Andy Martin on the Illinois scandals: Blagojevich may not be guilty as charged
Andy Martin says prosecutors may be as guilty as the crooks in Illinois. Chicago corruption fighter and law professor Martin says that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich appears to have been the victim of prosecutorial overreaching and a shabby attempt to smear the governor in the media. ‘Blagojevich may be guilty,” Andy says, “but not ‘guilty as charged.’”
Internet Powerhouse Andy Martin raises questions about the feeding frenzy over Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich
“Factually Correct, Not
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
ILLINOIS CORRUPTION FIGHTER ANDY MARTIN SAYS HE IS “UNDERWHELMED” WITH SOME OF THE CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST THE ILLINOIS GOVERNOR
SPEAKING AS A LAW PROFESSOR, MARTIN SAYS THERE IS A WIDE GAP BETWEEN SLEAZY POLITICS AND CRIMINALITY
(CHICAGO)(December 11, 2008) Since the mid 1960’s (yes, 1960’s) I have been fighting political corruption in Illinois. I began as a young law student at the University of Illinois. And you know what? The more successful I was in exposing and fighting corruption over the decades, the more vicious the attacks directed at me by the Illinois establishment.
The “establishment” in Illinois is corrupt. That is why corruption is so resilient and why efforts to permanently extirpate crooked politics have been a failure. Today I am confronting the children and grandchildren of the crooks I was fighting in the 60’s. And the new generations are just as corrupt as their forebears.
When I was a very small part of a team that exposed two crooked Illinois Supreme Court judges in 1969, the Supreme Court retaliated by attacking me. So I don’t have to take a back seat to anyone, including U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, when it comes to fighting corruption. Or in expressing cynicism about the way the system operates and endures over the decades.
But I also know that Mr. Fitzgerald’s prosecutors routinely abuse their powers. His office has prosecuted and persecuted innocent persons because of their views on the Middle East. The FBI often acts like a Gestapo agency. No public official, including corruption-fighters, can be given a blank check or uncritical acclaim. To do so is demagogy, not democracy.
Governor Rod Blagojevich must be the most reviled person in America today. He is front-page news everywhere. But is he guilty? Potty-mouthed Blago is also one of my recent opponents. I have sued the governor to block his corruption. Unlike Barack Obama, I was against Blagojevich when it was unpopular to be the governor’s adversary. So I am not here to defend Blago’s tactics or his record.
Still, under our system of justice, even a guilty man, let alone an innocent one, is entitled to his day in court. After all of the news conferences and media coverage generated by the prosecutors, how can the governor obtain a fair trial? Good question.
There is a deeper problem with the Blagojevich prosecution, however. In the real world, in the courts, there is a wide gap between sleaziness and criminality. Just because some activity is gross does not mean that it constitutes a crime.
I have read the Blagojevich indictment. I can loosely separate it into four parts: (1) the Rezko-connected charges; (2) the Tollway and related local corruption charges; (3) the Chicago Tribune charges; (4) the “sale” of Barack Obama’s senate seat.
Let’s go backwards.
Obama’s campaign guru David Axelrod said last month that Obama and Blagojevich had discussed filling Obama’s seat (the Axelrod clip is on the internet). Oh, that was last month. Yesterday Obama undermined what Mr. Axelrod said, and denied any contact with the governor. Who do you believe?
I have previously written that there is an appearance of impropriety, a suspicion if you will, about the way Obama resigned early, because the early resignation of his senate seat allowed Blagojevich to start selling the office earlier. Was there a link?
Did all of the sound and fury and profanity on the “Blagojevich tapes” constitute a criminal act? I am underwhelmed. Earlier this year I predicted that Tony Rezko, an Obama-Blagojevich kingpin, would escape the most serious charges lodged against him at trial. I was proven correct. The jury agreed with me.
Now I am willing to predict that if Blago ever comes to trial, he will be acquitted of the Obama-related charges. Prosecutors abused their powers by including inflammatory accusations that reflect extreme sleaziness and corruption on Blago’s part, but not criminal conduct. The eavesdropping on the governor was, in its own way, as sleazy as the governor’s own behavior.
Since the dawn of organized civilization (if what we have in Illinois can be called “civilization”), people have traded favors. Politicians routinely engage in quid pro quo, or tit for tat, negotiating. The “senate seat” criminal charges against Blagojevich suffer from a stark defect: there is no victim there. “Candidate 5,” Representative Jesse Jackson, Junior, has angrily denied any impropriety. I believe him.
Promising to raise funds in exchange for support is not a crime. Asking “what can you do for me if I do for you?” is similarly not a crime.
There may be instances where the demand and offer are too explicit, but mere political bantering and positioning and negotiation are not criminal activity. This is what I expect Blago’s lawyer to argue at trial. The indictment does not allege that anyone claims to have been a “victim” of Blago’s extortion and fraud. Without an overt act to demand cash, there is no crime. Sleazy? Undoubtedly. Criminal? Not likely.
Maybe some new “senate seat victim” will appear before trial. I doubt it. I’m not exactly sure, of course, but I doubt the prosecutors will produce anyone who says “he extorted me.” Thus, the most scandalous charges against the governor were apparently inserted precisely to generate scandal, and to draw attention from the other aspects of the indictment. Trial by newspaper and TV news should concern every American.
Backtracking again, the Tribune accusations look like more smoke and mirrors. Is Blago’s language outrageous? Absolutely. He is as sleazy as we thought. But does what he said constitute a crime? Again, I doubt it. People often talk in outrageous terms in the privacy of their own office, when they are sitting around a table blabbing among themselves. Should all of us fear making an outrageous statement at home, just in case the FBI is listening in? When a football coach exhorts his players to “kill” the other side he is not soliciting murder.
What was interesting when the accusations broke on Tuesday was the way Tribune employees denied having any inkling of extortion. Without a Tribune employee to say “I was extorted” there was and is no crime.
The prosecutors’ claim that they acted to stop a “crime spree” was strange. And suspicious. You don’t “stop” a crime before it is committed; you prosecute after a crime is committed, particularly a “white collar” crime where evidence of intent is elusive and the need for actual proof of motive is essential. Once again, I am doubtful of the prosecutors’ motives and tactics.
Scrolling backwards again, I am not as certain of the charges related to the Illinois Tollway, which has been a notorious sinkhole for corruption since the first day it was opened to vehicular traffic. We were fighting Tollway corruption back in the 1960’s. The more things change.
Finally, the first issue, the Rezko-related accusations in the indictment. Tony Rezko, of course, is the man who financed Barack Obama’s mansion in Chicago, and raised money for all of Obama’s campaigns. He got Obama his first job, at Rezko’s law firm. Rezko was convicted of some of the smaller crimes, and acquitted of the major accusations against him.
Rezko was also a fundraiser for Blagojevich. The Rezko-related accusations are the government’s strongest criminal case, but the least “sexy,” since there is nothing new. Most of the Blago charges involve Rezko matters that were disclosed earlier this year.
In perspective, it appears that the “non-crime” crimes, such as the senate seat sale and the Chicago Tribune caper, were added to the genuine crimes as a means of attracting media attention and allowing prosecutors to conduct a publicity parade against Blagojevich. For shame.
It would be easy for me to ignore the obvious and glaring defects in the Blago prosecution and remain silent. After all, I am a corruption-fighter and he is a crook. But my love and loyalty to the Constitution compel me to condemn government overreaching just as honestly as I condemn criminal activity. Over forty years of experience teaches me that you must always stand up for the truth even at peril to yourself.
I have stood against corruption in Chicago and Illinois, and I have paid a horrible price for my defiance of the crooked establishment. I am routinely reviled by judges and the media on the basis of false and malicious accusations. Still, because I am confident of the truth, I am proud to fight on and move forward, whatever the price. Even my life.
I can’t speak for Blago, but I expect him to mount a defense. I think it unlikely he will resign. More likely, he will stand and fight. Maybe. Maybe not. (Blago may have even set his own trap for the prosecutors; but that’s a story for another day.) I am convinced that if the charges against him go to trial, however, many of them will be found vacuous and wanting.
Finally, when it comes to criminal prosecutions, America is a sick society. I understand the need for the rare “perp walk,” where an accused criminal is moved from one area to another in front of cameras [see e.g. Conradt v. NBC, 536 F.Supp.2d 380 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)]. But even in the case of common criminals, some courts have condemned the prejudicial aspect of such police behavior. I don’t like it. Storming the governor’s home at 6:00 A.M? And dragging him out in handcuffs? That was disgraceful conduct by the federal government. The reality is that our governments, state and federal, are crass bullies that do everything they can to demean defendants and to deny them a fair trial.
How is what happened to Blago any different than the early stages of what the Nazis did to the Jews? (Before the concentration camps.) The “knock at the door” is a phrase we associate with Nazism, Stalinism and dictatorships, not our “democracy.” Blagojevich received a knock at the door. “We are here to arrest you.” At 6:00 A.M.
For all of his vulgarities, Blago was the chief executive of a state. His attorney could have been called and asked to come in with his client for a conference. Was there any need to handcuff him at 6:00 A.M? None whatsoever. Once again, the FBI-Gestapo and overzealous federal prosecutors were trying to win their case in the media before it would actually be tested in a courtroom. Disgraceful behavior.
The manner in which Blagojevich was treated, and many other similar defendants are treated every day, is barbaric. Did we really need to have O. J. Simpson chained and appearing in rags in court to be sentenced on TV? Or was this display a subliminal threat by the “system” to every Black man. We can do to you what we did to O. J. Slavery is only a night’s sleep away from today.
The Romans liked to stage parades, and drag chained people through the streets. Jesus Christ was subjected to a similar display, which we reenact as Good Friday. As Jesus himself would say, don’t talk about the sliver in the other man’s eye, when you have a log in your own eye. We are just as savage today in America as they were in biblical times. The Cook County (Chicago) jail is a disgrace to humanity and a dungeon of Victorian squalor.
Sadly, no one has commented on the outrageous manner in which the “United States” treats defendants. Many aspects of American society, and in particular the prosecution of crime, remain uncivilized and unprincipled.
Bottom line: Blagojevich may be guilty of something, but not the “crimes” you are reading about in the newspapers and seeing on TV. Save this column and read it “after the trial.”
Readers of Obama: The Man Behind The Mask, say the book is still the only gold standard and practical handbook on Barack Obama’s unfitness for the presidency. Buy it.
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Andy Martin is a legendary Chicago muckraker, author, Internet columnist, radio talk show host, broadcaster and media critic. He has over forty years of broadcasting experience in radio and television. He is currently based in New York selling his new book, Obama: The Man Behind The Mask. Andy is the Executive Editor and publisher of http://www.ContrarianCommentary.com. © Copyright by Andy Martin 2008. Martin comments on regional, national and world events with over forty years of experience. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law and is a former adjunct professor of law at the City University of New York.
His columns are also posted at ContrarianCommentary.blogspot.com; contrariancommentary.wordpress.com. Andy is the author of Obama: The Man Behind The Mask, published in July 2008, see http://www.OrangeStatePress.com.
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