Updated 04/01/15 – 2:40 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Five years after he stood trial with his brother on federal corruption charges, Robert Blagojevich said his faith in the justice system remains tainted, and his relationship with his brother remains broken.
Robert Blagojevich has written a book about his experience as a federal criminal defendant, called “Fundraiser A: My Fight For Freedom And Justice.” He said he “absolutely” is still angry that federal prosecutors went after him, claiming they made him a pawn in their pursuit of his brother.
“To this day, I still harbor that anger, but I’m hoping that once this process is done with the book, it’ll be behind me,” he told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov at his son’s home in Florida.
Federal prosecutors dropped all charges against Robert Blagojevich in 2010, after a federal jury deadlocked on the charges against him. The feds pared down their case against his brother, Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, winning convictions on more than a dozen counts, culminating in a 14-year prison term.
To this day, the brothers’ relationship remains severely strained.
“I love my brother. I wish him nothing but the best. I’m not angry with Rod. In retrospect, maybe he shouldn’t have asked me to come help him out; but, to me, the bad guy here is Patrick Fitzgerald and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago. They knew better, in my opinion, and found me to be a very convenient target,” he said.
Robert Blagojevich agreed to become head of his brother’s campaign fundraising operation in 2008, and ended up charged alongside him later that year, when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for trying to sell President Barack Obama’s former senate seat.
Robert said he has written to his brother in prison, and even tried to visit him at the FCI Englewood federal prison in Colorado, but Rod had not put him on the visitor list, and hasn’t responded to his letters.
“I’m very comfortable with my outreach to Rod; numerous occasions, have written him,” he said.
But he does not know why his brother would cut off communication.
“I can’t explain that, Dana. I don’t know,” he said. “I’m disappointed by it.”
Despite their shared experience, the brothers have not spoken in more than four years.
“I love my brother, and I care for him. We’ve been through a very stressful, tumultuous period together,” Robert said.
He said he can’t explain Rod’s refusal to write him, or put him on the prison visitors’ list.
In his book, Robert wrote about the stress of the trial, and the brothers’ very different approaches to the proceedings.
Robert said he’s no longer angry with his brother, though in his book, he made it clear he was fed up with Rod, and believed his brother was concerned only with his own situation, and could not believe Rod never apologized for putting him in such a predicament.
“He was never as clear as that, and that wasn’t good enough for me. Rod might think that he did, but it was very clear to me he did not convey to me how bad he felt for getting me into that situation,” he said. “He never satisfactorily communicated that to me. Yes, I was angry at him for not being a responsible co-defendant, but it’s more brotherly relationship; has nothing to do with the situation that we ultimately found ourselves in because of a prosecutor.”
Robert has insisted he is innocent from the very beginning, and said former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald tried to use him as a pawn to get Rod to cop a plea. Robert has claimed prosecutors approached his defense attorney, Michael Ettinger, with a plea deal of sorts: convince Rod to plead guilty, in exchange for dismissing or reducing the charges against Robert.
“He said to Mike, ‘We’re looking for a global solution. W’eve got the governor, but your guy can win this,’ which to me was inexplicable. I couldn’t understand, if I could win this, why did they indict me?” Robert said.
But Robert rejected any plea deal, and went to trial. After a jury could not reach a verdict against him, federal prosecutors dropped the charges. His brother was not so lucky, and was convicted of more than a dozen charges at a second trial in 2011.
Fitzgerald, now in private practice, could not be reached for comment on this story.
Robert also questioned why his brother is serving 14 years in prison for trying to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, but former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has never been charged in the case. The former governor allegedly tried to sell the seat to Jackson for $1.5 million in campaign contributions. Federal investigators questioned Jackson in the case, and one of his top donors, Raghuveer Nayak, has claimed Jackson asked him to offer campaign money to Blagojevich in exchange for the Senate seat, but Jackson has never been charged in that case.
Jackson has denied any wrongdoing in the Blagojevich case, but was later convicted of misusing $750,000 of his own campaign funds to fund a lavish lifestyle, and was recently released from prison to a halfway house. After Jackson pleaded guilty, he said “I manned up and tried to take responsibility for the errors of my ways.”
Robert said he should do the same in regard to his role in the Blagojevich case.
“I ask you the question, well Jesse, when are you going to man up for trying to buy the Senate seat?” he said.
Robert and his wife, Julie, returned to Nashville, Tennessee, after the trial. He spent more than $1 million of his own money on the case, and said his reputation suffered a blow. He hopes someday he and his brother can be reunited.
Robert said he doesn’t believe his brother intended to commit the crimes for which he was convicted, including the attempt to sell Obama’s Senate seat for campaign cash.
“What I’ve come to learn and observe is Rod is the kind of defendant who maybe should have listened to his lawyers more, and not been more self-reliant,” he said. “Or there’s even an observation that maybe he shouldn’t have listened to some of his lawyers, and listened to some of the others, which I will not get into.”
In his book, Robert wrote there were early warning signs his brother might have some troubling personality issues. He called his brother “unsettled.”
“I think that unsettled feeling may have affected his personality in some way. I did mention in the book that my parents weren’t sophisticated enough to have maybe diagnosed something then, and tolerated his behaviors; but I’m not smart enough, nor do I have the expertise to diagnose him,” he said.
The former governor’s appeal is still pending.
Robert said he believes his brother’s sentence should be reduced. His book is scheduled to be released on April 15.
Rod Blagojevich declined a request for an interview for this story.