With a notable change in personnel, the Rod Blagojevich defense team delivered opening statements in the retrial of the former governor of Illinois.
Openings were delivered by Attorney Aaron Goldstein. At his first trial, Sam Adam Jr. delivered a dramatic opening statement in his trademark grand style. Blagojevich’s legal team was pared down for the retrial and Adam was not part of the defense, so Goldstein opened for Blagojevich.
In a guarded but passionate opening, Goldstein repeated a theme for the jury that “Rod got nothing!” He told the jury they should ask themselves what happened at the end of every alleged shakedown.
“This is a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing,” Goldstein said, quoting Shakespeare.
The government dedicated an enormous amount of resources to building a case on Blagojevich, Goldstein said, and at the end they didn’t find a “bag of cash,” or anything amounting to an exchange having been made.
Goldstein told the jury that they will be hearing from witnesses who have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing in exchange for their testimony. Goldstein also said there would be witnesses who were testifying in exchange for immunity, and others who were appearing under threat from the government.
After each tape is played, after every witness testifies, “ask yourself one simple question. What ended up happening? Time after time, after time, you will be left with the same answer. You will be left with nothing,” Goldstein told the jury.
On the school grant, Goldstein said, the school got its money, built its field and “Rod gets nothing.”
Rod got nothing when Krozel got the road contracts or when Patrick Magoon was shaken down for campaign contributions.
“Selling the senate seat, it’s all talk. Rod gets nothing, Rod does nothing,” Goldstein said.
Blagojevich grew up in a working class neighborhood with his immigrant parents and brother, Robert, Goldstein told the jury, and began working at a young age.
He went to law school in Pepperdine University, in Malibu, Calif., Goldstein said, and met Lon Monk there. They became so close that Monk was in his wedding and Blagojevich asked him to run his campaign when he ran for governor.
“Lon Monk betrayed Rod,” Goldstein said, “in many, many, many ways. And he did this betrayal over a long time.”
Blagojevich has a simple philosophy, Goldstein said, and it’s all based on trust. Goldstein told the court that Blagojevich trusted Monk and was betrayed.
Goldstein then turned to the alleged school shakedown. He said Chicago Academy, in then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel’s district, wanted funding for a new field, which would cost $2 million. They couldn’t find funding anywhere, Goldstein told the jury, but he said Emanuel was able to get a grant from the governor’s office. The governor’s office approved the grant and it went through, Goldstein said.
“They build the field, and Rod gets nothing!” Goldstein said, raising his voice. “Shakedown? They got their field and it’s because of Rod.”
Goldstein told the jury that a grant can’t just be announced and a check cut. He said there is a process that has to be gone through to release the funds.
The people that Blagojevich allegedly shook down, Goldstein continued, were not victims.
The attorney then turned to the alleged race track shakedown. He said the race track bill took money from casinos and gave it to race tracks, both industries filled with millionaires.
In the state of Illinois, the governor has 60 days to sign a bill, Goldstein told the jury. After the time runs out, the bill automatically becomes law. The horse racing bill was in the legislature for eight months, Goldstein said, and suddenly they wanted Blagojevich to sign it right away.
“Johnny Johnston” said that he was “losing” $9,000 a day, Goldstein told the jury, but rather, it was money that Johnston wasn’t earning. In fact, Goldstein said, he wasn’t getting that money while the legislature wasn’t acting on the bill, as well.
“[Blagojevich] didn’t have to sign it,” Goldstein said. “He wasn’t holding it up at all.”
Goldstein told the jury that “Johnny Johnston” owns two race tracks, was a registered lobbyist and had contributed to Blagojevich. Goldstein said he was a powerful man, not a victim.
Johnston had contributed over $300,000 to Blagojevich over five years, Goldstein said. He contributed to others, as well, Goldstein said.
Goldstein told the jury that they will be told be witnesses about what they “understand” to have happened, but the jury will be able to see nothing happened.
Goldstein turned his attention to Gerald Krozel. Krozel is an executive of several cement associations and a company named Prairie Materials, Goldstein said, and he was a very well-off man, not a victim. Krozel also fundraised over $100,000 for Blagojevich over time, Goldstein said, and was one of his first fundraisers.
At the time of the supposed shakedown, Goldstein said, Blagojevich was working “tirelessly” to pass an important capital bill for the State of Illinois. Krozel would talk to politicians about issues that concerned him, like construction plans, Goldstein said. Krozel wanted to know about what road projects might come in the future, and Blagojevich did mention fundraising, but Krozel never connected the two, Goldstein said.
“His story didn’t just change, it’s all over the place,” Goldstein said. “Krozel was never shaken down, whatsoever.”
Goldstein told the jury that the will see where the power lies, and it isn’t with Blagojevich.
Blagojevich announced the Tollway plan even though he didn’t have to, Goldstein said, and “Rod gets nothing.”
“They told that whether a sick child got health care was in his hands,” Goldstein said. “No, say what you want about Rod, but no one cares more about health care than Blagojevich.”
The prosecution objected to this line of thought and the judge sustained.
Goldstein turned then to Patrick Magoon, saying he was a “very powerful lobbyist” who was involved with Blagojevich contributors and had contributed to Blagojevich himself. He was not shaken down, Goldstein said.
Children’s Memorial Hospital wanted a rate increase for their doctors for Medicare reimbursements, Goldstein said, and in a rough economic time, Blagojevich approved the rate increase.
In fall 2008, Blagojevich had a fundraising meeting, Goldstein said, and during it he talked about possible contributors. Magoon’s name came up, Goldstein said. The governor cared about health care, the defense attorney argued, and thus it was a logical choice to ask Magoon, a hospital president, for a fundraiser. All that happened, Goldstein said, was that Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, asked for a fundraiser and “nothing” ended up happening.
Nov. 12, 2008 Blagojevich had a less than one minute conversation with his deputy governor Bob Greenlee, in which Blagojevich asked three questions, got the answers, and then said “good to know.” Goldstein said Greenlee understood that to mean hold up the rate increase, but that was a mistake. Blagojevich was operating under the idea that the rate increase was going forward, Goldstein said.
Blagojevich didn’t call Magoon to demand a fundraiser, Goldstein said, the rate increase was going through aside from Greenlee’s mistake.
“Rod likes to talk,” Goldstein said. Blagojevich was “talking constantly” about who to appoint to the senate seat, the defense attorney told the jury, and would talk about various candidates to various politicians.
“But that’s all these were: discussions,” Goldstein said. “That doesn’t mean when you hear these calls, he committed crimes.”
People were coming to Blagojevich and telling him who he should appoint, Goldstein said, including the president wanting Valerie Jarrett appointed. These people would send messages and powerful emissaries who would ask for meetings.
“Rod engaged in discussion, listened to their overtures; Rod listened and Rod talked,” Goldstein said. “The man was talking openly. ...He was talking about his dreams. This man was not shaking down anyone, he was talking. He never made a decision.”
Goldstein reiterated that at the end of the day, Blagojevich got nothing.
“These were just discussions, these were not crimes,” Goldstein said.
After an objection from the prosecution, Zagel said the court would give instruction to the jury as to what exactly constitutes the crimes alleged in the indictment.
Goldstein entreated the jury to lay aside their opinions of the case over numerous objections from the prosecution.
“After the trial is over, what you’ll see sitting in front of you is an innocent man. And what you’ll see after all is said -- and a lot will be said -- after all is said, what you’ll see there was a whole lot said, but nothing has been done,” Goldstein said.