Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton started the prosecution's closing arguments in the Rod Blagojevich corruption retrial on Wednesday afternoon by pointing out that Blagojevich took an oath -- twice -- and she said he broke it.
Blagojevich is accused of attempting to trade the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama and other things for campaign contributions, donations to a 501(c)(4) he might run, and a job for him or his wife.
Hamilton noted that in Jan. 2003 and Jan. 2007 to uphold the constitution and discharge his duties as governor, and she said time and time again, Blagojevich violated that oath by using his powers to try to get things for himself. She said he tried to trade a signing of bills (bills that would fund schools, build hospitals, roads, etc.) and even the senate seat to get things for himself. She said these were profound violations of the oath and the law.
She said they heard Blagojevich describe his powers in the his own words: He had a senate seat, and it was effing golden, and he was going to try to use this to get benefits for himself.
DID BLAGOJEVICH ASK FOR SOMETHING?
She said Blagojevich repeatedly tried to get benefits for himself by using his government powers, and that's why he is charged with 20 counts. Overall, these charges cover three areas: solicitation of a bribe, extortion and wire fraud. She said the 20 charges break down to one question: Did Blagojevich try to get a benefit for himself in exchange for an official act? The defense objected to this, but the judge overruled.
Hamilton pointed out these charges focus on an attempt to make a bribe or a personal benefit, not whether or not Blagojevich actually got the benefit he was seeking.
Hamilton said that the law focuses on whether the "ask" was made for the bribe, not if it was received, because the law is there to protect people from being squeezed. The harm is done when the ask is made -- that's the violation of the public's trust.
The prosecutor said that personal benefit isn't just money -- it's also a job, money in a 501(c)(4) and campaign contributions. And when the defense asked witnesses about whether they were specifically asked if it was "one for the other," jurors need to understand that the law doesn't focus on specific words being used, but the meaning of the words. The law also makes no distinction between Blagojevich making the ask, or having someone else do it.
Hamilton said that any time Blagojevich directly or indirectly asks for something in exchange for state action, he has broken the law.
Hamilton said there are only two conclusions to draw from the defense's case: one, they don't want the jury to focus on the evidence and the law, because if they do, they will find Blagojevich guilty; and two, that Blagojevich lied under oath in this very courtroom. Goldstein objected, and the judge sustained. Hamilton said she will walk through all the alleged violations starting with the Senate seat and ending with the Chicago Academy school grant.
Before going through the five shakedowns, Hamilton described Blagojevich's personal world in the fall of 2008, and said he was desperate and trying to cash in on the one thing he had left: his power as governor. She said that in the fall of 2008, his campaign fund was low, the ethics bill was looming, there was talk of a federal investigation, talk of impeachment, and he was broke.
Hamilton said the evidence "overwhelmingly" shows Blagojevich tried to get a personal benefit out of the Senate seat appointment, including trying to take a $1.5 million bribe from Jesse Jackson, Jr.
FIRST SENATE SHAKEDOWN SCENARIO: HHS SEAT
She said that in the case of the Health and Human Services appointment, Blagojevich tried to use Obama's desire to have Jarrett in the Senate seat to get the HHS job. Hamilton said the evidence is overwhelming, especially in the calls. She said when you listen to them in order and think about the testimony, you will find it "crystal clear" that he tried to do this.
And Hamilton said that Balanoff's testimony bolsters what you hear on these calls, that he understood Blagojevich wanted the HHS seat if he were to appoint Jarrett to the Senate seat. Harris, Scofield, and Greenlee all testified that Blagojevich told them that Balanoff should ask for the HHS seat, and that phone calls back up their testimony.
The prosecution asked the jury to listen to Blagojevich's tone on the phone calls. He's serious and he knows exactly what he's doing. The calls, she said, make his guilt "crystal clear," including the call from Nov. 6, 2008 with Yang where Blagojevich said he told Balanoff he could put Jarrett there in a heart beat if got the HHS job.
Hamilton pointed out that in a Nov. 10, 2008 call, Blagojevich said he asked for the HHS job, and that Blagojevich believed Balanoff is passing this request on Jarrett. Hamilton said that he is guilty of trying to sell the Senate seat based on this one scenario and these calls alone.
But he didn't stop at the HHS request, Hamilton said -- he kept going. When the Obama administration was "appreciative and respectful," his reaction is telling: "f*** em."
SECOND SENATE SHAKEDOWN SCENARIO: 501(C)(4)
She said the there's a call that shows he is trying to then hatch his next scam -- the 501(c)(4) plan. She said that it's ludicrous for Blagojevich to claim he was trying to promote healthcare and not himself, and that's it's a last-ditch effort to get Jarrett to the Senate seat.
Hamilton said that Blagojevich also tried to get 501(c)(4) by using Wyma and Scofield to let Emanuel know he wanted it in exchange for Jarrett getting the Senate seat, and that there's a call in which he wants Emanuel to know about the 501(c)(4) idea without it being specifically mentioned. Hamilton also said there is another call in which Blagojevich spells out the 501(c)(4) idea to Scofield.
THIRD SENATE SHAKEDOWN SCENARIO: JESSE JACKSON, JR. SUPPORTERS
Next, Hamilton focused on the $1.5 million bribe from Jesse Jackson Jr.'s supporters
She said that after Nov. 13, 2008, it was clear that the Jarrett deal was not going to happen, because Jarrett was going to the White House, so Blagojevich decides to go after the bribe offered by Nayak, and he enlists his brother's help. She said once Blagojevich was given the bribe offer, he didn't turn them in; instead, he tried to cash in on it, as seen in phone calls from Dec. 4 with his brother. She also noted a call with Yang on which Blagojevich stammered about "tangible, political support" and said "you know what I am talking about" and "specific amounts, up front."
The prosecutor said that there is call between the Blagojevich brothers in which Blagojevich tells Robert what to say to Nayak: "if possible, some of this stuff has to start happening right now and we gotta see it." The prosecution said that right there, Blagojevich is guilty.
Hamilton said that Nayak testified to offering illegal fundraising and now Blagojevich is telling his brother to go get it. She said Blagojevich tried to cover it with a "whopper" on direct examination, and she read his testimony where he said he wanted to see public support for the mortgage foreclosure bill that was being held up, even though Nayak had nothing to do with the mortgage foreclosure bill.
Hamilton started to walk the jury through the various charges and explaining how they work. For example, she noted that in Count 2 (wire fraud dealing with Senate seat), there are four elements: a plan; defendant is part of the plan; intent to defraud; and a phone call where some or all of this took place. She said there is evidence for all four parts of this charge.
HAMILTON EXPLAINS SENATE CHARGES
At the end of the day, Hamilton walked the jury through the various charges and talked about specific pieces of evidence that she said prove those charges.
The calls in which Blagojevich talks about how to make the "ask" for HHS or the 501(c)(4) and the calls in which he directs Robert to take a bribe and cover it up show there is a plan in place, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said there are also calls that show intent to defraud and show that Blagojevich wasn't operating in good faith, like the call where Blagojevich tells Scofield "I've got this thing and it's f***ing golden." Blagojevich sounded giddy there, and he wanted more than people being "thankful and appreciative," Hamilton argued.
Before moving on to the charges regarding the racetrack bill, Hamilton reminded the jury that all of the Senate charges she went over were happening at the same time as the alleged racetrack, Tollway bill and Children’s Memorial shakedowns and Blagojevich was at the center of all of them.
SHAKEDOWN 2: THE RACETRACK BILL
Regarding the racetrack bill, Hamilton said, there was one count of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and one count of conspiracy to commit a bribe.
Hamilton reminded the jury the charges surround a racetrack bill that had been approved by both the Illinois House and Senate and was awaiting Blagojevich’s signature, and Hamilton said Blagojevich had Lon Monk asking racetrack owner John Johnston for a contribution before Blagojevich would sign the bill.
She referred to a Nov. 26, 2008 phone call in which Bill Quinlan told Blagojevich that it was ok to sign the racetrack bill and Harris had testified Quinlan was telling Blagojevich there was no poison pill language in the bill that was ok to sign. Harris testified he was suspicious of Blagojevich not signing the bill after Quinlan told him this, Hamilton said, and he stepped away from handling the bill, leaving it to Monk and Blagojevich, because of that.
Hamilton told the jury about the call in which Monk rehearses with Blagojevich what Monk should say to Johnston to get him to donate, including Monk telling Johnston that Blagojevich was skittish that Johnston wouldn’t donate if Blagojevich signed the bill first and he wanted some separation in time between the contribution and the signing. This was all despite Johnston saying he was losing $9,000 a day each day the bill went unsigned, she argued.
In Blagojevich’s defense, he said the racetrack bill was not linked to the campaign contribution he was shooting from Johnston, but Hamilton told the jury that Monk had two conversations with Johnston, one about the bill and one about the donation, and both Monk and Johnston testified they understood the two to be related.
On count nine of the indictment, Hamilton pointed to a phone call in which Monk talks to Blagojevich about the racetrack bill and urged the jury to listen to their tones. She said both knew what they were talking about the and the bill and donation were connected.
The defense is arguing Monk is a liar who is trying to save himself, Hamilton said, but if that were true, rather than admitting the cash he got from Tony Rezko that he hid from Blagojevich, why would he not say he split the money with Blagojevich and make the situation worse? Hamilton said Monk has a plea agreement and every incentive to tell the truth, whereas Blagojevich has every incentive to lie. Hamilton said Blagojevich is the one lying about the bill, not Monk.
Hamilton said Blagojevich told several false stories about the bill:
HAMILTON EXPLAINS RACETRACK CHARGES
Hamilton began walking the jury through count nine of the indictment, the charge of wire fraud, pointing to the call with Monk on Dec. 4, 2008 . She argued there was no legitimate reason to delay signing the bill and all of his advisers understood him to be doing so to get a contribution.
With material concealment, Hamilton said, the crime is the corruption of the process, not what Blagojevich actually received. Although Blagojevich had 60 days to sign the bill, she said, he cannot use that time to leverage a campaign contribution and that’s where the fraud was.
Hamilton pointed to where Monk told Blagojevich it was better for him to call Johnston “from a pressure point of view.”
On count 14 of the indictment, the conspiracy to extort, Hamilton told the jury that conspiracy is an agreement between parties to extort someone. Hamilton said there was agreement between Monk and Blagojevich as established from Dec. 3 and Dec. 4, 2008.
On count 25 of the indictment, conspiracy to commit a solicitation or bribe, Hamilton said there were overt acts that showed Blagojevich tried to commit the crime: Nov. 26, 2008, he put the bill on hold; in a Dec. 3, 2008 phone call Blagojevich and Monk rehearsed what to say to Johnston and in a Dec. 4, 2008 call when Monk called Blagojevich immediately after meeting with Johnston.
SHAKEDOWN 3: TOLLWAY BILL
On the Tollway bill shakedown, Hamilton said there was one count of attempted extortion and one count of solicitation of a bribe. Hamilton argued evidence shows Blagojevich was trying to use state funds to get a contribution from Gerald Krozel.
Hamilton said there was a phone call in which Blagojevich told Monk, if they don’t step up, f*** ‘em and he repeated that to Wyma.
At a Sept. 18, 2008 meeting at Friends of Blagojevich campaign offices, Hamilton said, Blagojevich asked Krozel to fundraise and said he needed the money by the end of the year. When Krozel told Blagojevich how hard-hit the industry was, Hamilton argued Blagojevich just reminded Krozel about the bigger Tollway program that Blagojevich would later announce. Monk testified he understood Blagojevich to be telling Krozel he’d hold off on the larger program to see if the fundraising would happen and that he was leveraging the program against Krozel.
Krozel testified he lied to the FBI when they first questioned him, Hamilton said, and Krozel’s testimony is consistent with the testimony of other witneses.
Hamilton told the jury that while the defense said Blagojevich never told Krozel he was going to do the larger program and he didn’t have the authority to do so, Blagojevich lied. Hamilton said Blagojevich thought he could get away with the lie and never planned on Krozel’s bosses testifying that Blagojevich did say he had the authority to announce it on his own.
Hamilton said that made six witnesses who contradicted Blagojevich on his testimony, all of whom testified Blagojevich said he could to the larger program in January.
Blagojevich lied about saying it, Hamilton said, because otherwise, he’d be admitting he committed a crime.
HAMILTON EXPLAINS TOLLWAY CHARGES
On count 16 of the indictment, regarding attempted extortion regarding Krozel and the Tollway programs, Hamilton said the substantial steps were the Sept. 18, 2008 meeting in which Blagojevich told Krozel about the $1.8 billion program and asked for fundraising; Blagojevich telling Monk to get money from Krozel; Blagojevich announcing the $1.8 billion program; Blagojevich holding back on the $5 billion program; and Blagojevich calling Krozel and repeating his plan from the Sept. 18 meeting.
On count 17 of the indictment, solicitation of a bribe regarding Krozel, the prosecution said the same steps listed above showed Blagojevich soliciting a bribe.
SHAKEDOWN 4: CHILDREN’S MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
Hamilton said there were three counts to the hospital shakedown: one count of wire fraud, one count of attempted extortion and one count of solicitation of a bribe.
On Sept. 23, 2008, Hamilton said Blagojevich got a request from Children’s CEO Patrick Magoon for a rate increase for Medicare reimbursements to his pediatric doctors. A few weeks later, Blagojevich told Wyma that he wanted Magoon for $50,000. Hamilton argued Blagojevich connected the two in the same sentence, which Wyma testified happened at an Oct. 6, 2008 meeting at Friends of Blagojevich offices.
Hamilton said Wyma has known Blagojevich for 10 years and understood what he was trying to do.
On Oct. 17, 2008, Blagojevich called Magoon to give him the “good news” about the rate increase passing, but told Magoon to keep it quiet. Hamilton argued Blagojevich was the “healthcare governor,” and it was out of the ordinary for him to want to keep the approval quiet until Jan. 1, 2009.
Hamilton admitted that the hospital charges were the least explicit of the five shakedowns, but she said Magoon still got the message from Blagojevich that Krozel got: I have total discretion and fundraise before Jan. 1, 2009.
Hamilton said the law doesn’t distinguish between what words are used, just that the ask is made.
Hamilton pointed to a Nov. 12 phone call in which Blagojevich asked Bob Greenlee if the pediatric rate increase was approved and if it could be held back for budgetary reasons.
Blagojevich testified he asked about holding it back because he was concerned about the budget, and that was partly why he was working at home. Hamilton pointed to two calls from Dec. 3, 2008 between Blagojevich and Harris in which they talked about getting $15 million for the Chicago Cubs, which Harris talked about at the end of his testimony. Hamilton said those calls show that when Blagojevich cares about an issue, he wants it done.
Blagojevich wasn’t concerned about the budget, Hamilton said, because despite Harris saying they shouldn’t get money for the Cubs, Blagojevich told him to find the money at the same time he was making budget cuts. The rate increase Magoon asked for was less than what Blagojevich wanted to give the Cubs, Hamilton said.
The Nov. 12 call to Greenlee was only because Blagojevich learned Patrick Magoon was not calling his brother back, Hamilton argued, and Blagojevich was concerned about his fundraising – not the budget.
HAMILTON EXPLAINS HOSPITAL CHARGES
On counts 12 and 13 of the indictment, there were six steps that led to the crime, Hamilton said. On Sept. 23, 2008, Magoon asked Blagojevich for the rate increase. On Oct. 8, 2008, Blagojevich told Wyma he wanted to get Magoon for $50,000. On Oct. 9, Robert Blagojevich called Magoon to follow up on the request for money. On Oct. 17, Blagojevich called Magoon to tell him the “good news” that the increase was approved. On Oct. 22, Robert Blagojevich called Magoon to ask for a fundraiser. On Nov. 12, Blagojevich found out Magoon was not returning Robert’s calls, and then called Greenlee to see if the increase could be held back for “budget reasons.”
Hamilton pointed out that while Blagojevich was making this call on Nov. 12, he was also making a call in which he talked about Jackson Jr., the senate seat and what Obama was willing to do for it. In one call, Blagojevich said Jackson Jr. was “repugnant,” but he would do more for Blagojevich than Obama would in exchange for the seat. The prosecution said this call showed Blagojevich was offended by people who wouldn’t pay him.
SHAKEDOWN 5: CHICAGO ACADEMY
Moving to the Chicago Academy shakedown, Hamilton said there was one count of attempted extortion, count 11.
Hamilton said Blagojevich told Rahm Emanuel he would approve the money for Chicago Academy to build a new athletic field, publically announced the grant, then told Bradley Tusk to hold up the money until Emanuel’s brother held a fundraiser for him. Blagojevich told Monk to hold up the money as well, Hamilton said.
Blagojevich told Tusk to send a message to Emanuel about the fundraiser, and then sent Wyma to also give Emanuel the shakedown message, Hamilton said.
In this case, Hamilton said, Blagojevich used a “never been used before and never been seen since” approval process for the grant. Harris testified he had to get Blagojevich to approve the $2 million grant “piece-by-piece” instead of all in one.
Hamilton continued that Blagojevich has an “unbelievable” memory, but couldn’t remember exact details about a fundraiser for someone else in California and can’t remember details about this case when he thinks they are going to hurt him. Hamilton gave the example about how Blagojevich couldn’t remember if one or two grants had been approved for Chicago Academy, saying that’s he approved the funding bit by bit.
Hamilton also said Blagojevich can quote phone calls from two years ago that are in the trial verbatim from memory, and can remember where Krozel sat in a Sept. 18, 2008 meeting or whether he offered him coffee or soda before the meeting, but couldn’t remember details he thinks might hurt him.
The lesson learned from the school shakedown, Hamilton said, is to not publicly announce it, because then you can’t use it as leverage, and that’s why Blagojevich didn’t publicly announce the pediatric rate increase or the larger Tollway project.
“If it’s not public, then you can still leverage it,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton pointed out how the senate seat, racetrack, Tollway and hospital shakedowns were all going on at the same time and Blagojevich was in the middle of it with the most to benefit, and he tried to do the same thing two years before with the Chicago Academy grant.
Hamilton encouraged jurors to listen to all of the tapes in order and to listen to Blagojevich’s tone of voice. She told them to listen to the detail he uses and how he sounds serious and focused, and she said they will find Blagojevich to be a “sophisticated and desperate” man in the calls.
Hamilton read from the transcript of a call from Nov. 10, 2008 , in which Blagojevich said about the senate seat:
“I mean you guys are telling me I just gotta suck it up for two years and do nothing. Give this mother f***er, his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him.”
This was Blagojevich’s response not just to the newly-elected president of the U.S., Hamilton said, but to Krozel, Johnston, Magoon and Emanuel.
Hamilton concluded by going over a public statement Blagojevich made after “another public official” was convicted, which Hamilton could not say in court was after George Ryan was convicted, in April 2006.
"Today's verdict proves that no one is above the law. And just as important, it proves that government is supposed to exist for the good of the people, not the other way around, and certainly not for the personal enrichment of those who hold public office," Blagojevich told the Chicago Tribune on April 17, 2006.
Hamilton said the “people come first” statement was a lie from Blagojevich.
Rod Blagojevich Scandal: More Key Players
Visit the "Who's Who" page to learn more about the former Illinois governor , his co-defendants, inner circle, the legal team and what people like President Obama , Sen. Dick Durbin and other high-profile people have to do with the case.
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