Before verdict, breaking down the charges facing Blagojevich

June 21, 2011

Everyone knows that Rod Blagojevich has been on trial, that he’s charged with committing crimes, but who actually understands the charges? 

Well, here’s a breakdown.

To understand any of the particular charges, prosecutors say you have to answer only one question:

“Did the defendant try to get a benefit for himself in exchange for an official act?”

Before we get to the actual charges let’s take a brief look at the evidence.  Prosecutors say there are five basic schemes.  Each of the charges is related to one of these schemes. 

This probably goes without saying, but let it not go unsaid, everything following is the prosecutor’s version of events.  Blagojevich denies the charges.

THE SCHEMES

1 – The Senate Seat Shakedown – Blagojevich tried to use his power to appoint a successor to the senate seat Barack Obama vacated when he won the presidency. 

Among the benefits he sought:

a) An appointment to Obama’s cabinet in exchange for appointing Obama friend and advisor Valerie Jarrett senator

b) The establishment of a non-profit that would pay him a fat salary in exchange for appointing Jarrett

c) $1.5 million in contributions from supporters of Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for appointing Jackson.

Blagojevich was arrested before he made any appointments.  He eventually appointed Roland Burris.

 – Blagojevich delayed signing a bill that would benefit the horseracing industry in Illinois because he wanted a $100,000 campaign contribution from a racetrack owner first.  The contribution was never given.

3 – Tollway Shakedown – Blagojevich wanted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the road building industry before he would sign a $6 billion tollway plan that would have benefited that industry.  The campaign contributions were never given.

4 – Children’s Memorial Shakedown – Blagojevich held up a rate increase that would have benefited the hospital to the tune of $8 million because the CEO of the hospital wasn’t willing to hold a fundraiser for $25,000.  The fundraiser never happened.

5 – School Shakedown – Blagojevich was holding up a $2 million grant for a school in Congressman Rahm Emanuel’s district until Rahm’s brother agreed to hold a Blagojevich fundraiser.  The fundraiser never happened.

 

THE CHARGES

The first 10 charges are wire fraud charges.  That means simply that the governor made a phone call to further one of the illegal schemes listed above.  You’ll notice that most of the calls are about the senate seat.  That’s not terribly surprising as that was the big thing Blagojevich was thinking about when prosecutors started recording his calls in the fall of 2008 when Obama’s election to the presidency seemed more and more certain.

Count 1 – Wire Fraud – Children’s Memorial Scheme – Blagojevich called the CEO of Children’s Memorial hospital to share good news: Blagojevich was approving a rate increase that would net the hospital $8 – 10 million.  The good news was followed a few days later by a request to hold a fundraiser.  The call was not recorded, but the CEO testified.

Count 2 – Wire Fraud – The Senate Seat Scheme – This is a call Blagojevich had on November 7, 2008 with a couple of his advisors.  Blagojevich recounts a meeting he had with Tom Balanoff.  Balanoff was delivering a message to Blagojevich on behalf of President-elect Obama suggesting Valerie Jarrett for the Senate.  Blagojevich tells his advisors that he told Balanoff that he wanted to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services in Obama’s cabinet.  Here’s the kicker:

"And if I'd get that, and, and, and if, if that was somethin' available to me and maybe it's really unrealistic, but if that was available to me I could do Valerie Jarrett in a heartbeat."

Despite this comment and others like it Blagojevich insisted to jurors that he was never going to trade one appointment for the other.

Count 3 – Wire Fraud – The Senate Seat Scheme – This is a call Blagojevich had with several of his advisors and his wife on November 10, 2008.  The backdrop is that Obama wants Blagojevich to name his advisor Valerie Jarrett to the senate.  Blagojevich and his advisors are discussing what Obama can do for Blagojevich in return.  One advisor, Bill Knapp, asks, “What can Obama do that, at the end of two years makes you better able to earn a living?”  Blagojevich seemingly comes unhinged and then unleashes this kicker as he talks about Obama’s unwillingness to make a trade of some sort:

“I mean you guys are telling me I just gotta suck it up for two years and do nothing. Give this mother fucker, his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him!”

Here’s an extra kicker from this phone calL - Blagojevich "unhinged", if you will:

I gotta tell ya, I don't wanna be governor for the next two years. I wanna get going.  I'll, I, this has been two shitty fucking years where I'm doing the best I can trying to get through a brick wall and find ways around stuff but it's like just screwing my family and time is passing me by and I'm stuck, it's no good. It's no good. I gotta get moving. The whole world's passing me by and I'm stuck in this fucking job as governor now. Everybody's passing me by and I'm stuck.”

Count 4 – Wire Fraud – The Senate Seat – On this November 12th  call Blagojevich discusses with an advisor a plan where he would appoint Jarrett to the Senate and in return Obama could start up an advocacy group that Blagojevich could lead for a fat salary. 

Yeah, and you know, they'd have to help us, they'd have to put it, get the resources for it to put it together.  That'd be, you know, now, again, maybe she doesn't want to be senator anymore, maybe that's not of interest to them, but...

Count 5 – Wire Fraud - The Senate Seat - In this call on November 12, 2008, Rod Blagojevich made “an ask” -- taking his talk out of the realm of brainstorming and into the realm of committing crimes.  Here’s what went down.  Tom Balanoff came to Blagojevich on behalf of Obama to say that Obama thought Valerie Jarrett would be a good pick to replace him in the U.S. senate.  While discussing Jarrett, Blagojevich brings up the idea of a non-profit that he would be the director of and get a big salary from.  The kicker:

BLAGOJEVICH: And creating a 501(c)(4) that if I'm no longer an elected official I can possibly work with but right now...

BALANOFF: Right.

BLAGOJEVICH: ...while I'm an elected official it would help me push stuff here and at the federal level, which helps us here in Illinois, that'd be very attractive.  And you know George Soros and Buffet and all those guys...

BALANOFF: Right.

BLAGOJEVICH: ...You know, overnight can put 10, 15,20 million dollars in an advocacy group like that couldn't they?

BALANOFF: Right. Yeah, they could.

BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah, and then we could help our new Senator Valerie Jarrett go out and, uh...

BALANOFF: Yeah, there you go.

BLAGOJEVICH: Push that.

BALANOFF: So let me, uh, let me, uh, see if I can't, well, I can. Let me move this idea and see where it, let me put that flag up and see where it goes.

Count 6 – Wire Fraud - The Senate Seat - On this November 12, 2008 call Blagojevich once again pushes the idea of heading up a non-profit funded by supporters of Obama in return for appointing Obama’s preferred candidate Valerie Jarrett to the Senate.  Blagojevich says that if Jarrett “really wants to be a senator” then “it's a very real possibility. It could happen.”  Blagojevich transitions from that to tell Balanoff to push the non-profit idea:

BLAGOJEVICH: Okay, 501(C)(4), I mean use your judgment on how we talk about that, but.

BALANOFF: Yeah.

BLAGOJEVICH: What do you think about that concept, that idea?

BALANOFF: Hey, I think it's great, you know. But hey, what you, you and I, a lotta times think something's great...

BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah.

BALANOFF:...it's unfortunate that other people don't. I think it's a great idea.

BLAGOJEVICH: And don't forget, we always, we always have the option of me, just fucking sending me there.

Count 7 – Wire Fraud – The Senate Seat - On this November 13th call Blagojevich tells his advisor Doug Scofield that he wants to get the idea of a trade into Rahm Emanuel’s head.  He wants Emanuel to know that he’s willing to appoint Jarrett to the senate if Obama will use his power to get a non-profit funded that could hire Blagojevich as the director. 

BLAGOJEVICH: Anyway, so do we talk to Tom Balanoff to see if Andy Stern can go to Rahm and say heylook, will you help this guy with his501(c)(4) on health care. You follow me?

SCOFIELD: Okay.

BLAGOJEVICH: And I, and, ah, my, my strategic goal would be to have Rahm have it in his head sooner rather than later. Like today, tomorrow. Not in connection withSenate appointment or, or anything in his 5th CD.

SCOFIELD: Okay.

BLAGOJEVICH: You know just sort of like hey, this iswhat, is there a way to help him. Youguys get Buffett and Warren Buffett and all these guys to fund it. You see what I'm sayin' Doug?

SCOFIELD: I do, but this, this, we're not talking as part of discussions for anything else.

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, it's unsaid. You understand what I'm sayin'?

On the stand Blagojevich insisted that he wasn’t seeking to trade one for the other and that these tapes prove he wasn’t trying to make a trade.

Count 8 – Wire Fraud – The Senate Seat – In this November 13th  call Blagojevich instructs an advisor to get a message to Rahm Emanuel to that Blagojevich would like $10 or 20 million put into a non-profit for him to lead.  Blagojevich says he never appointed anyone to the senate so he therefore couldn’t have committed any crimes.  Prosecutors say calls like this represent substantial steps that Blagojevich took to try to get something for himself in exchange for official action.

BLAGOJEVICH: Ah, can you call Wyma?

SCOFIELD: Yeah, and what's the, what's the message?

BLAGOJEVICH: The message is ah, you know ah, a-, ask him if he can call Rahm and just say hey look, ah, this is unrelated to the other stuff but ah, you know, is there, we would, I'd like, I wanna put together a501(c)(4) for health care. An issue advocacy, put, we'll put, we're putting together an org, we are putting together an organization, a 501(c)(4) advocating children's health care, you know, health care for working families.  Okay? We'd like to be able to use that, I would, to, you know, play a role to help them, well, I'd like to use that for our efforts here in Illinois, but, you know, to the extent that it can help Obama's efforts on healthcare, that's good too.

SCOFIELD: Right.

BLAGOJEVICH: You know what I'm saying?

SCOFIELD: Yep.

BLAGOJEVICH: And could they, ah, you know and is there, you know, can they talk to, is there George Soros and Warren Buffett all that whole, all those Democrats, can, can he think, start thinking about how he can help us fund it?

SCOFIELD: Okay, and it's as simple as that. You, he should say it's unrelated to the other thing.

BLAGOJEVICH: If he feels like he needs to even say that.

SCOFIELD: Okay.

Count 9 – Wire Fraud – Racetrack bill – On this December 4th call, Blagojevich is talking to Lon Monk, his law school roommate who worked on the governor’s campaign.  The two are trying to figure out how to get a $100,000 campaign contribution from John Johnston.  Johnston owns horse-racing tracks and the governor has a bill awaiting his signature that would benefit Johnston and others in the horse racing industry.

BLAGOJEVICH: I mean, you want me to call him directly, I will, whatever's the best thing. I'm just a little bit...

MONK: I think it's better if you do it.

BLAGOJEVICH: Okay.

MONK: For... It, it's better if you do it just from a pressure point of view.

BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah, good. I'll call him and say yeah, we'll, and we want to do an event down, down so-, down so-, downstate.

MONK: Right.

BLAGOJEVICH: I'll say we wanna do it and we hope, we hope to do this so we can get together and start picking some dates to do a sign-, bill signing? Right?

Count 10 – Wire Fraud – The Senate Seat – On December 4th Blagojevich had a conversation with two advisors where he talks about possibly picking Jesse Jackson Jr. to take Obama’s senate seat.  One of the advisors asks repeatedly why he’d pick Jackson.  The tortured conversation that follows is the kicker:

YANG: Is this, is essentially the deal with Jesse Jr. will be that the Jacksons will support you for re-election?

BLAGOJEVICH: No there's more to it.

YANG: What else?

BLAGOJEVICH: There's tangible, concrete tangible stuff from supporters.

YANG: Like what?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well like, you know. You know what I'm talking about. (UI)...later.  Political, tangible political support Fred.

YANG: Okay, alright.

BLAGOJEVICH: You know. Specific amounts and everything.

Count 11 – Attempted Extortion – Chicago Academy – Blagojevich was holding up a grant for a school in Congressman Rahm Emanuel’s district until Emanuel’s brother held a fundraiser for the governor.  Prosecutors are relying heavily on the testimony of former Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk. Tusk is one of the more credible witnesses as he didn’t testify with a grant of immunity or receive special consideration from prosecutors because he agreed to point the finger at the governor.

Count 12 – Attempted Extortion – Children’s Hospital – Blagojevich threatened to hold up legislation that would benefit the hospital until he got $25,000 in campaign contributions from the CEO of the hospital.  Jurors heard from the CEO Pat Magoon, a very credible witness, but proof that Blagojevich was holding up the legislation was a call in which Blagojevich asked his deputy governor Bob Greenlee if they could hold up the rate increase for budgetary reasons. 

Greenlee said they could and Blagojevich responded, “good to know.”  Blagojevich never actually instructed Greenlee to hold back the legislation but Greenlee testified that he interpreted the call as an instruction and he pulled it back.

Count 13 – Solicitation of a Bribe – Children’s Hospital – Blagojevich tried to get a campaign contribution in exchange for signing legislation that would benefit the hospital to the tune of $8- to $10 million.

Count 14 – Extortion Conspiracy – Racetrack Bill – Tab 59, 63 and 64.  Blagojevich and advisor Lon Monk agree to put pressure on a horse racing track owner to give contributions.  At the same time that they’re discussing the contribution, they’re also discussing legislation that will help the horse racing industry and they’re worried about how it will look if the contribution is too close to the bill signing.

BLAGOJEVICH: You could say he could sign the bill right after the first of the year. I think you just say that. He’s gonna sign all his bills, he's signing all, he's doing all his bills right...

MONK: No. Look, I wanna go to him without crossing the line and say, give us the fuckin' money.

BLAGOJEVICH: Right.

MONK: (UI), give us the money and one has nothing to do with the other...

BLAGOJEVICH: Right.

MONK: ...but give us the fuckin' money. Because they're losin', they're losing 9,000 a day.

BLAGOJEVICH: Okay.

MONK: For every day it's not signed.

Count 15 – Conspiracy to Solicit a Bribe – Racetrack Bill – Blagojevich engaged with others to try to get a bribe in the form of campaign contributions from John Johnston, the horse race track owner.  Prosecutors have given jurors several “overt acts” they say Blagojevich committed in furtherance of the scheme. They only have to find he committed one act to convict. Prosecutors say he brainstormed “the ask” on a recorded call.  That could be the act on which jurors convict.  Or, they could focus on a conversation in which Blagojevich has been told the demand was made, another action Blagojevich took as he allegedly sought a bribe.

Count 16 – Attempted Extortion – Tollway Plan – The charge is that Blagojevich tried to pressure Gerald Krozel, a road builder, into raising $500,000 for the governor’s campaign fund.  Prosecutors have given jurors a large choice of things Blagojevich did to get the contribution.  He invited Krozel to a meeting.  He directed one of his advisors to put pressure on Krozel to make the contribution, and he repeatedly asked his subordinates to stay on Krozel.  Krozel testified that he felt pressure to contribute and that the governor was making the tollway plan contingent on contributions from the road building industry.  But Krozel also testified that at the end of a meeting where he was pressured to give a contribution he asked the governor to go to lunch to meet his new bosses.  Two aides to Blagojevich, both of whom are cooperating with the government in return for leniency, say the governor said “If they (the road builders) don’t perform (cough up campaign contributions) Fuck em (don’t sign the big tollway plan.)”

Count 17 – Solicitation of a Bribe – Tollway Plan – It’s the same evidence as Count 16, but jurors have to answer a couple different questions to find he broke this law.  Here the jury has to find that Blagojevich tried to get something of value “with the intent to be influenced or rewarded in connection with some business, transaction or series of transactions of the State of Illinois.”

Count 18 – Extortion Conspiracy – The Senate seat - Jurors have to decide if Blagojevich knowingly joined a conspiracy to get something for himself in exchange for the Senate seat.  Jurors heard calls in which Blagojevich plots with John Harris.  Blagojevich also instructed his brother to meet with someone who was offering 1.5 million in campaign.  The kicker, or rather, one of many kickers:

BLAGOJEVICH: She now knows that she can be a U.S. senator if I get, uh, Health and Human Services.

YANG: Right.

BLAGOJEVICH: Um, so how bad does she want to be a senator and, uh, and they, you know, I,I indicated to Balanoff that if I'm cornered and I have no other option, maybe I'll just send me to Washington.

Count 19 – Attempted Extortion – The Senate Seat - He used his ability to appoint a U.S. senator to try to get money or property he wasn’t entitled to.  This relates to the senate seat, and jurors get to choose what scheme they think he committed.  Did he try to get a job in Obama’s cabinet in exchange for appointing Jarrett to the senate?  Guilty.  Did he try to get campaign contributions?  Guilty.  Did he try to get Obama to fund a non-profit that would pay him a big salary?  Guilty. 

Count 20 – Conspiracy to Solicit a Bribe – Senate Seat – Jurors have to find that Blagojevich knowingly joined a group effort to get a bribe in exchange for the senate seat and find that he committed one act to further that conspiracy, an act like arranging a meeting or directing a subordinate to engage in discussions.

So what counts, if any, will he be convicted on?  Given the evidence and the nature of the counts, my guess is that at a minimum the jury will agree to convict on counts, 5, 6, 7, 8, 18,19 and 20. 

There are many more they could reasonably convict on - and several that they could reasonably acquit.  However, we know that the jury could be hung on most, if not all, of the counts.