on FBI wiretaps.
“The defendant apparently is framing himself,” Schar said. “Apparently, somehow all these people got him back in 2008, when no one knew they were being recorded, to say things to incriminate himself.”
Schar also sought to counter the defense’s assertions that Blagojevich never took any actions or made any decisions to make good on his desire to be appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services or get other benefits for himself for the Senate seat.
“He made decisions and he did take actions. He made decisions over and over and he took actions over and over,” Schar said. “When you have crimes like we do here which are largely scheming crimes and plotting crimes and trying crimes, it’s largely the talk” that proves the crime.
Schar said Blagojevich was “making it up as he goes” on the stand as he tried to explain his words caught on FBI wiretaps, noting that Blagojevich brought up new defenses during the prosecution’s cross-examination that he didn’t mention during his own lawyer’s direct examination.
He also mocked Blagojevich’s tactics on the stand, when he repeatedly interrupted his own lawyers’ objections before Judge James Zagel could rule, even after the judge cautioned Blagojevich to wait for his lawyers to finish voicing their objections.
“He’s got four lawyers over there and they couldn’t stop him from doing what he wants?” Schar said. “He rolled right over them. … When a lawyer stands up and objects, you wait for the judge to decide.”
“This isn’t a game, there are rules,” Schar added.
Defense To Jury: Don’t Be A “Rubber Stamp”
His voice rising in anger at several points, Goldstein delivered an emphatic and passionate closing argument Thursday afternoon, saying prosecutors had proven nothing criminal and that the government wanted the jury to be nothing more than a “rubber stamp” for their case against the former governor.
“That’s what they think you are. Stamp it guilty, do what we say,” Goldstein said. “Don’t be that red stamp, that rubber stamp. … Look at this case and decide it on the facts.”
He also repeatedly hammered home that the prosecution must prove Blagojevich guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the jury to convict him.
“Don’t ever forget whose burden this is. The government must prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Goldstein said. “They want you to believe his talk is a crime. It’s not. … He floated ideas and discussed things. These are not a crime.”
“Don’t ever, ever, ever forget that it’s their burden. Don’t ever forget that,” Goldstein added.
He repeatedly attacked the credibility of the government’s witnesses, pointing out that virtually all of them are testifying in exchange for plea deals or immunity agreements with the prosecution.
Goldstein noted that one witness, racetrack owner John Johnston, an alleged victim of a shakedown for campaign cash, testified under an immunity agreement.
“Why?” Goldstein asked, adding that the government’s case rests on what their witnesses believed Blagojevich was saying in his various conversations about the alleged shakedowns.
“It’s all in the interpretations of those people who come through that door,” Goldstein said. “So why is it so important that these people are fighting for their freedom? … They had a deal to testify and to get more freedom. That’s their deal.”
Goldstein also pointed out that, at the same time, Blagojevich decided to testify in his own defense even though he had no obligation to do so.
“Always compare where they’re walking from to where he’s walking from. Because that man told you the truth,” Goldstein said.
When discussing the government’s witnesses, Goldstein repeatedly used an analogy comparing their walk through the courtroom’s doors to take the stand to Blagojevich’s walk from the defense table to testify himself.
At one point, Goldstein’s comparison provided some comic relief, as he swung his arm to point at the courtroom door, talking about the prosecution’s witnesses walking into the courtroom with a deal in hand, just as a spectator was walking into the room.
“Not her. There’s no deal with her … bad timing,” Goldstein said, prompting a brief uproar of laughter from the entire courtroom, including the judge and jury.
Goldstein wrapped up his closing by pointing to his client, saying “That’s an innocent man. Right there, that’s an innocent man.”
As Goldstein gestured, Blagojevich had tears in his eyes and his wife Patti, began crying and embraced her sister, Deb Mell.
Prosecutor: The People Come First
Earlier Thursday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Carrie Hamilton wrapped up the first part of the prosecution’s two-part closing argument.
She repeatedly quoted Blagojevich’s own words and even played a few snippets of the FBI wiretap recordings of the former governor in an effort to make the government’s case that Blagojevich was interested only in getting something for himself in exchange for his power as governor.
She pointed to a Nov. 10, 2008, phone call in which Blagojevich discussed having gotten a message from the Obama administration that the president would be “grateful and appreciative” if Blagojevich appointed Obama’s friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate.
You guys are telling me I just gotta suck it up for two years and do nothing. Give this mother f***er, his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him,” Blagojevich said in the call.
Hamilton said those words showed Blagojevich’s mindset about his own power as governor.
“That’s his mindset about the president-elect of the United States giving him nothing in exchange for his power as governor,” Hamilton said. “This little bit tells you so much about how h views his power as governor in these shakedowns. You want something for me? Not for nothing.”
She also pointed to a statement Blagojevich made to the media after former Gov. George Ryan was convicted on corruption charges in 2006.
“Today’s verdict proves that no one is above the law and just as important it proves that government is supposed to exist for the good of the people and not the other way around.” “The jury made it clear that the people come first,” Hamilton quoted Blagojevich as saying in 2006.
“Hold him to these words. The people come first and no one is above the law,” Hamilton said.
Defense Asks Again For Mistrial
Meantime, defense attorneys have filed a new motion for a mistrial, arguing that Judge Zagel’s repeated rulings against them show that he’s “biased” against Blagojevich and is preventing a fair trial.
“The rulings of this Court indicate that it has formed a biased opinion regarding Blagojevich and the facts of the case and as a result, Blagojevich has deprived of a fair trial and the right to a trial by jury,” defense attorneys wrote in their motion.
In one example, defense attorneys cited Zagel’s ruling that Blagojevich could not refer to his idea to appoint Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate in exchange for her father, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, passing Blagojevich’s legislative agenda as “the Madigan deal.”
Zagel had ruled that the defense could not use those specific words about the possible Madigan appointment, because they had presented no evidence that either Lisa Madigan or Mike Madigan had been approached about the deal, or even knew about it.
“The jury should be the fact finder as to whether there was a proposed deal, along with every other fact at issue,” defense attorneys wrote.
Defense attorneys also pointed to Zagel’s warning, while Blagojevich was on the stand, that he might interrupt the defense’s questions and let prosecutors begin their cross-examination of the defendant early because he believed the defense was “running the clock” by asking repetitive questions.
“The Court almost always presumes the worst intentions when it comes to the defense,” the defense wrote. “The Court’s exasperation with the defense has become more than evident to the parties and the jury.”
Defense attorneys also seemed to point the finger for Zagel’s repeated rulings against them at attorneys Sam Adam Sr. and Sam Adam Jr., who led the defense team at the first trial, but have since left the case.
“Many of the Court’s admonishments of the current counsel date back to grievances the Court has from the first trial, having to do with counsel that is no longer part of the defense team,” defense attorneys wrote.
Zagel has yet to discuss the motion in open court. Defense attorneys said it’s possible Zagel will hear arguments on the motion on Friday while jurors begin their deliberations.
The defense has filed at least two other motions seeking a mistrial in the case, without success.
Todd Feurer, CBS 2 Web Producer