Jury Finds Blagojevich Guilty of Corruption – New York Times

The former governor of Illinois, Rod R. Blagojevich, with his wife, Patti, left court in Chicago after being found guilty on Monday.
CHICAGO — A jury on Monday convicted Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, of trying to personally benefit from his role in selecting a replacement for President Obama in the United States Senate.
Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat whose former aides say once saw himself as a presidential contender some day, was found guilty of 17 counts of wire fraud, attempted extortion, bribery, extortion conspiracy and bribery conspiracy. He was acquitted on one charge of bribery, and the jury deadlocked on two counts of attempted extortion.
The verdict appeared to be the conclusion, at last, to the spectacle of Mr. Blagojevich’s political career, which began its spiraling descent shortly after Mr. Obama was elected president in November 2008. A month after Election Day, Mr. Blagojevich, who under state law was required to name a senator to replace Mr. Obama, was arrested, and federal agents revealed that they had secretly recorded hundreds of hours of damaging phone calls by him and his advisers.
As the counts were read in court, and one “guilty” followed another, Mr. Blagojevich looked back at his wife, Patti, at one point. She slumped into the arms of a relative, eyes closed, and wiped away tears.
After the verdict was read, a solemn Mr. Blagojevich spoke to reporters in the lobby of the courthouse with his wife Patti by his side.
“Patti and I, obviously, are very disappointed by the outcome,” he said. “I, frankly, am stunned. There is not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls and explain things to them.”
Mr. Blagojevich, a lawyer and former state and federal lawmaker, was accused of trying to secure campaign contributions, a cabinet post or a high-paying job in exchange for his official acts as governor — whether that was picking a senator, supporting particular legislation or deciding how to spend state money.
The outcome came as a victory for federal prosecutors, whose earlier trial of Mr. Blagojevich resulted in a deadlocked jury on most counts and led people to wonder whether Mr. Blagojevich’s behavior would ultimately be deemed crass political deal-making or a lot of blustery talk, but not rise to the level of a crime.
For Democrats here, in a state government they almost entirely control, the final chapter could not come soon enough. By turns, Illinois residents had been mortified by the saga, amused by its circus-like antics and, most recently, weary of the whole thing.
Mr. Blagojevich’s impeachment, removal from office and evolution into a punch line on late night television threatened the Democratic Party’s political hold on the state, created an outcry to reform lax state campaign finance and public records laws, and led to added scrutiny of some of this city’s best-known politicians, including Mr. Obama, Rahm Emanuel (the president’s former chief of staff and now Chicago’s mayor), and Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr.
The scandal also reaffirmed an image that Illinois (where corruption, by one university’s estimate, has cost taxpayers more than $300 million a year) has long wished to shed: If Mr. Blagojevich goes to prison, he will be the fourth governor in recent memory to be imprisoned (one for acts committed after leaving office). It was a particularly swift fall for Mr. Blagojevich, who campaigned for governor on a reform agenda after a corruption scandal undid his Republican predecessor, George Ryan, who remains in federal prison.
Mr. Blagojevich, 54, the father of two girls, still faces sentencing on the earlier conviction, one count of lying to the F.B.I. about how much he kept track of his campaign fund-raising. That conviction carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
The most serious of the counts he was convicted of on Monday carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
The jury — 11 women and 1 man — took 10 days to reach their decision. The jury in the first trial deliberated for 14 days.
After that trial, jurors said the case had been too tangled and confusing, and it was clear that prosecutors took that message to heart. In the new trial, which began in April, prosecutors offered fewer, simpler charges, a notably boiled-down message, and a emphasis on the thought that Mr. Blagojevich did not need to actually complete any deals to be found guilty of crimes for proposing them.
Prosecutors laid out five “schemes” in which they said Mr. Blagojevich tried to get campaign contributions in exchange for supporting racetrack legislation or road projects and pushed for a campaign fund-raiser (from Mr. Emanuel’s brother in Hollywood, Ari) in exchange for supporting a school. But the crimes involved, the prosecutors told jurors again and again, could not have been simpler: Mr. Blagojevich sought personal benefit for public acts.
The stakes of this retrial were apparent. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois (who may be better known nationally as having pursued the C.I.A. leak case against I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney) personally listened to parts of the trial even though his assistants were trying it. He took notes on Mr. Blagojevich’s testimony from a room in the courthouse where courtroom proceedings were piped in for reporters and others to hear. James Matsumoto, a retired public television librarian who had served as the jury foreman in the first trial last summer, also attended parts of the trial.
For his part at the trial, Mr. Blagojevich did what Mr. Blagojevich likes to do — talk. After offering no defense testimony at all in his first trial, Mr. Blagojevich testified before jurors for seven days, proclaiming his innocence and portraying his taped conversations about matters like who he might appoint to the Senate as merely brainstorming, not some sinister plot.
Mr. Blagojevich defended himself against recorded calls and testimony that seemed to suggest he was pressing for a cabinet post in the Obama administration in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett, an ally of the president, to the Senate. And he defended himself against calls and testimony that seemed to suggest he was considering a $1.5 million campaign contribution from supporters of Mr. Jackson if he were appointed to the Senate. He had not committed to any particular result, Mr. Blagojevich testified, and was even mulling far-fetched possibilities, like appointing himself to the Senate and then going to Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden.
“I had no idea what I wanted,” Mr. Blagojevich said at one point. “These were all potential scenarios.”
In a defense that some non-Chicagoans might have understandably viewed as closer to a confession, Mr. Blagojevich insisted that his favorite idea was not a financial or job trade at all, but a raw political exchange: He explained to jurors that he really wanted to appoint Lisa Madigan, the state’s attorney general, to the Senate seat in exchange for help in getting his legislative agenda passed by her powerful father, Michael Madigan, the speaker of the Illinois House.
But federal prosecutors said many of his ideas — even though they never actually came to pass — were illegal. Whether he completed the deals or not really did not matter, they said. “The law focuses on ‘the ask’ not on whether there was a receipt,” Carrie Hamilton, an assistant United States attorney, told jurors in a closing argument.
While residents here seem to have grown inured, perhaps even a little bored, by the Blagojevich story over more than two years, a curious city did watch as its new mayor, Mr. Emanuel, and Mr. Jackson were called to the witness stand by Mr. Blagojevich’s defense team.
In the end, neither man’s testimony was particularly shocking: Mr. Jackson said he knew nothing of a financial offer by supporters to Mr. Blagojevich for the Senate seat; and Mr. Emanuel said that Mr. Blagojevich had not solicited favors from him when he recommended Ms. Jarrett as a candidate for the Senate appointment. But Mr. Emanuel’s appearing at all — he had only been sworn in as mayor days before — seemed one more fitting moment in a story that has never lacked big names or drama.