7th Circuit Hears Blagojevich Appeal

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Friday in the appeal of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Blagojevich's attorneys had to be happy that the panel raised questions about the heart of their defense that the attempted sale of a U.S. Senate seat was political horse-trading and that prosecutors had unfairly made it into a crime.

Does that bode well for Blago? Impossible to know. Predicting how an appeals court will rule is usually a futile exercise.

While Blago could not attend the hearing, his wife Patti did and addressed the media afterwards: [More...]

After the arguments Friday, Patti Blagojevich told reporters she had the "utmost confidence" that the court would rule in her husband's favor.

"Here we are again," she said somewhat ruefully. "I just want to say during this holiday season that there isn't a day or moment that goes by that my daughters and I don't feel the emptiness of the absence of my husband. We just hope and pray that he will be home soon with his family."

Having followed the first trial closely and some of the second trial (accessible here), I hope his conviction and sentence gets reversed. 14 years is way too long.

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    In (none / 0) (#1)
    by lentinel on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 07:39:30 AM EST
    saying that
    ...the attempted sale of a U.S. Senate seat was political horse-trading and that prosecutors had unfairly made it into a crime.

    is the defence claiming that the attempted sale of a U.S. Senate seat is not a crime - because it is just "horse-trading" - and "horse-trading" a Senate seat for money is not a crime?

    A question: Are you hoping for a reversal because of the length of the sentence, or because you agree with the defence contention that the prosecution "unfairly" made "horse-trading" for a Senate seat into a crime?

    The article explains it (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 10:22:51 AM EST
    one exchange during the hearing:


    n one of the testiest exchanges of the hourlong hearing, Judge Frank Easterbrook pressed a federal prosecutor on how Blagojevich's conduct differed from a famous political deal supposedly struck more than 60 years ago: President Dwight Eisenhower's nomination of Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court in exchange for the California governor's support in the 1952 election.

    "If I understand your position, Earl Warren should have gone to prison, Dwight Eisenhower should have gone to prison. ... Can that possibly be right?" Easterbrook asked the prosecutor in the packed courtroom.

    I think his trial was unfair and his sentence was excessive. I've written a lot about the trial rulings I disagreed with, see my prior coverage.


    I see (5.00 / 0) (#9)
    by lentinel on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 02:22:09 PM EST
    what you mean.

    I guess it's subjective - but I would think that nominating someone in exchange for political support is a notch or two removed from actively soliciting a bribe. Trading political favor for political favor is somewhat time-honored - albeit admittedly unsavory - and would appear to me to be closer to horse-trading than actually seeking to sell a Senate seat for money.


    I don't remember the evidence in Blago's case (none / 0) (#10)
    by Peter G on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 09:36:16 PM EST
    as suggesting bribery.  I thought the discussions were all about what political favors and advantage he could secure in connection with exercising his prerogative as governor to name the interim Senator.

    According to (none / 0) (#12)
    by lentinel on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 04:57:27 AM EST

    In March 2012, Blagojevich began serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison following conviction for corruption including the soliciting of bribes for political appointments including the 2008 vacant U.S. Senate seat of then-President-Elect Barack Obama, while in public office.

    That's according to them.
    I haven't checked further.


    Much as I love wikipedia, (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Mr Natural on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 09:40:12 AM EST
    in what is written there, separating opinion from fact can be difficult.  Anybody can edit Wiki entries.  

    The affair looked like horse-trading from here, standard operating procedure, the ethos of politics being what it is.


    Well, I realize that the indictment (that is, (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Peter G on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 11:38:07 AM EST
    the prosecutor's interpretation) characterized the arrangement as bribery, that the trial judge approved the case going forward on that basis, and that the jury convicted on that basis.  What I meant was that the evidence I read about didn't make it seem like bribery, as opposed to our inherently corrupt, money-infused political system, to me.  And that, I gather, is what is now before the appellate court.

    Are you from Canada? (none / 0) (#2)
    by MKS on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 08:31:05 AM EST
    No. (none / 0) (#3)
    by lentinel on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 09:48:16 AM EST
    New Yawk.

    "Defence?" (none / 0) (#5)
    by MKS on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 12:13:04 PM EST
    I see (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by lentinel on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 02:07:45 PM EST
    what you mean.

    It's my spell-check thing.

    It looked wrong to me too - I tried defense, and it said no.




    Hmm... (none / 0) (#6)
    by NYShooter on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 01:40:08 PM EST
    If every act of "political horse trading" were investigated, and prosecuted, our legislative chambers would be as empty as deep space. I never subscribed to the idea that just because, "everybody is doing it," you're the one who got caught and shouldn't complain about being punished.

    As an example that most everyone is aware of: You're driving down a four line highway and you, as is everyone else, are cruising at 70 mph in a 55 mph zone. But, the trooper has his radar gun aimed at you, pulls you over, and gives you that speech.

    If "everyone is doing it," either the law should be changed, or, everyone should be prosecuted. This business of picking out one poor sucker for punishment in order to "send a message," has never felt right to me.

    Speeding is Breaking the Law (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by squeaky on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 02:05:39 PM EST
    Your analogy regarding speeding not apt, imo.  The argument is that the horse trading that Blagojevich did is part of politics as  usual and not illegal. Not that what Eisenhower did was illegal and he should have been prosecuted for it. What Eisenhower did was not illegal, which is the point of the analogy.

    In your (5.00 / 0) (#11)
    by lentinel on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 04:54:13 AM EST
    opinion, does soliciting a bribe in exchange for a nomination for a Senate seat amount to "political horse-trading"?

    I can't see it.

    Political favor for political favor is one thing.
    I'll give you a nomination, and you endorse me.
    Don't care for it, but the nature of the trade is at least in kind.

    Selling a Seat for money just seems like it crosses a line.

    A subjective reaction on my part, admittedly.

    Maybe the answer is to clearly define what is acceptable in a legal sense vis a vis horse-trading. Then everyone knows whether what they are doing is legal or not. Personally, I think Blago knew he was dipping into an area that was not legal, but in a world filled with corruption of one kind or another, he might have assumed that he could get away with it unscathed.


    You don't see it b/c you're stuck on the idea (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by scribe on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 10:13:12 AM EST
    it was bribery or soliciting them.  It wasn't.  It was horse-trading.

    Assuming the truth of the allegations, Blago was trying to get something in the form of a job or promises from Obama in return for exercising his total discretion in naming the replacement senator.  There were about 5 or 6 people interested in the job:

    Obama wanted Valerie Jarrett.  If the reports from/surrounding the trial are accurate, Blago wanted to be named secretary of HHS or Labor.
    Jesse Jackson Jr. was named as someone interested in the job.

    Just about anyone who was anyone in Illinois Democratic politics was interested or named as interested.

    The guy Blago named ultimately named was a bit of a preening nobody and that was as much of a f*ck you to Obama for not meeting to Blago's demands as anything else.  

    When it became clear to Obama and Rahm that (a) there was no way they could reach some agreement with Blago on naming someone Obama wanted (i.e., who would be a reliable conduit from the WH into the Senate of Obama's wishes), they knew (b) that Blago had his picture in the dictionary next to the definition of "loose cannon" and that they had to do something.  The long and the short of it is (and this is from the outside appearance only) that (c) during the transition Obama, Rahm and Greg Craig got together and got their stories straight and then helped shape the case the Fitzgerald was already working on.  Recall, Fitz was aggressively pursuing all sorts of Chicago pols for all flavors of corruption, had wiretaps all over town, and was already looking hard at Blago.  

    Pols exercising their discretion in naming appointees in return for something or other is normal.  Chris Christie got to be US Attorney and spur his rise to presidential contender not because he was some great legal mind.  Indeed, the reaction among the NJ bar at the time Bush appointed him was "you gotta be kidding - this guy's an idiot/a nobody".  Christie got his job as pure patronage - he raised a hell of a lot of money for Bush 2000 and promised his fealty to the political aims of the administration.  In 2006, he was on the Rove-inspired list of US Attorneys to be fired for not being sufficiently aggressive in going after Democrats until he started issuing grand jury subpoenas to Bob Menendez and his campaign during months leading up to the 2006 senatorial election.  Then his name came off the next draft firing list.  And running for Governor in 2009, he targeted Democrats in Hudson County (a Dem stronghold full of votes) and charged something like 32 of them in the run-up to the election.  So, using criminal charges to resolve failed political negotiations should be no surprise.  Obama and his DoJ managed to silence for years - well past his last election - one of the people potentially most damaging to his future prospects.

    Blago, had he been smart, would have named himself and been done with it.  He would have been no greater an embarrassment than, say, Rand Paul or any other doofus in the Senate.


    Thanks (none / 0) (#16)
    by lentinel on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 02:08:35 PM EST
    for the clarification.

    Someone should straighten out Wikipedia if bribery wasn't involved.

    You'd think someone on Blago's side would have done something to change the entry.


    Wikipedia is not wrong. (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Peter G on Sun Dec 15, 2013 at 07:31:27 PM EST
    Blago was, in fact, convicted for soliciting bribes (or perhaps, technically, it was "extortion under color of official right").  The question on appeal is whether that conviction was appropriate, or whether the bribery statute was misapplied to conduct which, however, sleazy and distasteful, is within the traditional bounds of our political system.  That's a problem the Supreme Court has grappled with more than once.

    Thanks (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by lentinel on Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 04:33:14 AM EST
    for the further clarification.

    The question would seem to be, then, how much sleaze is within the traditional bounds of the system to which we have been long accustomed, and what crosses the line.

    The no-sleaze option would appear to be off the table.


    Horse trading political appointments (none / 0) (#19)
    by NYShooter on Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 11:45:05 AM EST
    has been going on since politics was born. But, cash stuffed envelopes sliding across a desk, as was done in the Spiro Agnew case, is a (pardon the pun) "horse" of a different color.

    Where Blago fell within that spectrum is, IMO, the issue at hand.


    That's (none / 0) (#23)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 17, 2013 at 09:00:12 AM EST
    what I had thought.

    Can you tell me where, perhaps in the transcripts, he actually solicits cash?

    That would be important.


    Aside from the bribery (none / 0) (#20)
    by jbindc on Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 12:55:33 PM EST
    he was convicted on 10 counts of wire fraud he  - each which could have carried up to 20 years in prison.

    What was the theory of fraud? (none / 0) (#21)
    by Peter G on Mon Dec 16, 2013 at 07:36:44 PM EST
    Whom did he scheme to deprive of what, and by what means, according to the indictment and verdict? Ten counts means nothing - each count can be an email or interstate phone call, all "for the purpose of executing" a single "scheme."  (The "unit of prosecution" per count of mail or wire fraud is rather peculiar.)

    I don't recall all the details (none / 0) (#24)
    by jbindc on Tue Dec 17, 2013 at 09:28:00 AM EST
    But I believe there were multiple counts that included bribe attempts and shakedowns of a hospital executive, a racetrack owner, and a school - where he demanded campaign contributions by threatening to withhold state money from those organizations.

    So it wasn't just about selling the Senate seat.


    Sounds like Senate Leader, LBJ. (none / 0) (#25)
    by NYShooter on Tue Dec 17, 2013 at 01:20:27 PM EST
    "...he demanded campaign contributions by threatening to withhold state money from those organizations."

    He "requested" campaign contributions by "suggesting" that State money is in great demand, and, choices, choices, choices....


    Good thing (none / 0) (#26)
    by jbindc on Tue Dec 17, 2013 at 01:47:21 PM EST
    Patrick Fitzgerald wasn't the US Attorney in DC at the time....

    Political based (none / 0) (#22)
    by Mikado Cat on Tue Dec 17, 2013 at 08:03:41 AM EST
    crimes are not easy to catch, these are often lawyers or worse in slipperiness. They  know the law, they have lots of political juice, when caught I am in favor of prosecution to the limit of the law. For one thing if they still have real political pull, or ways to greatly embarrass those in power whatever sentence they get may end up reduced to little or nothing.

    I see political "horse trading" as an action where the benefit goes to your constituents. Bribes are when the benefit goes to you, or your reelection.