The Other Blagojevich: A Visit With the Governor’s Brother | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

The Other Blagojevich: A Visit With the Governor's Brother

The ending of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial is no real ending, of course. The hung jury means the family that dominated the summer headlines will likely stay there a lot longer. Rod Blagojevich has been the focus of the attention. His brother and co-defendant Robert, a quieter presence. WBEZ's Robert Wildeboer visited with the lesser known Blagojevich and his wife Julie as they face the next phase in the spotlight.

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When the jury came back hung on 23 of the 24 counts against Rod and Robert Blagojevich, prosecutors immediately told the judge that they absolutely intended to retry the brothers.

JULIE BLAGOJEVICH: Felt like a kick in the stomach and it was hard to sleep last night.

But there was also some good news for her this week. Juror John Grover was quoted in a Chicago Sun-Times article saying he just wanted to let Robert go home with his wife because he didn't think the governor's older brother was really involved in any wrongdoing. Prosecutors told jurors that Robert was a victim of circumstance but they also said he knew his brother was trying to reap a personal profit from appointing a successor to Barack Obama in the Senate. And they say Robert is responsible because he was the only friend left that was willing to help the former governor implement his schemes. But Grover said most of the jurors didn't buy that argument.

JULIE BLAGOJEVICH: I just burst out crying and that man lifted my spirits with what he said. He did. He did.
ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: She broke down with happiness and joy because we were listening to news accounts how the jury lined up on certain counts and it wasn't really clear how it related to me.

But Grover told the Sun-Times that 9 of the jurors wanted to acquit the older Blagojevich. Robert says that validates their legal strategy for the second go around.

ROBERT: That's not in any way a welcoming prospect, but what are we going to do? I've got no choice. I'm not going to plea to something that I didn't do. And so I'm stuck and, you know, my family and I will figure it out.

Figuring it out means figuring it out in the apartment on Chicago's North Side that the Blagojevich's have been sharing with their 27-year-old son Alex since May, before the trial started.

ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: It's a two bedroom, two bath sort of format. And by the way, we've got someone moving out, let me get the door for him. Let me get the door for you. We are in the heart of Uptown. It's an aged building. It's got a seasoning to it. It's got creaks and cracks and sounds you would otherwise not hear in new construction. We're going through the front door. Go ahead Julie. Why don't you lead him on up.
JULIE BLAGOJEVICH: Okay. We're going up to the second floor. Darling little girls live underneath us.

The Blagojevich's actually live and have a home in Nashville. They bought this apartment a few years ago to have a place in Chicago for summer and their son rents it from them, but this has been their home during the trial, and with a retrial on the way, this will likely be their home for some time.

ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: It's been really great to crash on our son. He's 27-years-old. We couldn't have asked for a better support morally, spiritually, physically, you name it. He's a great kid and he's just been a great strength for both Julie and me. Given where we are, he's extra-sensitive to try to be deferential to us.
JULIE BLAGOJEVICH: He drove his father to the trial each morning.
ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH : Right. He works downtown. Two best parts of my day were spending time in the car with my son. As we called it, 'going to work.' And then coming home and going to sleep at night with Julie. Those were the two best parts of my day.
ROBERT WILDEBOER: Now, I won't bother asking about your relationship with your brother because everyone can figure out that there's obviously some strain in that relationship, but then I'm wondering, in terms of - you mentioned family. Family kind of got you in the hot water you're in and yet family also seems to be your main comfort throughout this.
JULIE BLAGOJEVICH: We have felt so much love from my brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews. It's just been great.
ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: What you find in circumstances like this, and, you know, this is a cliche. You know who your friends are. And you really know who cares about you. It's been made very clear to us who we can count on and who may not be as reliable as we once thought.

At the back of the apartment, there's a large living room and kitchen and on the book shelves are some 3-ring binders that look familiar.

ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: Those are all the 302s.

302's are reports FBI agents fill out when they interview someone.

ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: You'd be surprised at some of the names in there that were not called to testify and what they've said, which I can't share with you. But there are some interesting treasures and secrets in those books, as well as transcripts that I had to study and be knowledgeable of.
ROBERT WILDEBOER: I'll just grab one or two of those on my way out.
ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: For the record, I didn't let him do it.

Sitting on top of the couch is Shelby, the Blagojevich's tan colored dog. I'm told she's a bichy poo. Half poodle, half bichon. She's the most scared dog I've ever seen. She looks at me sideways, shaking and threatening to jump off the top of the couch if I move any closer.

growl

ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: Shelby, stay there. You be nice. Come here. Believe it or not, she's a very talented dog. She rolls over, plays dead, high fives. She does many things. She even gives you a kiss. Shelby, can you give me a kiss? Ok. We'll take that. We'll take that.

Behind Shelby, the ferocious and talented bishy poo is a table filled with pictures.

ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: That's Alex, I guess that's his college graduation picture. That's us when we were happy. We kind of judge our lives now pre-indictment and post-indictment. And so I point to that picture there of us at the restaurant. Is that Alex's freshman year, Julie? So that was before we said good bye to him as a freshman, dropping him off. That was a happy time for us.
ROBERT WILDERBOER: Has any of this - it's been a lot of stress for the two of you, I'm sure. What effect has it had on your relationship?
JULIE BLAGOJEVICH: Our marriage is stronger now. Stronger than it was before.
ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah, there's just no question about that. I mean, I think I appreciate Julie so much  more than I ever did for all that she's had to sacrifice because of me. And this is a little corny and I haven't said this ever, I don't think, but when we said our vows on August 21, 1977, we meant them and so we've stayed unconditionally committed to each other through thick and thin. And we're going through the thick part or the thin part, I don't know which it is. But we're going through it together.
JULIE BLAGOJEVICH: I want to do everything I can to support him because he's such a great guy.
ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: That's kinda corny.
JULIE BLAGOJEVICH: It's pretty corny.
ROBERT BLAGOJEVICH: But I think she means it. I think she means it.

The Blagojevich's say they're selling their home in Nashville to pay legal bills. He was hoping to tap the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund for $350,000 to pay part - part - of his legal bills, but the judge found that unlike Rod, Robert was not a quote "indigent defendant." Robert Blagojevich says they'll try to save the home but with the retrial coming up, it makes no sense to pay bills on a home they're not even living in, which means this apartment could be their residence for the foreseeable future.

Music Button:  The Budos Band, "Black Venom", from the CD III, (Daptone)

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