After a federal jury convicted him of just one count — lying to the FBI — and deadlocked on 23 other counts, Rod Blagojevich declared his innocence today and defiantly taunted prosecutors.
“The government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me, and on every charge but one, they could not prove that I broke any laws except one, a nebulous charge from five years ago,” he told a crush of reporters at the Dirksen Federal Building this afternoon. “I did not lie to the FBI. I told the truth from the very beginning.”
“We have a prosecutor who has wasted and wanted to spend tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to take me away from my family and my home,” he continued, accusing the government of persecuting him.
In a theatrical burst of emotion, Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Sr. went after U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
“This guy Fitzgerald is a master at indicting people for noncriminal activity,” he said. “This guy is nuts.”
“Lincoln is rolling over in his grave,” Adam Sr. continued, his voice rising. “[Fitzgerald] set the press against this man and, for 1 1/2 years, we have had to contend with the press.
“This is one of those situations where he villified the defendant so bad in the press that when the case started…[we] had to go to Ace Hardware and find a ladder to climb up to the bottom,” he yelled.
Another Blagojevich attorney, Sam Adam Jr. implored reporters to ask Fitzgerald one question: “Why are we spending $25 to $30 million on a retrial when they couldn’t prove it the first time?”
“We didn’t even put a defense on, and the government couldn’t prove his case,” he said, adding that prosecutors “have to ask themselves, ‘Is this worth it?’ ”
Fitzgerald appeared in the courthouse lobby a few minutes later but did not address any of the taunts and questions thrown at him by Blagojevich and his attorneys, explaining the government was already preparing for the former governor’s next trial.
“We intend to retry those charges,” Fitzgerald said. “So for all practical purposes, we are in the mode of being close to jury selection for a retrial.
“That’s it,” he added, cutting off questions.
Last week, the jury sent a note to the judge indicating it had reached agreement on two counts. Jurors said later that a juror backed down on the second count after reviewing testimony.
Blagojevich faces up to five years in prison on the one count he was convicted of: making false statements to the FBI. It is the fourth time since 1973 — and the second time in just four years — that a onetime Illinois governor has been convicted of wrongdoing.
As the jury’s verdict was read, the former governor pursed his lips and shook his head slightly. His wife, Patti, rested her head on the chair in front of her and shook her head no several times.
After the judge left to the call of “all rise,” Patti didn’t stand up and looked angry with her head down, staring at her lap.
As jurors filed out, Patti collapsed into her seat and the former governor’s attorney, Sam Adam Jr. moved next to Blagojevich and put his arm around him, rubbing his back.
Jurors also deadlocked on all four counts against Blagojevich’s brother, Robert. Declaring a mistrial on the deadlocked counts, U.S. District Judge James Zagel gave the prosecution until Aug. 26 to formally announce plans to retry Blagojevich and his brother.
In the lobby of the federal building, Robert Blagojevich said jurors saw him as “an innocent target of the federal government.”
“I have lived through the most surreal experience anyone can live through,” said Robert Blagojevich, adding that he plans to spend time with his wife and his son now that the trial is over. “I spoke honestly and truthfully and answered the questions forthrightly.”
On the one guilty count his brother received, Robert Blagojevich said: “I feel bad for him.” He also said he is confident he will be vindicated in a retrial but will have to “go back” and determine if he can afford his defense team.
“I have felt like this has been a slow bleed from the beginning, both financially, emotionally and otherwise,” he said. “But I can tell you what, I feel strong, I feel confident and I don’t feel in any way deterred in my ability to articulate my innocence.”
Robert Blagojevich’s defense attorney, Michael Ettinger, said that while today’s ruling isn’t a victory “it’s not a loss and I expect the next time to be a victory.”
“We’ll be ready for the next one,” he said.
On the prospect of the prosecutors changing their strategy in a retrial, Ettinger said the defense could also change tactics.
‘There’s certain witnesses we might put on that we didn’t put on this time,” he said.
The verdict was announced shortly before 4:30 p.m. Blagojevich and his wife arrived at the courthouse for the announcement around 3:45 p.m.
“God bless you, God bless you, I didn’t let you down,” Blagojevich said as he shook hands with admirers on his way to hear the verdict. He also high-fived spectators. Patti laughed as Blagojevich kissed her on the cheek.
As he entered the courtroom on the 25th floor, Blagojevich said: “How are ya’ doin’? Say a prayer for us.”
Robert Blagojevich arrived with his wife and son around 3:55 p.m., waiving to onlookers and reporters gathered in the lobby.
U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald and Robert Grant, head of the FBI in Chicago, were in the courtroom for the announcement.
The jury’s decisions denied Blagojevich the sweeping exoneration he has insisted would eventually be his ever since his 2008 arrest by federal agents who accused him of being the ringleader of a wide ranging plot to shake down state contractors and other politicians. And he may now have to try and persuade a fresh set of jurors of his innocence.
The turn of events also represents a stunning and rare setback for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who in his nine years in the post has secured a near unbroken string of high profile corruption convictions of public officials, including former Gov. George Ryan.
The 23 deadlocked counts call into question the wisdom of a mid-trial decision to streamline the government case by not calling several key witnesses to testify.
On the flip side, the outcome could be seen as validation of a last minute decision by Blagojevich’s lawyers not to have him testify or mount a defense at all–despite explicit promises that they would do just that expressed to the jury in opening statements in early June.
Though his ultimate fate remains undecided, the legal proceedings have left Blagojevich deeply in debt and a retrial would likely widen the hole.
His political career is also in shambles and he is barred by the Illinois Constitution from attempting to revive it. He was impeached by the General Assembly in early 2009–the first Illinois governor ever ousted from office in that manner–and because of that the state charter disqualifies him from ever again holding state public office.
Earlier today, the jury sent out a note indicating it might be getting close to concluding its deliberations.
In the note, jurors asked for two things: a copy of the oath they took when they were sent to deliberate; and instructions from the judge on how to fill out a verdict form when they can’t agree on a specific count.
“Do we leave it blank or report the vote split?” the note asked.
Zagel agreed to send a copy of the oath to jurors and said he would also instruct them to write on top of the verdict form if they cannot reach a consensus on a count.
Here is the oath the jury took just before deliberations began: “Do you and each of you solemnly swear that you will well and truly try and a true deliverance make between the United States and ______, the defendant at the bar, and a true verdict render according to the evidence, so help you God?”
Last week, in an earlier note, jurors said they had deliberated for many days “without rancor.” The request for a copy of the oath could signal that the harmony in the jury room has begun to fray.
On Monday, Zagel agreed to hand over the transcripts of former deputy governor Bradley Tusk’s testimony after jurors asked for them. They’re the first witness transcripts jurors will have with them in the jury room since they started deliberating at the end of July.
Tusk told the court in June that Blagojevich planned to hold up a $2 million grant to a school in then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel’s district until his Hollywood-agent brother, Ari, held a fundraiser.