Blagojevich Convicted On Nearly All Charges

Originally published on June 27, 2011 7:54 pm
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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

NPR's David Schaper reports from the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago.

DAVID SCHAPER: Of the 20 counts in the indictment against Blagojevich, the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on only two of the counts and found him not guilty on just one. As he walked out of Chicago's downtown federal courthouse hand in hand with his wife Patti, the normally upbeat and verbose Blagojevich had little to say.

BLOCK: Well, among the many lessons that I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short. Patti and I obviously are very disappointed in the outcome. I frankly am stunned. There's not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out. And I'm sure we'll be seeing you guys again.

U: Governor, did you get a fair trial?

SCHAPER: Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor to be convicted on corruption charges. The other is Republican George Ryan, who is still serving his sentence in a federal prison. And to high-profile U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the verdict is a vindication of sorts after last year's trial resulted in a hung jury on all but one charge.

BLOCK: When a sitting official, a governor tries to sell a Senate seat, tries to shake down a children's hospital and tries to demand cash before signing legislation that's sitting on his desk, that's an affront to the citizens. And it's right that the citizens' interests are vindicated.

SCHAPER: Under cross-examination, Blagojevich struggled to explain the schemes he was charged with and what exactly he meant when he said things like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDED PHONE CONVERSATION)

BLOCK: I mean, I've got this thing, and it's (bleep) golden. And I'm just not giving it up for (bleep) nothing.

SCHAPER: David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Chicago today, a jury found former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich guilty of corruption. After nine days of deliberation, jurors convicted Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts, including bribery, wire fraud and extortion conspiracy. The jury found that, among other things, Blagojevich tried to sell or trade his power to fill the Senate seat once held by President Obama.

NPR's David Schaper reports from the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago.

DAVID SCHAPER: Just 10 months after a previous jury was unable to reach consensus on the most serious corruption charges against Rod Blagojevich, a new jury of 11 women and one man found the former Democratic governor guilty of almost all the charges against him.

One by one, as the clerk read each count, the jury forewoman said guilty over and over again. Jurors found Blagojevich guilty of scheming to try to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama to the highest bidder, seeking whatever he could get, whether it be a more lucrative job or millions in campaign cash. And they found him guilty of trying to shake down the CEO of Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital and the owner of a horseracing track for hefty campaign contributions and of threatening to withhold state action until he got the cash.

Of the 20 counts in the indictment against Blagojevich, the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on only two of the counts and found him not guilty on just one. As he walked out of Chicago's downtown federal courthouse hand in hand with his wife Patti, the normally upbeat and verbose Blagojevich had little to say.

Mr. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Former Illinois Governor): Well, among the many lessons that I've learned from this whole experience is to try to speak a little bit less, so I'm going to keep my remarks kind of short. Patti and I obviously are very disappointed in the outcome. I frankly am stunned. There's not much left to say other than we want to get home to our little girls and talk to them and explain things to them and then try to sort things out. And I'm sure we'll be seeing you guys again.

Unidentified Man: Governor, did you get a fair trial?

SCHAPER: Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor to be convicted on corruption charges. The other is Republican George Ryan, who is still serving his sentence in a federal prison. And to high-profile U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the verdict is a vindication of sorts after last year's trial resulted in a hung jury on all but one charge.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (United States Attorney, Northern District of Illinois): When a sitting official, a governor tries to sell a Senate seat, tries to shake down a children's hospital and tries to demand cash before signing legislation that's sitting on his desk, that's an affront to the citizens. And it's right that the citizens' interests are vindicated.

SCHAPER: There were two major differences in this second trial from last summer's. This time, the prosecution streamlined its presentation of the case, dropping a few of the more complex charges. Second, after promising to take the stand in the first trial but then not doing so, Blagojevich did testify in his own defense this time around.

Under cross-examination, Blagojevich struggled to explain the schemes he was charged with and what exactly he meant when he said things like this.

(Soundbite of recorded phone conversation)

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: I mean, I've got this thing, and it's (bleep) golden. And I'm just not giving it up for (bleep) nothing.

SCHAPER: Prosecutors say this and other Blagojevich conversations recorded by FBI wiretaps say so much about how the defendant used his power as governor to try to personally enrich himself. The defense tried to argue that it was all just talk, that Blagojevich was just thinking out loud, throwing out ideas.

On the stand, Blagojevich insisted he was only engaged in attempts at political horse trading and that his ultimate goal was try to get the best deal he could for the people of Illinois. Ultimately, the jury didn't buy it.

Blagojevich's defense team is expected to appeal. But if the conviction stands, Blagojevich faces significant time in a federal prison.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.