Blagojevich Fate Rests With Jury
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The fate of Rod Blagojevich today will be in the hands of a jury. A judge in Chicago is giving instructions to the jurors. Then they will deliberate on corruption charges against the former governor of Illinois.
In closing arguments, prosecutors said Blagojevich was only interested in enriching himself during his time in office. His defense attorney called the government's case a total distortion. NPR's Cheryl Corley has more.
CHERYL CORLEY: Before the Blagojevich trial began, the former governor conducted his own informal defense, appearing on TV and radio shows. During the trial, he continued his campaign-like blitz, signing autographs, hugging supporters and taking pictures before entering the courtroom.
But for the past few months, portions of the hundreds of hours of profanity-laden tapes secretly recorded by the FBI have been played in court - tapes the government claims show Blagojevich abusing his power, setting up illegal deals for his own personal benefit.
In closing arguments yesterday, Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Jr. shouted, whispered and paced the courtroom, telling the jury his client did nothing wrong; how he quote, may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he was not guilty of corruption.
Adam and Blagojevich had said all along he was eager to testify. Adam called that the pink elephant in the room, but said the government had not proven its case, so there was no reason for his client to take the stand. Outside the federal courthouse, Adam said he only had one message.
Mr. SAM ADAM, JR. (Attorney): This is not a corrupt man. He's never been corrupt. He isn't corrupt. And we should be victorious at the end of the day.
CORLEY: In contrast to the full-of-drama closing for Blagojevich, federal prosecutors were dry and methodical.
Mr. ANDY SHAW (Better Government Association): They explained in very clear, layman's terms...
CORLEY: Andy Shaw is with the Better Government Association.
Mr. SHAW: ...how every one of the allegations in the 24 counts represents an attempt to use your power over official acts for personal gain: campaign cash, future considerations, money for your wife.
CORLEY: Alleged dirty schemes that included an attempt to sell the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
But defense attorney Adam said Blagojevich was not selling any Senate seat. He said Obama aides first approached the governor. Who are we kidding, said Adam, that this was extortion? This was a negotiation. He called Blagojevich, who once had presidential aspirations of his own, insecure, jealous of President Obama, an ineffective governor - but, again, no criminal. And as for all the conversation on those undercover FBI tapes, Adam said Blagojevich was just yapping.
In the courtroom during his rebuttal, prosecutor Reid Schar sipped often from a water cup, and in a strained voice called the Adam arguments desperate and ridiculous. He said Blagojevich, who was elected twice as governor of Illinois, was not stupid, but smart, a man who knew how to get his shakedown message across with winks and nods - and was not some accidentally corrupt governor.
Richard Kling, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, says that's a powerful argument.
Professor RICHARD KLING (Chicago-Kent College of Law): It's hard for juries to believe that every witness came in, including FBI agents, to frame an innocent guy. And I think most significantly, the tapes are the tapes. And the jury heard the tapes, and the jury is going to be convinced by the tapes as well.
CORLEY: Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam says that will mean a good turn for his client.
Mr. ADAM: You can't hear those tapes, you can't see the evidence here, and not know that Rod is not an accidental criminal. He never was a criminal, period.
CORLEY: Today, jurors get a long list of instructions from the judge in this case. Then they'll begin their deliberations, determining whether or not the infamous former governor of Illinois will be found guilty of corruption in office.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.