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Question of the Day
CHICAGO (AP) — Rod Blagojevich is an insecure man who talks a lot, but he is not a criminal, his defense attorney told jurors Tuesday during closing arguments at the ousted Illinois governor’s corruption trial.
Sam Adam Jr. told jurors that he did not call Mr. Blagojevich to testify, as he had promised at the beginning of the trial, because the government did not prove its case. He called the governor’s silence the “elephant in the room.”
“I thought he’d sit right up here,” Mr. Adam said, shouting and pointing at the empty witness chair. “I promised he’d testify. We were wrong. Blame me.”
“I had no idea that in two and a half months of trial that they’d prove nothing,” he told jurors.
Mr. Adam, known for his theatrical style, dismissed prosecution claims that Mr. Blagojevich tried to sell or trade the nomination to President Obama’s former Senate seat, saying, “That man wasn’t selling any seat.” He said jurors knew that after listening to hours of FBI wiretap tapes played by prosecutors during the trial.
“You heard the tapes, and you heard Rod on the tapes,” he said. “You can infer what was in Rod’s mind on the tapes. You can infer from those tapes whether he’s trying to extort the president of the United States. We heard tape after tape of just talking… . If you put Joan and Melissa Rivers in a room, you wouldn’t hear that much talk. That’s how he is.”
Mr. Adam, living up to his reputation, was delivering a highly emotional and thunderous closing. After saying in a whisper that the prosecution’s closing was impressive, he swiftly changed his tone — shouting and pointing to different jurors.
“They want you, you and you to convict him,” he yelled, moving along the jury box and gesturing.
Jurors seemed transfixed, sometimes laughing.
“It’s beginning to look more like a show,” Judge James B. Zagel admonished Mr. Adam at one point.
“He’s got absolute horrible judgment on people, and that’s this case, and they want you to find him guilty of these horrible crimes because of that,” he said.
“Tell me one state contract tied to fundraising?” he asked. “Did they bring one state contract based on fundraising? Just one? No.”
Mr. Adam was warned by Judge Zagel that he would be stopped if he tells jurors about witnesses the prosecution did not call. The judge said it’s improper for the defense to imply that those people — including convicted political fixer Tony Rezko — would have helped Mr. Blagojevich’s case.
Mr. Adam said Monday he was willing to go to jail rather than follow the order; Judge Zagel said he doesn’t expect that to happen.
Mr. Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts, including trying to sell or trade an appointment to Mr. Obama’s vacated Senate seat for a Cabinet post, private job or campaign cash. His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, also has pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.
In the prosecution’s closing argument Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner methodically laid out the government’s allegations of how Mr. Blagojevich tried to “shake down” everyone from a racetrack owner to a children’s hospital executive to Mr. Obama. He opened his remarks by repeating the most famous phrase of the seven-week trial, a quote that will be forever associated with Mr. Blagojevich.
But in a pre-emptive shot at the expected arguments from Mr. Blagojevich’s defense, Mr. Niewoehner also told jurors that Mr. Blagojevich need not have made money or gotten a high-profile job in order for his alleged schemes to be illegal.
“You don’t have to be a successful criminal to be a criminal,” he said.
Robert Blagojevich’s attorney, Michael Ettinger, said in his closing argument that jurors never heard any testimony linking his client’s fundraising to demands for anything in exchange.
“Raising campaign funds is not illegal. It is not against the law,” he said.
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