(Chicago, Illinois’ Dirksen Federal Court Building;Wed., July 21, 2010): The corruption trial of impeached former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich took an unexpected turn on Wednesday when the defense rested without calling a single witness. Nor did “Hot Rod” Blagojevich take the stand in his own defense, as he has been promising to do for the past 19 months. As one wag put it, Blagojevich made the “I will tell my side of the story” pledge to “every microphone in the western hemisphere that would listen.”
There were rumblings that “Hot Rod” Blagojevich might renege on his earlier pledge to personally tell his story yesterday (Tuesday, July 20), but the bomb was actually dropped in the federal courthouse at 219 S. Dearborn when, as described (by former WHBF Channel 4 in Rock Island anchorman and now reporter for WLS-7 (ABC affiliate) in Chicago) Paul Meincke this happened:
“It was a pretty dramatic moment. Shelley Sharofsky, who is, technically, the lead attorney for Rod Blagojevich rises and says, ‘˜Defendant Rod Blagojevich, rests.” So, they go out with a whimper, after all those promises from the former Governor that, “I’m gonna’ prove my innocence and take the stand. And they instead end without a single witness and without Blagojevich taking the stand.
Judge James B. Zagel called Blagojevich to the podium and asked to make sure that he fully understood that this was his decision, and his decision, alone, to make, as to whether or not he wishes to testify. The former governor and world-class blowhard said, ‘˜I made this decision freely and voluntarily after consultation with my lawyers.’
So, at some point in time they made the decision not to go ahead and have him testify, because they believe it would do him more harm than good,” commented Meincke, and, later, Sam Adam, Sr.. confirmed this view, saying, “He does like to talk. That was one of the concerns, yes. That he talks too much.”
Meincke, a veteran reporter who also covered the city’s recent Burr Oak Cemetery scandal, has been in the courtroom every day since the trail began. He commented (WLS-7, ABC affiliate, 11:00 a.m. news on July 21):
“I looked at the jurors to see how they would react, and some of them began to talk quietly to one another. They’re not really supposed to be sharing any opinions, but they’ve gotta’ be wondering. They’ve heard, from the outset—they heard from Sam Adam, Jr., (in opening remarks), they saw him point to the defendant and say at one point, ‘˜You’re gonna’ know in your gut that this man is as honest as the day is long and then saying, ‘˜He is going to testify.’ They’ve (the jury) got to be wondering, ‘˜Why is he not going to testify now?’ Then the judge sent them back to the jury room. The judge went in to talk to them, gave them some instructions. The first thing he said to them was, ‘˜Don’t ask me any questions. But this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to have you come back on Monday.’ This is not over yet. This afternoon the judge will hear arguments on motions for acquittal, directed verdict, and we all presume he (the judge) will say, “No. We’re going to put this in the jury’s hands on both defendants, Robert and Rod, and then they will come back on Friday and they will discuss instructions. Enormously complex documents (139 pages) that the jury will have to look at, because they tell the jury what they must do, step-by-step, to reach a verdict. Then, on Monday, we presume, they’ll (the jury) come back and they’ll be good to go for closing arguments.”
Watching the 11:00 a.m news talking heads on the ABC affiliate (WLS-7) and the noon news team on WGN (9WGN@noon) gave much insight into the various theories that are being advanced for this sudden change of strategy on the part of the Blagojevich team. More importantly, we got to hear what the chief defendant, himself (Blagojevich’s statement as he exited the courthouse):
“From the very beginning, when all of this happened, when the government came into our home and took me away from our kids, and, then, also, ultimately, from the people of Illinois, I said, ‘˜I did nothing illegal.’ I said from the very beginning that the government and all of us should hear the tapes, that the tapes, when they were played, would prove my innocence. The government played some of the tapes. In the tapes that the government played, they proved, as I said all along, that I did nothing illegal. In fact, they proved that I sought the advice of my lawyers and my advisors. They proved that I was on the phone talking with them, brainstorming about ideas. They proved that some of the ideas were stupid, but they also proved some of the ideas were good. Brainstorming and free speech is part of what the American experience is supposed to be, and talking to your advisors, as a Governor, and seeking advice, especially from those who are lawyers, to make sure that you do your duty the right way was what I did and what those tapes proved. The government also proved in their case, after my lawyer (Sam Adam, Jr.) challenged them to follow the money, the government proved that I never took a corrupt dollar, I never took a corrupt dime, not a corrupt nickel, not a corrupt cent. And, besides that, the government also proved that, for the 6 years that I was Governor, Patty and I overpaid, every year, our federal taxes. Now, I’ve felt all along and believed all along that I was gonna’ testify. The government told us that their case was gonna’ be something like 4 months. And, as a result of what they said their case was gonna’ be, we operated under the assumption that I was gonna’ testify. There’s no secret that there is a division among my lawyers, especially between father and son, Sam Adam, Sr., and Sam Adam, Jr. Sam, Jr., still, at this moment, wanted me to testify, and, frankly, so did I. But I realized on the judgment, ultimately, and on the advice of Sam Adam, Sr., who’s the coach of our team after 49 years of experience.. we sat in my living room till 11:30 at night on Monday night. After talking about this issue right after the government rested their case and finalizing the decision almost up until midnight Monday night, Sam Adams’ most compelling argument, and ultimately the one that swayed me, was that the government, in their case proved my innocence. They proved I did nothing illegal. There was nothing further for us to add and that he believed it was prudent to rest the case. And when you rest the case that means you can’t take the stand and testify. Now, I also would like to tell you that I’ve learned a lot from this whole experience and perhaps, maybe, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I talk too much.’
With that final sound bite, Blago exited, leaving his flamboyant lawyers, 74-year-old Sam Adam Sr. and the 30-something Sam Adam, Jr., (the duo resemble escapees from the set of “Hee Haw”) to have their say. No one is suggesting that Sam Adam, Sr., isn’t a shrewd old boy. Did Sam, Sr., in fact, orchestrate this entire sweep of the country that Rod Blagojevich made over the past 19 months, telling anyone who would listen that he WAS going to talk, as a clever defense ploy?
Sam Adam, Sr.’s look was part Foghorn Leghorn, part Sam Ervin from the Watergate trial. He was attired in an orange shirt with a brown tie. The suit did not look like one of Blago’s custom-made $2,000 jobs.
His son, Sam Adam, Jr., who graduated college in 1995 (and law school in 1998) just looked sheepish. He was an afterthought. He hovered behind the bank of microphones with eyebrows arched while Dad talked. Ultimately, Sam, Jr. said that the disagreement they supposedly had regarding the ex-governor’s testimony (“To testify or not to testify; that is the question”) came down to “an argument from an old bull and a young toad and the old bull won.” Another sound bite for the ages.
From where I sat, it looks as though the dark-haired heavy-set son loses all arguments to his father. The son was attired in an ill-fitting gray suit coat with a white shirt and pink tie. The father, asked about their disagreement over Blagojevich’s testifying led with this remark: “The only thing we ever agreed on in life was that we both like ‘˜The Honeymooners.'”
Is this guy for real?
Sam Adam, Jr.. graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1995 and from law school in 1998. If he was 21 when he graduated from Wisconsin, that would make him a seventies baby, born in approximately 1974, a good 20 years after “The Honeymooners” in its heyday. Yes, “The Honeymooners” re-runs appear on television. They consist mostly of misogynistic routines where Jackie Gleason threatens to hit his wife, Alice, and send her to the moon (a familiar refrain on the show.) So, this is their shared area of agreement? A TV show that left the airwaves in 1955, over 55 years ago? I think you begin to sense what a circus closing arguments for this trial will be, given the nature of the flamboyant team defending the former governor. The defendant, himself has pretty much been using “the buffoon defense” and now we get this pair. Unbelievable.
There are various theories on who snookered whom today?
1) Did the defense, as long ago as Blago’s arrest in December of 2008, use a strategy that Hot Rod Blagojevich would go around the country vowing to tell his side of the story, specifically so the government prosecutors would believe that Rod was going to testify and, therefore, “hold back” key witnesses? (“And then we’ll pull the rug out from under them!”) After all, neither Jesse Jackson, Jr., Tony Rezko, Rahm Immanuel or convicted felon Shelley Levine were called, but all were announced as Big Guns for the prosecution early on. There are also supposed to be some additional damaging tapes that will now not get played. This theory of a duplicitous strategy adopted well in advance picks up relevance when the Chicago Tribune writes in today’s edition (Wed., July 21, p. 8, “Suddenly, Zipped Lips: Blagojevich on Trial” by Jeff Coen, John Chase and Stacy St. Clair) that Assistant U.S. Defense Attorney Reid Schar “glared toward the defense table after learning of Blagovich’s decision” (not to testify).
No one had trouble believing that Hot Rod wanted to talk on the stand, so his suddenly clamming up is out-of-character. If the government prosecutors didn’t, as Pat Benatar would sing, “hit them with their best shot” to begin with, then shame on them, because now, with no cross-examination, the prosecution cannot use those witnesses or those tapes or that evidence. DePaul law professor Leonard Cavisi, appearing on the WLS-7 News at 11 a.m., (who has been in attendance at the trial), commented that “as far as I’m concerned, there’s been a real atmosphere of criminality created in that courtroom, even if they don’t have the evidence of the so-called quid pro quo.” He did comment further that he found the prosecution’s case specifically on the sale of the Obama Senate seat “very underwhelming.”
2) Was the disagreement between the Adams family, father and son defense team, a set-up staged event, where Sam, Jr. announced in court during opening arguments that the jury would hear Rod Blagojevich testify, just to sucker the prosecution in further (as if appearances on “The View,” “Celebrity Appearance” and everything short of “Animal Planet” vowing to do so weren’t enough.)?
3) Is the use of the 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech a good defense for Blagojevich, since the money trail doesn’t tie him to doing anything more than talking about unethical or illegal acts, rather than actually executing those unethical or illegal acts? Even jimmy Carter talked about “lust in his heart,” to “Playboy.” But talking about doing something and actually doing something are two different things. The Blagojevich trial has caused Terry Sullivan, a 26-year California prosecutor now serving as WGN’s legal analyst to call this trial “One of a kind that I’ve ever covered in my life.”
What about the defense? Have they made any mistakes?
Some experts, including Professor Cavisi quoted above, feel that the younger Adam saying that Blagojevich would testify in opening statements was a mistake. Cavisi further said, on the 11:00 news, “Oh, it’s going to have a very powerful effect on a jury. The studies show that when a defendant doesn’t testify, it’s extremely prejudicial to the defense. But, in this case, the defense lawyers are gonna’ walk all over that in closing arguments. They are gonna’ talk constantly about how Rod rally wanted to testify to rebut witness X, Y and Z, but X, Y and Z weren’t there.”
Another expert, former prosecutor Patrick Collins appearing on WGN’s midday news program said, “He’s (Blagojevich) talked to everybody in the world, but he won’t talk to us? The human nature aspect of that, I don’t think we can discount that back in the jury room.” Several analysts also expressed the opinion that it was unlikely that all of the jurors had escaped every bit of the Blagoviches media blitz, so pervasive and widespread was Blago’s 19-month Odyssey, extending even to having his wife eat bugs on the “Survivor” reality show.
Later, on the 6:00 p.m. WGN news, Ron Safer, attorney for the recently-released Conrad Black, and a partner in Schiff Hardin LLP stated that he felt that the former governor had an obligation to testify because he was a former public official and he now had broken his oft-repeated promise to testify, which speaks to his credibility.
So, the beat goes on. After 6 weeks of a trial that was expected to last much longer (and 8 mistrial motions), Judge James B. Zagel, (who told the defense to “sleep on” their decision not to have Blagojevich testify), will give instructions to the jury and will hear motions for a judgment continued. It is possible that some charges will be reduced, dropped or redacted, if the government does not think it can prevail with the evidence presented to date. At 2 p.m., there will be a discussion of whether or not to release the names of the jurors to the public, as requested by both the Chicago Tribune and the Sun Times.
The last witness to take the stand for the defense was Robert Blagojevich,Rod’s brother and head of his re-election campaign, who supposedly performed well. Professor Cavisi (DePaul University Law Professor) said, “He did do a really good job on the witness stand — ” By contrast, Cavisi’s opinion of Blagojevich testifying seems to sum up the consensus: “Most of us thought it was a very bad idea for him to testify because he can’t do a very good job. He’s a loose cannon. He’s got a bad mouth. There’s no way to control him. I can’t imagine that he would have really been able to pull it off.”
SOURCES: Wed., July 21 Chicago Tribune article “Blagojevich on Trial: Suddenly, Zipped Lips” by Jeff Coen, John Chase and Stacy St. Clair; ABC 7 News, WLS-7 @ 11:00 a.m. on Wed. July 21, featuring Linda Yu, Sylvia Perez, Jason Knowles and Paul Meincke; WGN Midday News, 9WGN@Noon, featuring former prosecutor Patrick Collins and actual statements from Rod Blagojevich, Sam Adam, Sr. and Sam Adam, Jr. upon exiting the Dirksen federal courthouse at 219 S. Dearborn;WGN 6:00 p.m. newscast on Wed., July 21, featuring Julie Unruh and Ron Safer, political analyst and partner in Schiff Hardin LLP.