Daily Archives: July 26, 2010

The Blagojevich Trial – Day 27 – Closing Arguments

Sam Adam Jr.: “I have no qualms of going to prison”


Sarah Ostman

on July 26, 2010 4:44 PM Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

After court, Sam Adam Jr. said said he would go to jail “in a heartbeat” if that’s what it takes.

“I have no qualms of going to prison if that’s what’s best,” he said outside after court.

Asked if he thought the judge was fair, Adam Jr. turned and smiled.

“You know I can’t answer that. But I think you know the answer,” he said.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

The defense won’t start its closing arguments for Rod Blagojevich until tomorrow morning after a tense dispute broke out between Sam Adam Jr. and Judge Zagel.

The jury was out of the room when the dispute arose. Zagel told Adam he could not tell jurors in his closing argument that the government had refused to call 35 witnesses named in the indictment, including Tony Rezko, Bill Quinlan and Stuart Levine.

“I don’t want to get into the classic mode that if the facts are against you and the law is against you, then attack the opposing lawyer. That’s all you’re doing,” Zagel said. “The fact is, you cannot draw an evidentiary inference from the fact a witness was not called by the other side when you had an equal right to call them.”

“I have been more deferential,” Adam responded, “but with all due deference to the court, I have a man here who’s arguing for his life … I can’t effectively represent this man … I can’t follow this order.”

“You will follow this order, because if you don’t you will be in contempt of court,” Zagel shot back.

Zagel said he would send the jury home for the day and give Adam time to rework his closing.

“I can understand, given your profound misunderstanding of the legal rules, perhaps you’re not prepared to argue,” the judge said. “It may be possible for you to designate another lawyer to argue for your client if you’re incapable of following my rulings.”

After the sidebar, Adam came back to the defense table and put some items into a briefcase. Rod Blagojevich walked over to him and the two shook hands and exchanged words.

The judge has adjourned court for the day. We will reconvene at 9:30 tomorrow with the rest of the closing arguments.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

Robert Blagojevich time and time again fended off a bribe offer from members of the Indian community who offered millions of dollars if the governor would appoint Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate, Robert’s attorney tells the jury.

Attorney Michael Ettinger re-tells the saga surrounding the alleged $6 million offer – Robert’s coffee shop talk with Rajinder Bedi in which the fund-raiser brings up Raghu Nayak’s lucrative offer; the taped call between Rod and Rob when they discuss the fund-raising benefits of holding off on naming a Senate successor until after two key fund-raising events; another taped call between Robert and Babu Patel in which the governor’s brother says “Money is not gonna be a factor here.”

Robert fought at every step, Ettinger argues.

“Listen to the tape,” Ettinger urges the jury. “Listen to his voice. What does this man gotta do to tell people he’s not going to be involved in this?”

Ettinger is in overtime; he’s gone significantly over the one hour he said he’d need. Judge James Zagel breaks in, telling the attorney he has five minute to conclude.

“I didn’t know I was timed,” Ettinger said. The judge offers two extra minutes.
“This is my last topic. Can I finish it without rushing?” Ettinger said. “It might be 10 minutes.”
The judge pauses. “Sure,” he says.

Ettinger clearly didn’t want to speed through the Jesse Jackson Jr. point – it’s a key charge against his client. Still, he wraps up quickly.

“You heard (the government) prove beyond a reason doubt that he’s innocent,” Ettinger says. “He’s an innocent man.”

“Let your conscience be your guide,” he says. “Remember what did this man do? What did he say? Not what his brother said to him — what did he do?”

“Go back there and sign a not guilty verdict for all four of them,” Ettinger concludes.

He’s referring to the four counts against Robert Blagojevich. It was five until this morning, when prosecutors dropped one wire fraud charge.

Zagel and the lawyers are having a conference before Sam Adam Jr. begins.

Judge James Zagel: Closing statements will carry into tomorrow


Sarah Ostman

on July 26, 2010 3:19 PM

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

Judge James Zagel interrupts Michael Ettinger, asking how long he has left in his closing. The attorney for Robert Blagojevich says he has about 30 minutes to go.

We’re clearly behind schedule. The judge wanted to finish all the closing arguments in one day, but with Sam Adam Jr. and the government wrap-up to go, that’s looking increasingly unlikely.

Instead, Zagel says, closings will carry into tomorrow. Ettinger will wrap up for Robert Blagojevich this afternoon and then Sam Adam Jr. will present about half of his argument for Rod Blagojevich. He’ll finish up in the morning, to be followed by the government’s final argument.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

Prosecutors argued earlier that just because Rod Blagojevich’s schemes never got carried out, it doesn’t mean the ex-governor isn’t guilty.

Now Michael Ettinger, attorney for his brother, Robert Blagojevich, paints the issue a different way.

Ettinger gives an example of a Lamborghini sitting outside his office with the keys left inside. If he tells his colleague, attorney Cheryl Schroeder, that he wants to take it for a joyride and she says no, are they guilty of taking the car, he asks?

No, he says. “You can’t get convicted in this country for talking to your brother and raising something that then gets shot down,” Ettinger says. “No, not in this country.”

Ettinger paints his client as an honest person who was out of his element in his brother’s world of politics and fund-raising.

The attorney dismissed any nefarious role Rob had in working with “bundlers,” the behind-the scenes rain-makers who convince donors to give to candidates, “bundling up packages of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that show up as individual donations on campaign contribution lists.”

“Bundlers, they’re people that, they’re lobbyists or whatever. They’re people that have fundraisers. What did Rob do? He was a scorekeeper: ‘How you doing?’ ‘How much money you have coming in?’ He was a pain. But that’s what you do,” Ettinger said.

That means Robert had to work the phones, Ettinger says.

“He would make phone calls. In fact, he would make that same call that he made to (Children’s Memorial Hospital CEO) Patrick Magoon hundreds of times over those four months: ‘Can you have a fund-raiser?'”

Another comical moment earlier. Ettinger puts on a giant screen a photo of Johnny Carson dressed as “Carnac the Magnificent,” holding a sealed letter to his head.

The courtroom gallery laughs.

Ettinger points to it and says it’s akin to John Wyma’s testimony — where the former Blago chief of staff tries to guess what’s inside Robert Blagojevich’s mind when he testified that Robert was shaking down Patrick Magoon for campaign cash.

Defense attorney: Robert Blagojevich a “person of honor”


Sarah Ostman

on July 26, 2010 2:19 PM

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

Robert Blagojevich, the one-time head of the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund, did not mix politics and fund-raising, his lawyer said as the defense began presenting its two-pronged closing arguments this afternoon.

Michael Ettinger, the defense attorney for the ex-governor’s brother, described Robert Blagojevich as a “person of honor, a person of character” during his four-month stint heading Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund.

Ettinger said Blagojevich gave up a successful business career in Tennessee in 2008 to help revive his brother’s depleted campaign fund and to help lessen tensions with his brother – and was unaware of any illegal activity.

Ettinger dwelt on Robert Blagojevich’s background in the military and business and raising funds for the YMCA and the Red Cross. Initially, he was reticent about answering his brother’s call for help running his struggling fund-raising operation.

“Robert didn’t want to do it, but he did. When Robert gives a commitment to do something, he keeps his word,” Ettinger said.

“He did not come here to bribe. He did not come here to extort. He came here to fund-raise,” Ettinger continued.

“The reason he did it was to repair the fractured relationship between brothers,” Ettinger said. “That’s the main reason he came up here. It was to help his brother in need.”

Ettinger is pacing as he talks. He has his hands folded over his stomach and has a nervous tick where he nods his head after every other sentence.

Still, he is getting chuckles from the gallery and from Rod, as he pokes fun at his own lack of commitment to the military when compared to Robert’s and at Rod Blagojevich’s basketball skills.

Earlier, he got a chuckle from his client, too.

“Let’s start in the 1950s,” Ettinger said of Robert Blagojevich early on in his closing. “He graduated from Lane Tech.”

Robert Blagojevich, who’s 54, smiled over to others on his defense team at the date. He actually graduated decades later.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

Before wrapping up his closing argument, prosecutor Chris Niewoehner laid out each of the counts for the jurors on an overhead screen.

Count by count, he explains what’s being charged, the elements of the crime, and, in bullet points, highlights their evidence.

Rod looks somber and serious throughout this. He’s leaning forward, staring at the prosecutor, occasionally clasping his hands or biting his lower lip.

Niewoehner finishes his argument around 2:05 by calling on the jury to find the defendants guilty on “each and every” count.

“(Rod Blagojevich) knew exactly what was happening,” the prosecutor says. “And now you do, too.”

When the prosecutor finished, Rod turned to his daughters, smiled, and mouthed something to his youngest daughter, Annie, as Patti passed her hand over the 7-year-old’s hair.

He then exchanged words with his older daughter, Amy, before turning attention to remarks by the lawyer for his older brother.

Attorney Michael Ettinger is now giving his closing argument for Robert Blagojevich.

Blagojevich trial: Closing arguments running long


Sarah Ostman

on July 26, 2010 1:43 PM

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

Rod, Patti and their two daughters said nothing as they walked back into the courtroom after lunch. Rod silently waved to the crowd outside the courtroom.

Back from the lunch break, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner picks up where he left off — going over each of the charges against Rod Blagojevich and pointing out the evidence that he says proves he’s guilty.

Annie is sitting on her mom’s lap again. She’s restless, at times peeking over to courtroom sketch artists and whispering to her mom, smiling.

Last week, Niewoehner said he’d take about two hours for his closing argument. At this point, accounting for breaks, he’s going on 2-1/2.

Judge James Zagel wanted to get through all the closing arguments today. If that’s still the case, we may be in for a long day.

Attorneys for the defendants said they would need 2-1/2 hours for their two closing arguments, and once they’re done, the prosecution gets a last shot to address the jury. That’s supposed to take an hour.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

Perhaps nearing the conclusion of his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner again tackles what has been a key idea of the defense — that Rod Blagojevich was unsuccessful in carrying out any of the alleged schemes and is therefore not guilty.

Niewoehner takes the allegations surrounding Jesse Jackson Jr. as an example. He argues that even if the ex-governor didn’t really plan to appoint the congressman to a vacant Senate seat, he is still guilty of trying to accept a bribe of $6 million in campaign cash from his supporters.

“What is bribery?” Niewoehner asks the jury. He says a key point is that the bribery can be “indirect” — “It does not have to be ‘x’ for ‘y.'”

“You do not have to say to (Jackson supporter) Raghu Nayak, ‘I will give you a Senate seat only if you give me $1 million,” he says. “People do not talk that way. You flip $1 million on the table, wink and say ‘I’d like to be senator.’ Is there any doubt what you mean?”

The government doesn’t have to show that Blagojevich actually intended to appoint Jackson, Niewoehner says — just that he tried to convince Jackson’s supporters that he did, so they would give him the money.

“These bribe attempts don’t have to work. Attempts are fine,” Niewoehner says.

“Again, you don’t have to be a successful criminal to be a criminal,” he tells them.

Niewoehner then goes through each type of charge and explains the elements of wire fraud, conspiracy, extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. He points to specific evidence that he believes supports each count.

Rod Blagojevich’s youngest daughter, Annie, was back in the courtroom. Patti Blagojevich was holding the small seven year old, who was looking over her mom’s shoulder. Annie looked like she was trying to keep busy by staring at the courtroom sketch artists.

Niewoehner was still talking when Judge James Zagel cut in around 12:30. “Lunch has arrived,” he said, and called a one-hour break.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki and Dave McKinney

Robert Blagojevich lied to jurors repeatedly on the witness stand, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner tells the jury.

Niewoehner focuses on the ex-governor’s brother for several minutes, poking holes in what was seen as a successful testimony for the defense — so successful that the Blago brothers’ defense team chose to make him their last witness.

“Robert Blagojevich got on the witness stand and he lied to you,” the prosecutor says.
He says Robert lied about not mixing government and fund-raising as well as his brother’s intention to personally benefit from an appointment to the U.S. Senate.

“This is the guy who talked about shutting down the criminal investigation in exchange for the Senate seat,” Niewoehner says, recalling tapes the jurors heard. “This is the guy who talks about ‘tit for tat’ and horse-trading.”

Niewoehner says that Robert got through his cross-examination by “dancing” and “dodging.”

“You couldn’t get a straight English sentence out of his mouth when he was talking about that because he knew if he did admit it… he was done,” the prosecutor says.

Blagojevich trial: What the prosecution is trying to do


Natasha Korecki

on July 26, 2010 11:06 AM

Reporting with Sarah Ostman, Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch

Prosecutors opened up closing remarks to jurors by taking on the contention that since many of the charged acts weren’t completed, there was no crime.

They also poked at Rod Blagojevich’s lawyer’s contentions that he didn’t get a dime.

“The law doesn’t require you to be a successful crook, it just requires you to be a crook,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner said.

Niewoehner pointed to hundreds of thousands of dollars that Patti Blagojevich was paid by Tony Rezko to allegedly do nothing in real estate deals.

“How many dimes are there in hundreds of thousands of dollars?” Niewoehner said.
Early on, Niewoehner took on Sam Adam Jr.’s opening statement promise that by the trial’s end, jurors would know in Rod Blagojevich was innocent.
“You were going to know in your gut that Rod Blagojevich is as honest as the day is long,” Niewoehner said. “Now is the time to answer those questions.”

While Adam in opening statements criticized prosecutors for charging a man who is
broke, Niewoehner said the reason he was broke: the federal investigation cut off the former governor from Tony Rezko. Rezko’s payments to Patti Blagojevich stopped in 2004, when state board member Stuart Levine was interviewed by the FBI, he said.

That is as close as prosecutors got to referencing the lack of a defense case by the former governor. Because prosecutors have the burden of proof, they aren’t allowed to reference a defendant’s lack of testimony or lack of a defense case.

“The heart of this case boils down to something very simple: The governor of the state of Illinois cannot exchange taking some state action for some personal benefit like money or a campaign contribution,” Niewoehner told jurors. “You do — that that’s a bribe.”

Niewoehner said the Senate seat sale attempt is just the most recent of Rod Blagojevich’s crimes while he served as governor of our state.
“That very scheme was the culmination of years of dirty schemes,” he said.

The remarks all came as Rod Blagojevich’s family sat in court — including, for the first time, his two daughters, Amy, 14, and Annie, 7.
Annie was taken out of the courtroom early on by her aunt, Deb Mell. She wasn’t acting up but looked a bit bored sitting in the courtroom for a bit.
Niewoehner is up first, so he’s giving the summary of events. His delivery is methodical and direct and purposely lacking too much passion.
His job is to go through each charge then point to all the specific examples that the prosecution believes supports the count.
Niewoehner is pointing to witnesses, particularly Lon Monk, and linking testimony from others as well as recordings to corroborate what Monk said.

Expect the government’s rebuttal, from Reid Schar, to be more impassioned and really drive home why prosecutors saw fit to bring a massive case against Rod Blagojevich.

Prosecutor in closing argument: “In politics, money is power”


Sarah Ostman

on July 26, 2010 10:42 AM

Reporting with Natasha Korecki and Dave McKinney

The ex-governor’s scheme to profit from appointing Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. to the U.S. Senate seat was “the culmination of years of dirty scheming,” prosecutor Chris Niewoehner says.

The prosecutor continues to walk jurors through the testimony presented over the past seven weeks.

He reminds them of evidence that the ex-governor tried to shake down former Rahm Emanuel by holding up state cash for a school in the then-congressman district; that the ex-governor sent operatives to try to oust the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune; that he offered to put former state Senate President Emil Jones in the U.S. Senate if he agreed to fork over his campaign war chest.

Blagojevich did all these things because he was desperate for cash, the prosecutor says.

He draws a connection to testimony of an IRS agent who showed that by 2008 Blago’s campaign fund was tanking, his debt was through the roof, and he owed $1.3 million to Winston & Strawn for legal fees for his investigation.

“In politics, money is power,” Niewoehner says.

Regarding charges that the ex-governor tried to shake down a road-building executive by dangling a multi-billion dollar tollway project before him, the prosecutor calls Blagojevich a “bully.”

“What does a bully do?” he asks the jury. “He forces people to do things they don’t want to do. What does that bully do when sitting on top of $5 billion dollars [in tollway money]? He can bully a lot of people into doing things they don’t want to do.”

We’re a little more than halfway through the government’s closing argument. It’s expected to run about two hours.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki and Dave McKinney

“The heart of this case boils down to something very simple,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner tells the jury in his closing argument. “The governor of the state of Illinois cannot exchange taking some state action for some personal benefit like money or a campaign contribution. You do — that’s a bribe.”

Rod Blagojevich’s “inner circle” schemed and plotted to use the ex-governor’s position to personally benefit themselves and their conspirators, Niewoehner continues.

He’s referring to Blagojevich’s former law school roommate, Lon Monk; convicted businessman and political hot potato Tony Rezko; and Blago fund-raiser and friend Chris Kelly, who killed himself after pleading guilty to related crimes — although the jury doesn’t know that.

“They’re in the driver’s seat of state government and also in the driver’s seat in terms of raising money,” Niewoehner says.

The prosecutor recaps testimony of a list of government cooperators and witnesses. That includes Joe Cari, who testified about a plane ride in which the ex-governor tried to get him to cooperate in what Cari saw as illegal fund-raising efforts.

“Cari is someone who worked at the national level (in fund-raising), but he’d never seen anything like this,” Niewoehner says.

And he reminds the jury about the testimony of Ali Ata, who testified about dropping a $25,000 check on a table in front of the governor at Tony Rezko’s office — a campaign contribution that was allegedly a down payment on a lucrative state job.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman and Dave McKinney

In closing arguments in Rod Blagojevich’s corruption trial, Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner argues off the bat that just because the charged acts weren’t completed doesn’t mean the former governor didn’t break the law.

“The law doesn’t require you to be a successful crook, it just requires you to be a crook,” Niewoehner tells jurors and a packed courtroom.

Niewoehner is addressing defense contention that this was all just talk.

Niewoehner focuses the beginning of his argument on the Senate seat sale attempts, saying that the former governor of Illinois who claimed he looked out first for the people of the state was really trying to shake down President Elect Barack Obama.
“It was a trade, it was an exchange it was a sale,” Niewoehner said of the Blagojevich’s alleged attempts to extract a benefit from Obama in exchange for Valerie Jarrett’s appointment.
Niewoehner is spelling out various phone calls from Blagojevich himself — to union leader Tom Balanoff and then again to union consultant and onetime Blagojevich aide Doug Scofield — in which Blagojevich asked to be the head of a foundation in exchange for Jarrett.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these were just part of the things Rod Blagojevich was doing to make things happen,” Niewoehner said of the phone calls.
“All those steps are crimes. All those attempts to sell … are the crime.”

Reporting with Natasha Korecki and Dave McKinney

The courtroom hushes quickly and Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner launches into his closing argument.

In a calm, clear voice, he begins with what has perhaps become the case’s most famous sound bite.

“On Nov. 5, 2008, the day after the historic election of Barack Obama, defendant Rod Blagojevich (responded) this way: ‘I’ve got this thing and it’s f-ing golden, and I’m not giving it up for f-ing nothing.'”

“This was the governor of the state of Illinois talking, scheming about his ability to appoint a U.S. senator to the U.S. Congress,” he says.

“‘I’ve got this thing, I’m not giving it up,'” Niewoehner continues. “It was about him, defendant Rod Blagojevich and not the people of the state of Illinois, who he had sworn an oath to serve.”

The ex-governor is sitting with his hands folded, so far expressionless as he takes in these closing arguments.

As for defendant Robert Blagojevich, he started his day off well. Prosecutors dismissed one of the five counts against him, a wire fraud count.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki and Dave McKinney

Rod walked into the federal courthouse today with his wife, Patti, dressed in a black semi-formal dress, and their daughters, Annie, 14, and Amy, 7. It’s the first time they’ve brought their kids to the proceedings.

The ex-governor didn’t talk to supporters coming in. He gave a thumbs up and said “thanks man,” to one supporter. Rod Blagojevich signed an autograph before walking into the courthouse.

“This is the hottest ticket in town,” said Cheryl Schroeder, who is on the defense team for Robert Blagojevich. Schroeder was trying to find family members of another lawyer to get into court. The upstairs courtroom sold out of tickets before 6 a.m. Only 24 public tickets were handed out.

Judges and courthouse personnel had been calling in trying to get reserved seats. Those requests were denied, according to one security officer.

Blagojevich trial: Day 27 — Closing arguments


Natasha Korecki

on July 26, 2010 4:00 AM

How did we get here so fast? Rod Blagojevich’s public corruption trial, one of the most significant trials in Chicago history, has breezed by. Here we are already at closing arguments.

By comparison, the prosecution’s case in the trial of businessman Tony Rezko lasted nine weeks, compared to six weeks in the trial of the “big fish,” Blagojevich. Jury selection, testimony, playing of tapes and defense in Rod Blagojevich’s case totaled 26 days (before today). In Rezko’s case, one witness, Stuart Levine, was on the stand for parts of 15 days.
Rezko also did not put on a defense case.

Last week recap:

Bombshell news on Tuesday: Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers told U.S. District Judge James Zagel that despite the repeated promises, the former governor would not take the stand.
Prosecutors appeared shocked.
Blagojevich and his lawyers learned through prep that he just couldn’t withstand what was promised to be withering cross examination.

Before that, Robert Blagojevich gave compelling testimony from the stand, repeatedly denying any intent to help his brother sell the U.S. Senate seat and minimizing Indian fund-raisers as clumsy, unsophisticated, keystone cops who offered $6 million for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s appointment.

Up today:
1. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner gives a 2-2 1/2 hour summation
2. Robert Blagojevich lawyer Michael Ettinger closes for about one hour
3. Sam Adam Jr. talks for about 2 1/2 hours for Rod Blagojevich
4. Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar gives a one hour rebuttal.


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