A prosecutor accused Rod Blagojevich Tuesday of engineering a series of "illegal shakedowns" in her opening statement at his federal corruption trial. The former Illinois governor's lawyer said he "is as honest as the day is long."
Blagojevich is "broke, and there's a reason for that: He ain't corrupt," Sam Adam Jr. said in fiery remarks that veered between whispers and shouts. "This is the federal government, the same people chasing (al-Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden," he said, yet they found no illicit stash of cash.
"Follow the money," Adam said. "Not a single penny went to a campaign, went to an account, went to his pockets — nothing."
As she calmly outlined the government's case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton said Blagojevich tried to use his power to collect campaign funds or "line his own pockets."
Those efforts peaked in the fall of 2008 when his $170,000 salary would no longer cover his $200,000 in credit card debt and lines of credit, she said. "He had no real plan" until "his golden ticket arrived" with Barack Obama's election, she said.
Blagojevich decided, she said, that he could sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama. She told the 12 jurors and six alternates — 11 women and seven men — that prosecutors will play phone calls recorded secretly by the FBI. "You are going to be able to hear for yourself how that corruption was unfolding," she said.
Blagojevich, 53, a Democrat, kept his head down and took notes as Hamilton spoke. He was arrested in December 2008 and removed from office in January 2009. He faces 24 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, attempted extortion, bribery, conspiracy and false statements. Maximum penalties range from five to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count. The jury will be anonymous until after the verdict.
Robert Blagojevich, 54, the brother of the former governor, also is on trial. Both men pleaded not guilty.
Rod Blagojevich also is accused of manipulating state government to enrich himself and his family, withholding funding for a children's hospital until one of its executives would write a $50,000 campaign check and trying to force the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who criticized him.
Blagojevich wanted to be named a Cabinet secretary in exchange for appointing Obama's choice, Valerie Jarrett, to the Senate seat, Hamilton said. Blagojevich pressured Rahm Emanuel, now Obama's chief of staff, to ask his Hollywood agent brother, Ari Emanuel, to organize a fundraiser, she said. Jarrett, a senior Obama adviser, and Rahm Emanuel have been subpoenaed to testify.
The months of testimony to come "will be mostly tedious with a few bombshells," predicts Ronald Allen, a Northwestern University law professor. "We will definitely learn a lot more about corruption in Illinois."