Blago's retrial less of a circus, more focused
It's a slimmed down version of the original trial from last summer where the former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was found guilty on 1 of 24 counts of corruption.
For the disgraced governor's retrial, the prosecution dropped all but 5 "schemes" from the indictment, but kept the sexiest charge front and center - Blago's attempt to sell Barack Obama's old senate seat in return for campaign cash.
The governor denies everything, stating that he did nothing that isn't done in politics everyday; horse trading, discussions of how to advance an issue, etc. The prosecutor summed up the case thusly:
"The governor of Illinois was shaking people down," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner told jurors, 15 women and 3 men, including two African Americans. "He was abusing his power as governor to get something for himself, and every time he tried to shake someone down, he violated the trust of the people of Illinois, and he violated the law."
It's interesting to note what charges the prosecutor left out of the new indictment:
Having dropped two racketeering counts, the prosecution sliced whole sections of its case in the first trial. They were responding to jurors from that trial who afterward complained the case was too complicated and they were confused. Gone were any references to Patti Blagojevich and her real estate dealings with convicted political donor and businessman Tony Rezko. There was no reference to pay-to-play involving state boards and no talk of a pension bond deal that prosecutors had alleged was corrupt. Nor was there any discussion of an alleged plot involving the Chicago Tribune and its editorial board.
It was indeed a difficult case to follow with about a dozen principles involved in nearly a dozen schemes. By narrowing the indictment to just a few crimes, the prosecution's job is made simpler as is the juror's.
There is still no guarantee of convictions on more counts. Blago's attorneys are mounting a cynical defense - everybody does it so why pick on Rod? That tack might resonate with an Illinois jury that has heard it all with regard to the corruption of high officials in government. What the prosecutor has to do is prove that the ex-governor's actions were uniquely corrupt. And given the taped evidence that shows Blago offering the senate seat to half dozen politicians who could raise millions in cash for himself and his campaign, the prosecution might very well succeed.