Brian Birdnow

The reports seeping out of Chicago involving the sensational corruption case of ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich indicate that no consensus exists among the twelve citizens charged with determining the former state executive’s fate. The jurors seem hopelessly deadlocked and, in fact, now constitute a hung jury. What will become of Rod Blagojevich? The federal government could press for a retrial, but this is unlikely. A retrial involves considerable financial expenditure, and would leave the case in limbo for years to come. The most likely result will be that ex-governor Blagojevich will walk away on most of these counts, although he might be found guilty and forced to pay a token fine on one or two charges. What seemed a slam-dunk for malfeasance in office in 2008 is now shaping up as at least a partial exoneration for a thoroughly disgraced politician.

The general public must now ask: How did this come to pass? Rod Blagojevich, dogged by corruption allegations almost from the moment he was elected Illinois governor in 2002, and under official investigation since 2006, has become a bad joke in the Prairie State, yet he may walk out of court a free man. Some will argue that a jury comprised mostly of Chicago residents would not convict Blagojevich. The greater Chicago area was the ex-governor’s natural base; he had zero credibility or popularity in downstate Illinois. Others will argue that the case against Blagojevich was rather weak. True, the prosecution had audiotapes of the Governor saying that he didn’t care about his duties as the state executive, he wanted to make money, and he would essentially “sell” a seat in the U.S. Senate to the highest bidder. Still, experienced criminal defense attorneys have noted that a governor and his henchmen talking about possibly illegal activities did not constitute the commission of criminal acts. Did the federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois bungle the case? An impartial observer would be hard pressed to argue otherwise.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.