The run-up to the retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich took another contentious turn Thursday, with the latest in a series of court filings that appeared to be less about gaining an edge in the trial than about winning a public relations war.
The newest filing, from Blagojevich's legal team, seeks permission from a U.S. District Court judge to make public the hours of wiretap recordings that the government used to help build its corruption case and bolster its assertion that the former governor attempted to sell the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by Barack Obama.
"The prosecution has manipulated the judicial system to obtain an unfair advantage in this case," this latest motion says. "The prosecution held a sensational news conference, lobbed outrageous false allegations and then released mere snippets of conversations, out of context, that poisoned the jury pool (and arguably the country) against Governor Blagojevich."
Further, it argues that the gag order preventing release of the tapes "has only served to permit the government to present half-truths and distortions and has handicapped Blagojevich's ability to fight back against false government allegations and set the record straight."
Blagojevich's defense team has for several weeks now been attempting to show that federal prosecutors built their corruption case against him by selectively releasing wiretap recordings of his wheeling and dealing, while omitting from the records the tapes that would exonerate him.
Blagojevich was convicted on just one of 24 corruption charges against him last fall, but prosecutors have vowed to retry him, with court dates set for April. But with the initial case came the damaging release of Blagojevich's phone conversations during the turbulent period that followed Obama's presidential win. In one conversation played by the government, Blagojevich could be heard describing the senate seat as a "valuable thing," and, "if I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself."
Rahm Emanuel: 'You're Going to Get Thanks and Appreciation'
Recent motions, including one that argued there are several "missing" tapes that had been previously undisclosed, come as a backdrop to the Chicago mayor's race. Rahm Emanuel, the frontrunner in that race, is a character in the Blagojevich drama -- alleged by the former governor to have been privy to the wheeling and dealing surrounding the open senate seat.
Emanuel has downplayed the defense's court filing, telling reporters that an internal look into the matter by the Obama administration found "nothing inappropriate or any deal making." He also reminded reporters that Blagojevich can be heard cursing over Obama's refusal to offer him anything other than gratitude in exchange for placing a close Obama aide in the seat. "I'm not in the business of interpretation, but I know what I said, which was, 'You're going to get thanks and appreciation.' And you also know how the governor responded to appreciation."
Prosecutors have downplayed the ongoing exchange of legal motions, declining to issue public comments about Blagojevich's allegations. Federal prosecutors did issue a reply to the former governor's motion to play "missing" taped conversations in court, calling the request irrelevant since the court is already aware of all the tapes and has ruled on which are admissible in court.
"The instant motion offers no new argument or legal theory for the admission of the recordings on which the Court previously ruled," the government says in a court document filed late Monday. "It is unclear what purpose the defendant's instant motion serves, other than to potentially influence prospective jurors."
The latest filing from Blagojevich's legal team does not let up, though, in the press for releasing the government's wiretap recordings, arguing that there is no legal reason at this point to keep them secret.
"This impairs counsel's ability to vigorously and zealously defend Blagojevich," they argued. "Yet the government is not circumscribed at all by the Protective Order. It is a fundamentally unfair playing field."