Prosecutor tells jurors: Blagojevich lied to you
CHICAGO -- A federal prosecutor began making final arguments Wednesday at the corruption retrial of Rod Blagojevich, telling jurors that the ousted Illinois governor lied to their faces for seven days on the witness stand.
Occasionally hitting her fist on a lectern as she spoke, government attorney Carrie Hamilton stepped to the center of the courtroom to address the panelists who have sat through six weeks of testimony.
"The defendant lied to you under oath in this courtroom," she said, countering Blagojevich's own first words to jurors that he was there "to tell you the truth."
Hamilton referred back to oaths that Blagojevich took as governor that he would fulfill his duties honestly and according to the law.
"What you have learned in court at this trial is that time and time again, the defendant violated that oath," Hamilton said. "He used his powers as governor to get things for him."
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. The most serious allegation is that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. He's also accused to trying to shake down executives by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses.
Hamilton was quick to challenge defense claims that -- while Blagojevich may have tossed around admittedly wild, even dumb ideas -- he never carried any of them through and never pocketed anything of benefit for himself.
"The law does not require that the attempt be successful ... the law focuses on the attempt," she said. "That is the act that undermines (public trust)."
When they withdraw to deliberate, Hamilton told jurors to listen to the FBI wiretap recordings that underpinned much of the government's three-week case.
"It will make the defendant's guilt crystal clear," she said. "Listen to his tone. ... He is serious, he wants this .... He knows exactly what he is doing and he wants it." She added, "This is not just politics, this is a politician engaging in criminal conduct."
Hamilton 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.
Hamilton, who has a reputation as cool and methodical, gave the government's opening statement at the first trial. At the retrial, she occasionally grimaced and shook her head while Blagojevich testified in his own defense.
Attorneys for Blagojevich had rested their case earlier in the day after calling defense witnesses that included a former congressman, a former state budget office employee and an FBI agent. Prosecutors then called rebuttal witnesses including two Canadian building executives and two FBI agents.
Jurors could start deliberating as soon as Thursday afternoon, depending on the length of closing arguments by both sides.
In the retrial, the prosecution called about 15 witnesses -- around half the number as in the first trial. Prosecutors asked witnesses fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges. Unlike the first go-around, the prosecution barely touched on Blagojevich's lavish shopping or his lax, sometimes odd working habits.
Blagojevich's first trial ended with a hung jury, with the panel agreeing on a single count -- that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor. Before the initial trial, Blagojevich repeatedly insisted he would speak directly to jurors, but he never did. His lawyers rested without calling a single witness.
The impeached governor was the star witness of the three-week defense presentation this time. Under a grueling cross-examination, Blagojevich occasionally became flustered, but he repeatedly denied trying to sell or trade the Senate seat or attempting to shake down executives.
In often long-winded answers, Blagojevich argued that his 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.
Defense attorneys had also called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.