Blagojevich 'flagrantly' violated law, prosecutor says

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 08, 2011 9:23 PM
Blagojevich 'flagrantly' violated law, prosecutor says

By Janan Hanna

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A prosecutor on Wednesday compared Rod Blagojevich to a dirty cop shaking down a motorist for money over a speeding ticket, and told the jury in closing trial arguments that the former Illinois governor repeatedly used his power for personal gain.

But Blagojevich had much more power than a traffic cop, Assistant U.S. Atty. Carrie Hamilton told jurors. He flagrantly violated the law when he attempted to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama and exchange other official actions for a job and campaign contributions, she said.

"He used his powers as governor to try to get things for him," Hamilton said. "You learned that he tried to trade the signing of a bill, state funds to a school, state funds for hospital and roads, and even the appointment of a United States Senator, to try to get things for him.

"Not only are those profound violations of his oath, they are violations of the law."

The summation capped nearly six weeks of testimony from government and defense witnesses, which included Blagojevich.

This is the second trial for Blagojevich, who was charged with 20 counts, including wire fraud, bribery, conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion.

A jury in August found Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying in 2005 to federal investigators, but did not reach a unanimous verdict on the more serious counts. Blagojevich did not mount a defense in the first trial, but was on the stand for seven days this time.

Hamilton guided jurors through the prosecution's evidence, which centered on nearly 70 conversations taped by the FBI from his home, office and campaign headquarters. Hamilton told jurors to focus on those conversations, in which Blagojevich is heard scheming with aides about how he could improve his personal financial situation, beef up his campaign fund and quit being the governor.

"In short, in the fall of 2008, the defendant was desperate," Hamilton said. "He was desperate to find a way out of being governor. He was desperate for campaign funds and desperate to get money in his own pocket.

"He tried to cash in on the one valuable thing that he still had but wasn't allowed to sell: his power as governor."

The start of Hamilton's summation, which will continue Thursday, focused on the Senate seat allegations.

She reminded jurors that testimony showed that Blagojevich had sought things in exchange for the appointment. For appointing Obama's choice of Valerie Jarrett, Blagojevich asked for a cabinet post as head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or a non-profit organization funded to the tune of $20 million by wealthy Obama supporters, according to testimony and recorded conversations.

When those requests were not responded to, Hamilton said, Blagojevich was about to accept a $1.5 million bribe in exchange for appointing Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate.

He even sent his brother, who headed his campaign fund, to go collect the bribe on December 5th. But on that morning, the Chicago Tribune reported that one of Blagojevich's aides had been cooperating with federal authorities and may have been wearing a wire.

So he told his brother to cancel the meeting with the Jackson supporter. On December 9th, Blagojevich was arrested.

Blagojevich testified he instructed his brother to get political support from Jackson supporter, Raghu Nayak, and that campaign contributions were not in exchange for appointing Jackson to the Senate. He insisted he never considered appointing Jackson and said he wanted his brother to talk to Nayak about support for one his political initiatives, a mortgage foreclosure relief bill.

Hamilton also told jurors that Blagojevich is guilty of bribery even though he never got the money, and she used the police officer analogy to try to convince the jury.

"The law focuses on the ask, not on whether there was the receipt. The law protects people from being squeezed and that makes sense," she said.

The case is quite simple, Hamilton said. "Did the defendant try to get a benefit for himself in exchange for an official act. That is really all this case and these charges boil down to. It's really not any more complicated than that."

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Greg McCune)