By MICHAEL TARM
CHICAGO — A jury convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich today of nearly all the corruption charges against him, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
Blagojevich had faced 20 charges, including the Senate seat allegation and that he schemed to shake down executives for campaign donations. He was convicted on all charges regarding the Senate seat.
Jurors delivered their verdicts today after deliberating nine days.
Blagojevich had testified for seven days, denying wrongdoing. Prosecutors said he lied and the proof was on FBI wiretaps. Those included a widely parodied clip in which Blagojevich calls the Senate opportunity “f------ golden.”
Jurors in his first trial deadlocked on all but one charge, convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI. Blagojevich already faces up to five years for the lying conviction.
Blagojevich, 54, had arrived at the courthouse accompanied by his wife, Patti, and walked past the crowds that lined the street outside the building.
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and dozens of reporters filed into the courtroom Monday after the court announced it had received word of a note from jurors.
“The jury has come to a decision on 18 of the 20 counts,” Zagel said, clutching the note and reading it aloud. Jurors added they were deadlocked on two counts and “were confident” they couldn’t agree on those charges “even with further deliberations.”
Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008, after the FBI had wiretapped hundreds of his telephone calls at work and home. The Illinois Legislature impeached him a month later.
Both trials hinged on whether the former governor’s bold ramblings to aides and others on the telephone was just talk, as he insisted, or part of “a political crime spree,” in the words of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
Before a national audience, the Blagojevich saga exacerbated Illinois’ reputation for graft. The convictions mean Blagojevich is the second Illinois governor in a row facing a prison sentence for corruption. His predecessor, former Gov. George Ryan, is serving a 6 1/2 year sentence.
The case also became a media spectacle, as the indicted governor and his wife appeared on TV reality shows, and as the loquacious Blagojevich made theatrical appearances daily outside the courthouse during the first trial to profess his innocence and hug his remaining fans.
In a case full of high-level name dropping, defense attorneys in the retrial pulled into court Chicago’s new Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Emanuel’s appearance on the witness stand, the most anticipated by a Chicago mayor in a federal courtroom in decades, was over in just five minutes. Jackson was done in about half an hour.
Overall, though, the retrial had far less of the circus-like atmosphere that accompanied the initial trial. Blagojevich himself also was more subdued this time.
Other major differences were in the prosecution’s dramatically streamlined case, and the fact that the defense put on a case after not doing so the first time around.
Prosecutors dropped racketeering counts against the ex-governor and dismissed all charges against his then co-defendant brother, Robert Blagojevich. They presented just three weeks of evidence — half the time taken at the first trial. They called fewer witnesses, asked fewer questions and played shorter excerpts of FBI wiretaps that underpin most of the charges.
There was also a new variable at the retrial: The testimony from Blagojevich himself. At the first trial, the defense rested without calling any witnesses and Blagojevich didn’t testify despite vowing that he would.
Retrial jurors saw a deferential Blagojevich look them in the eyes and deny every allegation, telling them his talk on the recordings was mere brainstorming.