- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2011

CHICAGO (AP) — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attorney began making his final arguments to jurors Thursday, telling them that the ousted politician accused of political corruption never made one shakedown or demand.

Aaron Goldstein came on strong, raising his voice and punching his fist through the air as he said in his closing argument that prosecutors hadn’t proved Blagojevich guilty of anything and attacked the credibility of the government’s witnesses.

“You heard about shakedowns and demands,” he said. “Rod didn’t make one shakedown … one demand.”

Mr. Goldstein also applauded Blagojevich for taking the witness stand, saying it took courage.

“He told you the truth; he walked all the way over here, something he did not have to do,” he said. “A man charged does not have to prove a thing. That man did not have to go up there, did not have to testify.”

Blagojevich did not take the stand in his first trial last year, which ended with a hung jury on all but one count — that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor. He testified for seven days during the six-week retrial, denying all wrongdoing.

Jurors in the retrial could start deliberating as soon as Thursday.

The 54-year-old Blagojevich faces 20 counts this time, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. The most serious allegation is that he sought to sell or trade President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. He’s also accused of trying to shake down executives by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses.

The defense has maintained throughout that Blagojevich’s talk captured on FBI wiretaps was merely brainstorming and that he never took the schemes seriously or decided to carry them out. And though the judge barred such arguments, Blagojevich claimed he’d believed his conversations were legal and part of common political discourse.

Mr. Goldstein echoed that argument during his closing.

“You heard a man thinking out loud, on and on and on,” he said. “He likes to talk, and he does talk, and that’s him. And that’s all you heard.”

“He had no criminal intent whatsoever,” Mr. Goldstein said.

But prosecutor Carrie Hamilton told jurors that, despite Blagojevich’s denials, the evidence, including the FBI recordings, proves he used his power as governor to benefit himself.

“What he is saying to you now is not borne out anywhere on the recordings that you have,” Ms. Hamilton said.

She also insisted that the government’s witnesses — not the ousted governor — told the truth on the witness stand.

Several of Blagojevich’s closest aides and former best friends, including law school classmate Lon Monk, testified against him under plea agreements with prosecutors that required them to testify truthfully. Unlike the former governor, they have no incentive to lie, Ms. Hamilton said.

“Lon Monk, to save himself, needs to tell the truth,” Ms. Hamilton said. “The person who’s lying … is the defendant, not Lon Monk.”

Ms. Hamilton on Wednesday told jurors when she began her closing argument that when they deliberate, they should listen carefully to FBI wiretap recordings that underpinned much of the government’s three-week case.

“This is not just politics, this is a politician engaging in criminal conduct,” she said.

Ms. Hamilton also sought to connect the dots for the jury, linking evidence to the charges, one by one. Her job was made easier by the government’s sharply streamlined case. Jurors at the first trial last year said the prosecution’s case was too scattershot and too hard to follow.

In the retrial, the prosecution called about 15 witnesses — around half the number as in the first trial. Prosecutors asked them fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges, such as Blagojevich’s lavish shopping or his lax, sometimes odd working habits.

This time, the impeached governor was the star witness of the three-week defense presentation. Under a grueling cross-examination, Blagojevich occasionally became flustered but repeatedly denied trying to sell or trade the Senate seat or attempting to shake down executives.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide