Editorial: Still no end for sorry Rod Blagojevich saga
The old and jaded heart had skipped a beat there for a minute. Could it really be possible that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich had cast his spell on a 12-member jury as effectively as he had the Illinois electorate?
On Tuesday, a federal jury returned a guilty verdict on just one of the 24 counts of criminal misconduct alleged of the impeached former governor - lying to the FBI - while coming back undecided on the rest. The judge indicated he will declare a mistrial on the remaining charges of racketeering, extortion, bribery and mail fraud, with federal prosecutors having until Aug. 26 to decide whether to re-try Blagojevich before a different jury. They've already indicated they will. (This is not double jeopardy, by the way, because the jury was hung; Blagojevich was not acquitted.)
In many ways this is the worst of outcomes, because it resolves so little. The allegations were serious ones - attempting to sell a U.S. Senate seat, trying to hold a children's hospital up for ransom, etc. - and all the question marks over them remain. If you're looking for a Hollywood analogy, this is the movie "Groundhog Day" where we keep reliving the same nightmare. If you prefer a sports metaphor, we've just played 20 innings without producing a winner.
Certainly not Blagojevich. This is being characterized by some as a victory for him because it could have been so much worse, but it's not, really. He's now a convicted felon, staring at a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. It's not as if he's walking away, free to pursue his own TV reality show (though he does plan to appeal). His political career is over, his reputation shattered beyond repair. The best defense his attorneys could muster was that he was too incompetent to pull off these alleged crimes, that he was just a big talker, that he never closed a deal. And now he may have to go through the whole ordeal again. He insists to the people of Illinois that "I didn't let you down." Except that he did.
Certainly not U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has suffered the first significant blemish on his prosecutorial record. Despite the enormous resources at his disposal, dwarfing the defense's, his team largely failed to convince this jury that the guy who'd been in his bull's-eye for years was as bad as he had been portrayed. Indeed, expectations of multiple convictions were high going into this trial, between a Blagojevich administration that had become synonymous with "pay to play" in government, the defendant's impeachment, the successful prosecutions of some of his closest associates and hour upon hour of secretly recorded tapes serving as the smoking gun. No doubt there will be a lot of second-guessing of their performance here. Should they have presented more of the evidence they had? Should they have called already convicted Blago pal and influence peddler Tony Rezko to the stand? Could they have made their case simpler? "We didn't even put a defense on, and the government couldn't prove its case," said Blagojevich following the verdict. He has a point. And now he is portraying Fitzgerald not as a prosecutor but as a persecutor, trying to take away his freedom, his home, his family.
Certainly not taxpayers, who may be looking at paying for another trial.
Certainly not the politicians, especially Democrats running for re-election, who no doubt wanted the Blagojevich Era over, his name off the front pages heading into November. Some who didn't get called to testify this time around, reaching all the way to the White House, may not get off the hook next time.
Certainly not the citizens of Illinois, who have suffered another black eye with back-to-back governors found guilty of breaking the law - George Ryan remains in federal prison after being convicted of all 18 counts against him four years ago. Assuming Blagojevich ends up behind bars, Illinois will have sent four former governors to the slammer in less than four decades. Illinois state government remains a disaster, effectively bankrupt. The distractions will continue.
The jury of six men and six women signaled this result, of course. They stayed out 14 days. Along the way they made it apparent that they were deadlocked on many counts, disagreeing "without rancor." They sent word to the judge that they were confused about some things. They asked for a copy of the oath they had taken. They have left many questions unanswered. Were they split down the middle, 11 to 1 in favor of conviction, 11 to 1 for acquittal, what? Meanwhile, they've left behind a mystery: Initially they indicated they had reached unanimous agreement on two counts. What happened to the second?
Ultimately, we hope no one comes away from this situation believing it in any way redeems Blagojevich's performance as governor, that the kind of behavior alleged of him - whether the government could prove it or not - is in any way acceptable. It is not. And that old and jaded heart of ours won't return to normal rhythm until more Illinoisans prove they've had enough of the corruption that now defines politics in the state we could once call the "Land of Lincoln" without blushing.
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.