Blagojevich Appeal: ‘One-Sided’ Rules Barred Defense From Playing Tapes

Barbara Hollingsworth | July 18, 2013 | 2:07pm EDT
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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrives home on June 27, 2011 after being convicted of 17 corruption charges. (AP photo)

( – Lawyers for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich filed an appeal Monday claiming that the prosecutorial team led by then U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald produced “insufficient” evidence during his two highly-publicized public corruption trials “to prove any of the 18 counts” on which he was convicted, including wire fraud, extortion, bribery, and an attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat to Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.“ in exchange for campaign contributions.”

“The central charge against Blagojevich – that he attempted to sell Barack Obama’s old Senate seat – is false,” his attorneys argued in the 91 –page appeal, filed two years after Blagojevich’s second trial ended in 2011 after several extensions had been granted. “The government’s evidence merely established that an illegal offer was made to Blagojevich but never accepted,” the brief stated. (See Blagojevich appeal.pdf)

Blagojevich’s attorneys also criticized U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s “one-sided evidentiary rulings” that did not allow Blagojevich’s defense attorneys to play tapes of numerous conversations the former governor had with high-ranking political officials - including former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and Washington political consultant Bill Knapp – which he claims would have exonerated him.

Some of the conversations were supposedly about giving the Senate seat to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in exchange for her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, enacting Blagojevich’s legislative agenda.

“Throughout the trial, the government sought to diminish Blagojevich’s plan to appoint Lisa Madigan because the legislative achievements he sought in exchange could not be characterized as a ‘personal benefit’ to Blagojevich; and thus not a crime,” his lawyers argued.

During both trials and even before his sentencing in June 2011, Blagojevich repeatedly called on Zagel to let him “play the tapes.”

“As defense counsel repeatedly pointed out below, the tapes were necessary to corroborate Blagojevich’s testimony because the jury might decide to accept the government’s word over his,” according to the appeal brief.

The former Illinois governor is currently serving a 14-year sentence in a federal prison in Colorado, while Jackson currently awaits sentencing in an unrelated case after pleading guilty in February of violating federal campaign finance laws.

Blagojevich’s lawyers also claimed that Zagel “misled” the jury regarding the legal standards needed to prove fraud, extortion and bribery by “excluding evidence of the defendant’s good faith” and “misstating" his defense in Zagel’s instructions to jurors.

Five days prior to Blagojevich’s arrest early on Dec. 9, 2008, Chicago Tribune reporter John Chase called his press aide and informed him that the governor was being wiretapped by the FBI. Blagojevich instructed his brother, Robert, to call off a meeting he had scheduled with Jackson supporter Raghu Nayak.

Prosecutors incorrectly characterized the cancelled meeting and Nayak’s “vague offer” to raise $1.5 million for Blagojevich if he appointed Jackson to the Senate as “soliciting a bribe,” Blagojevich’s lawyers contended.

However, the brief made no mention of the fact that Chase and fellow Tribune reporter Jeff Coen were given exclusive access to 1,800 pages of court-sealed federal wiretap transcripts that Blagojevich was not allowed to use for his defense. Blagojevich’s defense team never called Chase to testify about how he and Coen got access to the tapes, which they quoted extensively in their book, “Golden: How Rod Blagojevich Talked Himself Out of the Governor’s Office and into Prison,” which was published last fall.

While on their book tour, the authors insisted there was “no legal ban” on publishing excerpts from the same tapes that Zagel would not allow Blagojevich to play in court.

Neither reporter responded to an inquiry by about whether they would make the tapes publicly available.

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