My piece on Blago’s conviction yesterday is up at Frontpage.com.
Blagojevich is the 4th governor since 1973 to be convicted of a felony. The state has also seen an incredible run of other politicians and state officials being marched off to jail. At least 79 Illinois public officials have been convicted of wrongdoing since 1972, including now 4 governors, two other state officials, 15 state legislators, two congressmen, one mayor, three Chicago city officials, 27 Chicago aldermen, 19 Cook County judges, and seven other Cook County officials.
The unifying factor in the overwhelming majority of these cases was petty, personal monetary aggrandizement. Payoffs to judges for lenient sentences or even acquittals, kickbacks to aldermen, illegal campaign contributions, cash in shoeboxes, “pay to play” payoffs, contracts to cronies — the endless, ridiculous, maddening, depressing litany of abuses Illinois taxpayers have had to endure for most of the 20th century and beyond have made the state a laughingstock.
So it was with the Blagojevich caper. This was the second trial of the former governor in less than a year. The first trial ended ignominiously for the prosecution when the jury could come to an agreement on only 1 of 25 counts in the indictment, convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI. A review of that trial by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office discovered that the jurors were confused by the numerous threads of wrongdoing by Blagojevich, including a prosecutorial effort to convict the former governor on several counts of racketeering. Also, Blagojevich’s brother Robert stood trial at the same time on 4 other corruption charges on which the jury could not agree.
For the second trial, the prosecutors streamlined the charges, concentrating on the “pay for play” schemes of Blagojevich to sell Obama’s Senate seat in exchange for either a cabinet post in the president’s administration, or hefty campaign contributions from other players. They also declined to retry Robert Blagojevich and dropped the racketeering complaints altogether.
Unlike his trial last summer, Blagojevich took the stand in his own defense. For seven dramatic days, Blagojevich held the court spellbound as he mounted a spirited defense of his actions in the Obama Senate seat controversy. He endured 3 days of grilling by Assistant US Attorney Reid Schar, who questioned his honesty, his motives, and his character.
The governor’s defense — that he was only doing what all other politicians do in the course of their duties — fell flat with the jury. What he referred to as “horse trading” turned out to be far more than simple political back-scratching. Secret recordings made by Fitzgerald’s office prove that time and again, Blagojevich discussed either large campaign contributions or a lucrative job offer for himself in exchange for appointing a favored politician to the Senate seat.
I make the point at the end of the piece that Blago is a tragic character:
Blagojevich himself said he was “stunned” by his conviction. Herein lies the real Shakespearean tragedy of the disgraced governor’s life and times. For the classical tragic figures - Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear - it was a combination of their flaws as human beings and their inability to recognize that those flaws would lead to their own destruction, which gave their characters pathos and supplied a sense of impending doom that surrounded them.
For the disgraced ex-governor - arrested, impeached, convicted, tried twice, and now found guilty on 17 counts of political malfeasance and corruption - there will be no second act.
Not being aware that your actions are sowing the seeds of your own destruction - or believing, as Blago did that he was getting away with it — is one of those telling personality traits that reveals a shocking amorality. He really thought he could hold up the newly elected president of the United States for a cabinet post.
Obama smelled trouble and he and his staff steered clear of making direct contact with the sleazy governor. But what does it say about the president that he was still willing to negotiate with Blago using 3rd parties? Recall that Blago was still talking to Obama intermediaries just hours before he was arrested.
They should have cut off any and all contact - even through 3rd parties - when it became clear that Blago was trying to get cash for the senate seat.