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Rod Blagojevich: bluster or bribery? Second corruption trial closes.

The second federal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will likely turn on whether the jury thinks recorded statements are ramblings or evidence of an illegal scheme.

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One accusation the retrial repeatedly stressed involved Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who, as a US congressman representing Chicago’s Northwest Side, was allegedly pressured to host a Hollywood fundraiser for Blagojevich in exchange for a state grant he sought for a school in his district. In testifying for the defense earlier in the trial, Mayor Emanuel said he was never approached to host the fundraiser, which never took place.

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Goldstein said the fact that the school received the grant and Blagojevich never received a fundraising check was evidence that a dirty deal did not take place.

“The school gets the grant, gets their money, and builds a field. This is a good thing … and Rod never got a fundraiser,” he said.

His defense emphasized that Blagojevich is heard pursuing fundraising dollars because that is the nature of the job, a distinction that separates it from bribery. The argument that the rough-and-tumble world of Illinois politics required Blagojevich to fight hard to get his social programs passed in the state capital, and to keep his fundraising coffers flush for reelection, could make it difficult for jurors to see any wrongdoing.

“This time we’re going to have a real confused jury as to what to do,” says Bill Healy, vice president of the Chicago division of Decision Quest, a jury consultancy. “For juries to convict someone of something, they have to have some level of anger about the person’s actions. But are they actually angry in this case?”

Blagojevich testified for seven days, which will likely be studied for its bizarre ramblings, narcissist asides, comic punchlines, and jabbing vocal volleys between the prosecution and witness. Goldstein, on Thursday, summed up his client accordingly: “He likes to talk.”

“That’s all you heard. [The prosecution wants] you to believe this talk is a crime. It’s not. He floated ideas and that’s all it is,” he said.

That argument was challenged by prosecutors, who stressed ignorance of the law is not a defense. However Mr. Healy says Blagojevich’s performance may sway jurors to deliberate in his favor even if there is seen to be credible evidence against him.

“He made quite an impression in the courtroom. First, it takes a lot of guts to get up there full well knowing you will be cross-examined, and he did it. No one should underestimate the power of persuasion that man has because he was elected to governor twice,” Mr. Healy says.


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