Last week, Chicagoans encountered someone they spent a considerable amount of time with last year but may have temporarily forgotten due to the heated Chicago mayoral election that dominated headlines for five months: Rod Blagojevich.
The former Illinois Governor returned to the Chicago morning airwaves last week to discuss his upcoming retrial, which is scheduled for April 20. He served as the morning drive host on WLS-AM, a role he played in the weeks leading up to his first trial last year.
The trial, which drew international attention, resulted in a deadlocked jury. Of the 24 counts against him last summer, Mr. Blagojevich was convicted on just one – lying to the FBI, a count that carries with it the maximum of five years in prison.
Since then, Blagojevich has kept a low profile, not making any significant media appearances and seen only sporadically in his Chicago neighborhood. He benefited from a high profile and often turbulent mayoral election that ended up giving a victory to Rahm Emanuel, the former White House Chief of Staff whose name came up in the first trial as someone who Blagojevich lawyers said was involved in negotiating Obama’s replacement in the Senate.
Blagojevich: "I'm innocent!"
Blagojevich’s surprise public appearance last week puts him back into the populist role he played ever since his December 2008 arrest by federal agents outside his home. On the air and in talking with the media, Blagojevich continues to insist that he is innocent of all charges, and he says that federal prosecutors are targeting him at the behest of his political enemies at the statehouse.
This time, however, Blagojevich is not just seeking public sympathy, but he is also framing his retrial as a waste of taxpayer money.
Earlier this month Blagojevich’s lawyers filed a motion in federal court asking US District Judge James Zagel, who proceeded over the last trial, that the retrial be canceled and that he immediately receive sentencing on the first count.
Blagojevich’s reasoning echoed the sentiment heard often on the street and in some media circles here: That a retrial would be a waste of state and federal resources and a distraction.
“At a time when courts and agencies around the country have been directed to freeze hiring, and jobs are in jeopardy nationwide, the use of funds on this second trial … is an imprudent use of taxpayer funds,” the motion states.
The motion states that Blagojevich’s lawyers have gone almost nine months without being paid by the government, which is obligated to fund his defense following the first trial which he paid for privately through campaign funds, which were depleted last year. The financial duress has created a disparity between his defense and the prosecution team, which “continues to have every resource at its disposal,” resulting in not providing Blagojevich a fair trial, the motion states.
Judge unlikely to cancel retrial
Legal experts say it is unlikely Judge Zagel would agree to dismissing the charges and canceling the trial since it would involve an agreement with prosecutors who to date have not made a statement regarding Blagojevich’s request.
On the air last week, Blagojevich maintained his innocence regarding all charges, including the one in which he was convicted.
“I did not lie to the FBI. They threw everything at me but the kitchen sink. I’m seeking vindication,” he said.
He also referred to his impeachment as “my tsunami” and criticized current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, describing him and other state leaders as “scoundrels.”
Blagojevich’s spokesperson later released a statement saying that the former governor used the word ‘tsunami’ “as a metaphor” and “it would be absurd to suggest the current catastrophe is anything like the events in his life.”