Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What is the extraordinary nature of the Blagojevich scandal?

"I can't wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys and, most importantly, the people of Illinois. That's who I'm dying to talk to."--Standing Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Chicago, Illinois
--These are truly momentous times, a real threshold moment in American history. The Illinois Supreme Court's rejection of
state Attorney General Lisa Madigan's filing to remove standing Governor Rod Blagojevich is a stunning example of a political and economic order on the ropes. It raises the specter of a power-vacuum and the continuation of a vicious Machiavellianism at the heart of American politics. In other words, intrigue.

Is that what's happening in the Blagojevich scandal? It wouldn't surprise anyone except maybe a High School teacher, the last to know what's going on at City Hall.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's case that the Governor attempted to "sell" Barack Obama's senate seat and did so actively in what he's called a "corruption crime spree" looks good on paper, it's convincing, but his outrage over things like how many times and permutations Blagojevich said "fuck" smacks of character attack and over-zealousness. Welcome to Chicago, Pat.

Coming from the Chicago U.S. Attorney, you'd be led to believe that Blagojevich was Rasputin and that his downfall was virtually inevitable based on the evidence he claims to have on him. Fitzgerald made similarly broad claims with the Plame case, winning a minor conviction on I. "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney which was quickly commuted by President Bush. Go team (boo team, you lost, you promised more than you could deliver).
Genson said it would be "frankly illegal" for the committee to base an impeachment recommendation on the criminal complaint against Blagojevich. The complaint doesn't provide full conversations and context, he said, and it can't be cross-examined like a witness.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, challenged Genson to have Blagojevich testify.

"If we want the facts, we should have your client here. If you want to get to the facts, let's bring him here, let's ask the questions," Franks said. ("Attorney: Ill. governor won't fill senate vacancy," AP, 12.17.2008)

The federal investigation appears solid on the surface, but did Blagojevich and others close to him really take affirmative steps towards the completion of a crime? Why the rush to judgment? Did they (Blagojevich and others) technically break the law merely by talking about something but not taking any substantial actions towards completion? Is this a case of wishful thinking?

Blagojevich could have a very good case here. His counsel, Ed Genson, has raised some very good points because there's a strong possibility that no substantial steps were taken towards completion of the crime, just a lot of [expletive deleted] talk.

Context is everything in a criminal case (let alone a political one), and we have yet to see it in the release of the wiretaps. What were the comments before-and-after the ones released by the U.S. Attorney's Chicago office? What other evidence is there? Is the investigation near completion? Is the Governor still being wiretapped? What role did informants play in this, like Jess Jackson Jr.? Is Blagojevich's counsel currently being wiretapped? Since the investigation is not currently over, on what legal grounds should anyone claim the right to remove the Governor?

These are just a few of the questions that should be addressed by the prosecution, the GOP, the DNC, the Obama campaign, and Blagojevich's detractors in the Illinois State House and Senate, and within his own office.

These people need to state their case clearly, the onus being on them in our legal system. At this writing, Blagojevich's attorney has announced that the Governor will not name Barack Obama's successor in the senate, answering at least one question in this whole mess.

This chaos and loss of faith in icons of authority and power all reminds one of the last days of Tsarist Russia. I can hardly wait to hear what the Governor has to say in his defense, I'm dying too Rod. Will it include revelations about someone who arouses just as many suspicions of corruption, one Rahm Emanuel?

U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald might discover that Blagojevich and Emanuel share a similar vocabulary, both politically and linguistically. He had better hope he's right, but procedure that gives deference to government investigators and prosecutors could shield him if this is so. Whatever happened to due process?