Posts Tagged ‘impeachment’

Convicted Illinois Governor Sentenced to 14 Years

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich became the state’s second chief executive in a row to be sentenced to federal prison for corruption.  Blagojevich, who – among other charges was convicted of attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s Senate set to the highest bidder – was sentenced to a stiff 14-year sentence in a federal prison.  He must report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on February 16, 2012.

Blagojevich’s predecessor, George Ryan, is currently serving a 6 ½-year sentence at a federal prison in Terre Haute, IN, also for corruption.

“The governor was not marched along this path by his staff.  He marched them,” Zagel said before he imposed the sentence.  Blagojevich governed the fifth-most populous state from January 2003 until his impeachment and removal from office in January of 2009.  He had been arrested the previous month for what Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald called “a political corruption crime spree.”  Blagojevich was convicted on 17 counts in a trial that ended in June.  An earlier jury deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts it considered, but found the ex-governor guilty of lying to federal agents.

Blagojevich admitted to the judge that he made “terrible mistakes” and acknowledged that he broke the law in his attempt to sell the Senate seat.  His attorneys admitted for the first time that Blagojevich is guilty of corruption.  The defense also presented sincere appeals from Blagojevich’s family, including letters from his wife Patti and one of his two daughters, that pleaded for mercy.  But the judge made it clear that he believed that Blagojevich had lied on the witness stand when he tried to explain his scheming for the Senate seat, and he did not believe defense suggestions that the former governor was duped by his advisers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar wasn’t impressed by Blagojevich’s emotional plea.  “He is incredibly manipulative and he knows how to be,” Schar said.  “To his credit he’s clever about it.  Judge, the defendant is corrupt, he was corrupt the day he took office, he was corrupt until the day he was arrested,” Schar said.  “Judge, the people have had enough.  They have had enough of this defendant.  They have had enough of people like him.”  The lengthy legal ordeal began when President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat became available upon his election.  Wiretaps of Blagojevich were recorded saying that Obama’s seat was “f — ing golden” and that it wouldn’t go “for f — ing nothing.”

So now what does Blagojevich do? He’ll spend the holidays with his family.  Next, his legal team will ask Judge Zagel to choose a prison, preferably in the Midwest, said Kent College Law professor Richard Kling.  Because the sentence is more than 10 years, he’ll be classified in a low-security prison with double-fence razor wire.

Judge Zagel sternly told Blagojevich that “abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than the abuse of any office in the United States except for president.  “I cannot comprehend that even if you are guilty,” Zagel said.  “You don’t think you caused harm to Illinois.”

“Blagojevich betrayed the trust and faith that Illinois voters placed in him, feeding great public frustration, cynicism and disengagement among citizens,” Fitzgerald said.  “People have the right to expect that their elected leaders will honor the oath they swear to, and this sentence shows that the justice system will stand up to protect their expectations.”  “This sentence sends a clear message that public officials cannot engage in corruption for personal benefit in exchange for political favors,” said James Vanderberg, special agent-in-charge of the Chicago Regional Office of Inspector General.

If Judge Zagel has any second thoughts about the sentence, he can take satisfaction in the fact that some of the jurors from the corruption trials approve of the 14-year sentence.  James Matsumoto, the jury foreman from the first trial, said he and other jurors were “satisfied” by the sentence.  John McParland, a juror at the second trial, saw a less-cocky Blagojevich today but wasn’t certain the former governor in fact apologized for his actions.  “He’s like two different men,” McParland said.  “His apology was a little circumspect,” according to Matsumoto.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Blagojevich won’t be eligible for release until early 2024 when he will be 67 years old.  Additionally, Blagojevich is planning to appeal his sentence, a process that could take years.

Blagojevich Verdict: Guilty on 17 of 20 Counts

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was found guilty of 17 of 20 corruption counts against him,  the majority for attempting to sell newly elected President Barack Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder.  After leaving the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago, Blagojevich said “Patti and I are obviously very disappointed.  I frankly am stunned.”  The verdict is a vindication for the office of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who on the day of Blagojevich’s arrest in 2008 accused him of leading a “political corruption crime spree.”

Key to the convictions were FBI wiretaps of the former governor’s obscenity-laden phone conversations in which he attempted to horse trade to get the best possible quid pro quo for himself by appointing someone to the newly vacant Senate seat.  In January of 2009, he was impeached by the Illinois House of Representatives and convicted by the Illinois State Senate.  He was replaced by Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn.  With the conviction, Blagojevich joins three former Illinois governors convicted of fraud and corruption felonies since 1973, most recently his immediate predecessor, George Ryan.  A status hearing on Blagojevich’s sentencing is scheduled to take place August 1.

Before the jury handed down the guilty verdicts, Blagojevich’s defense team laid the groundwork for a probable appeal.  They filed several motions for mistrial that accused U.S. District Judge James Zagel of being biased in favor of the prosecution.  Zagel denied all the motions.  The loquacious Blagojevich, who spent seven days on the witness stand, insisted that rather than trying to sell President Obama’s Senate seat, he was merely engaged in political gamesmanship.  Blagojevich told aides to ask the incoming Obama administration for either a Cabinet position, an ambassadorship or another high-paying position for him in exchange for naming Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to the Senate.  Rahm Emanuel, formerly White House Chief of Staff and now Mayor of Chicago, testified that the incoming Obama administration did not offer Blagojevich any of his requests.  Jarrett withdrew from consideration and Blagojevich appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill the seat.  Republican Mark Kirk subsequently won the seat in last fall’s mid-term election.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, columnist John Kass – never a fan of Blagojevich – says that “At least he’d finally stopped acting.  Dead Meat didn’t have to play a part anymore.  There was nobody to charm, nobody to convince.  All he had to do was sit there and take it.  And I wonder if Dead Meat had time then to consider the arc of his life as the perfect Chicago political cautionary tale:  The desperate kid who wanted to be liked, the boy who married the ward boss’s daughter, the kid who ingratiated his way into the 5th Congressional District, and who, with the help of patronage armies of knuckle draggers, was finally elected governor as a self-professed reformer.  It all began to fall apart for him around Christmas of 2004, when Blagojevich and his father-in-law, Chicago Alderman Richard Mell, 33rd, had a very public falling out over an in-law’s role in a Will County landfill.  It got ugly, then it got uglier, and when it became public, drawing the attention of the FBI, Blagojevich was becoming Dead Meat.”

James Warren on the Chicago News Cooperative website takes a somewhat different view. “Many were lured by Blagojevich’s charm, retail political skills and the nerve of someone whose life accomplishments were scant — as his premeditatedly self-deprecating testimony reminded the jury as subtly as a Times Square Jumbotron.  And why not?  He’d long exploited a self-portrayal of Imperfect Everyman, eschewing aides who told him to cut the talk of flunking the bar exam and other failures.  He thought it humanized him and it explains his reflexive turns to the jury nearly every time he’d cite another life’s comeuppance, with his humor, vanity, pettiness, lassitude and occasional stupidity all on view.  For sure, when his 2006 re-election campaign rolled around, there was an unsavory aroma and ample criticism, including from the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune.  But naysayers cried out with Don Quixote futility due to his prodigious fundraising and a feeble Republican Party’s hack of an opponent.  ‘Pay-to-play’ was the moniker for the culture he seemed to embody, with one key fundraiser indicted for alleged shakedowns and another soon to plead guilty.  But Blagojevich assured all that he was a victim and the Sun-Times, for one, chose ‘to give him the benefit of the doubt and endorse him.”

Jury members answered questions after the verdict was handed down. They said the trial’s most surprising moment was when prosecutor Reid Schar asked the former governor a confrontational first question.  “Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?  Schar asked”.  “That scared us all to death,” said Juror #103.  “We were so nervous after that.  The trial up until then had not been very dramatic.”  The forewoman, Juror #146, said the group knew “that there’s a lot of bargaining that goes on behind the scenes.  We do that in our everyday lives.  But I think in this instance, when it’s someone representing the people, it crosses the line.  I think it sends a message,” she said.

Several disgraced politicians say that Blagojevich is not ready to spend time in prison.  Betty Loren-Maltese, formerly Cicero village president who spent seven years in federal prison on a corruption conviction said “Most people have a fixed opinion of politicians.  A lot of prisoners feel (politicians) might even be responsible for them being in prison.  I don’t think it’ll be easy for him, but it’ll definitely change his attitude and make him realize he’s not the king.”

Scott Fawell, a former aide to Governor George Ryan (himself imprisoned on corruption charges) who spent 4 ½ years in a federal prison camp, had a different attitude.“Don’t complain, don’t be bitter,” he said.  “You’ll wake up and still be in the same place.”

Legendary Political Commentator Dan Schorr Dies at Age 93

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

The radio airwaves lose a commanding presence with the passing of legendary broadcaster Dan Schorr.  Legendary newscaster and elder statesman of political commentary Daniel Schorr died recently at age 93 following a brief illness.  Schorr, who spent the last 25 years of his long career as a senior news analyst with National Public Radio (NPR), aired his final broadcast on Saturday, July 10.  A journalist for more than 60 years, Schorr was the last active member of Edward R. Murrow’s “Boys”, a group of journalists who worked at CBS News in the 1940s and 1950s.  He joined NPR in 1985 and gave regular commentaries on the “Weekend Edition” and “Week in Review” programs.

Scott Simon, host of “Weekend Edition”, said “Nobody else in broadcast journalism – or perhaps in any field – had as much experience and wisdom” as Schorr.  “I’m just glad that, after being known for so many years as a tough and uncompromising journalist, NPR listeners also got to know the Dan Schorr that was playful, funny and kind.  In a business that’s known for burning out people, Dan Schorr shined for nearly a century.”

Schorr was famous for his straightforward coverage of the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s and even discovered his name on President Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies” list.  “He lived through so many years of history, and he put that to the service of his commentaries,” said Geoffrey Cowan, dean emeritus of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication.  “He never lost his edge.  He was also outspoken and independent.”

In 1975, New York magazine called Schorr the “great abrasive” for his pointed coverage of the House Intelligence Committee hearings on covert CIA operations, including assassination plots.  Schorr had been given a copy of the intelligence committee’s draft report and reported some of the contents on the CBS Sunday News – the only journalist to do so.  When CBS refused to back Schorr, he offered the full report to the Village Voice, which published a 24-page special section headlined “The Report on the CIA that President Ford Doesn’t Want You to Read.”  The bold move prompted CBS to demand that Schorr resign, giving him time to write the book “Clearing the Air” before he was hired by a very new 24-hour broadcast operation called CNN.

When Schorr was approaching age 70, NPR asked him to become a commentator, a post that he held until his death.  Schorr says that NPR “accorded some of the respect of an elder statesman” and he became renowned for putting current events into historical context.