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Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

February 2011 Archives

Blagojevich judge says he'll delay release of juror names

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The judge presiding over Rod Blagojevich's case said today he won't release the names of jurors until 9 a.m. the day after a verdict comes down in the former governor's trial.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel gave the caveat that jurors have no less than 12 hours headway before their identities are made known to the media.
"Essentially, we are telling the jurors how to protect their own privacy," Zagel wrote in an opinion issued today.
In his order, he said jurors with "financial means" might want to get private security.
He also said jurors may be given "no trespassing" signs to post on their property, if they so choose.
Zagel said he was responding to complaints from jurors in Blagojevich's trial last year, who said they were harassed by some members of the media after delivering a mistrial on 23 of 24 counts against the ex-governor.
Zagel rejected pleas from the media to release the names of jurors before the verdict.

The hearing was supposed to explore releasing the names of jurors serving in Rod Blagojevich's jury.
But by its end, Judge James Zagel suggested he wanted to protect jurors from the "rapacious" media by having the government spring for "no trespassing" signs that would be handed out to jurors.
His comments came as Zagel seeks to keep jurors names private until after the verdict comes down. Zagel has said he wanted to delay release of the names for eight hours until after the verdict, but the media objected, saying they should be made public.
Zagel told a media lawyer though that reporters had crossed the line after the verdict in Blagojevich's first trial and he wanted to give jurors some time to get home and decide how to handle the press.
Zagel said he'd consider asking the U.S. Marshals Service to buy the signs for jurors so they can stake out their property.
Jurors complained about a helicopter hovering over their homes, repeated calls and doorbell rings, Zagel said.
Zagel said it was "clear members of the media ignore the rights (that) citizens have in order to have a story." The attorney representing the press suggested that Zagel encourage jurors to speak to the media before leaving the courthouse, to help avoid dealing with the issue at home.
Meanwhile, three charges against Blagojevich, including racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, were officially tossed Thursday.
Blagojevich will head to retrial in April with 20 counts against him instead of 23.


U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald personally called Rahm Emanuel, but it wasn't exactly a congratulatory dial-up.

Fitzgerald called Emanuel the morning Rod Blagojevich was arrested in 2008 to let him know his name would likely come up in the complaint filed against Blagojevich. Emanuel then had just been tapped to be chief of staff at the White House. Discussion about the phone call came up in federal court Wednesday as defense lawyers sought a copy of the call.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said the call was routine and was not recorded.

"Members of the U.S. attorney's office called a series of people to let them know an arrest had been made," Schar said.

Emanuel was not accused of wrongdoing.


The hearing was supposed to explore releasing the names of jurors serving in Rod Blagojevich's jury.
But by its end, Judge James Zagel suggested he wanted to protect jurors from the "rapacious" media by having the government spring for "no trespassing signs" that would be handed out to jurors.
His comments came as Zagel seeks to keep jurors names private until after the verdict comes down. Zagel has said he wanted to delay release of the names for eight hours until after the verdict, but the media objected, saying they should be made public.
Zagel told a media lawyer though that reporters had crossed the line after the verdict in Blagojevich's first trial and he wanted to give jurors some time to get home and decide how to handle the press. Zagel said he'd consider asking the U.S. Marshals Service to buy the signs for jurors so they can stake out their property.
Jurors complained about a helicopter hovering over their homes, repeated calls and doorbell rings, Zagel said.
Zagel said it was "clear members of the media ignore the rights (that) citizens have in order to have a story." The attorney representing the press suggested that Zagel encourage jurors to speak to the media before leaving the courthouse, to help avoid dealing with the issue at home.
Meanwhile, three charges against Blagojevich, including racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, were officially tossed today. Blagojevich will head to retrial in April with 20 counts against him instead of 23.


Prosecutors in Rod Blagojevich's case gave an interesting response today while discussing a defense request to make all their wiretaps public.
They hinted, pretty strongly, that their investigation continues.
"They really have no idea what's going on in that regard," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner said today of the defense's knowledge of their ongoing investigations. "There continues to be investigative reasons why we couldn't disclose all the wiretaps."
The FBI recorded hundreds of conversations in the fall of 2008 before the former governor's arrest. Blagojevich's lawyers recently filed a request that prosecutors make all the recordings public.

Blagojevich hearing on jury names 11 a.m. Thursday

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Judge James Zagel will hold a hearing Thursday about whether to release the names of jurors in Rod Blagojevich's case.

He's responding to media complaints after he said he wouldn't release jurors' identities until eight hours after a verdict. Zagel today said that jurors were harassed by the media after their verdict, including by one reporter who told the juror that he or she had to press the doorbell every half an hour on orders from the editor.

The eight hours gives jurors time to retreat to their "castles and decide for themselves if they want to raise or lower the gate," Zagel said.

Zagel today did leave open the possibility of releasing blank jury questionnaires as well as those that were filled out by jurors. He did not release the questionnaires, which give insight into the jurors when filled out. Blank questionnaires give insight into the defense and prosecution strategy. Zagel refused requests to release blank questionnaires during last summer's trial then destroyed the filled out papers after Blagojevich's verdict.

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Political strategist and Rahm Emanuel longtime friend David Axelrod was making the rounds at Emanuel's election headquarters after last night's mayoral victory.
When asked if Emanuel could take the stand in Blagojevich's case, Axelrod shrugged it off.
"I really don't know. Whatever happens happens. But I have every confidence that it won't amount to much," Axelrod said.
Attorneys for Blagojevich have said that mayor-elect Emanuel remains under defense subpoena for the April 20 retrial.
Whether they'll actually call him as a witness, however, remains unclear.
As recently as today, defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said they don't know if they will call Emanuel to the stand.

Emanuel was the subject of an alleged extortion by Blagojevich when Emanuel was a congressman. Emanuel was also captured on recordings discussing potential senate candidates and other issues with Blagojevich and his staff in late 2008. None of those recordings were played at trial. Emanuel was not accused of wrongdoing (something Blago's lawyer, Shelly Sorosky took great pains to reiterate at a news conference today).

Emanuel has been the subject of recent defense filings, including the case of the so-called "missing tape" involving an Emanuel call with Blagojevich top aide John Harris the day before the former governor's arrest.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said any suggestion that prosecutors didn't turn over a tape was "a ridiculous allegation."
"There isn't a missing phone call," Schar said.



Prosecutors in the Rod Blagojevich corruption case said today they will move to throw out racketeering counts against the former governor because they're "duplicative," and to help streamline the case.

All the underlying conduct in those counts are charged in other counts, however.

Lawyers in the case say that dropping count one, racketeering, and count two, racketeering conspiracy, will help wipe out at least 30 pages of jury instructions -- something jurors had complained were burdensome and confusing.

Prosecutors also said they want to drop count four, a wire fraud count.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said in court that dropping the charges will help "streamline the length of the indictment," as well as jury instructions.

Former prosecutor Patrick Collins said the government is clearly responding to jurors.

"I see this as a clear signal," Collins said. "Their message from the last trial was that they needed to simplify their case. They're doing that by dismissing Robert (Blagojevich) and dismissing RICO. When a prosecutor charges RICO, there's certain benefits to it, but it complicates the case and jury instructions."
Prosecutors late last year dismissed charges against Blagojevich's brother, Robert, increasing the case's focus on Rod Blagojevich.

After Blagojevich's first trial, jurors came to an impasse on 23 of 24 counts, convicting him of just one count -- lying to the FBI.
There are now 20 counts remaining against Blagojevich, including that he allegedly tried to sell President Obama's former Senate seat.

Blagojevich lawyers take new tactics into court today

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In the last several weeks, lawyers for Rod Blagojevich have filed a flurry of motions, including one under seal on Monday that moved to suppress key evidence -- a multitude of recordings in the case -- "because the affidavits seeking wiretaps failed to recite probable cause and contained misrepresentations and omissions of fact."

The series of motions two months before the former governor's retrial that ask to throw out tapes is a complete turnaround by the defense, which has been pared down since the first trial losing father-son team of Sam Adam and Sam Adam Jr.
Last summer, Blagojevich himself held a news conference, all but challenging the U.S. Attorney to a fight for not agreeing to "play all the tapes." That became something of a defense mantra before and during Blagojevich's first trial, which ended in August with a mistrial on 23 out of 24 counts. (The defense never played a recording).

Another filing asks to throw out the tapes, arguing that FBI agents recording phone calls chose to turn off the recordings, something called minimization, at improper times.
"Due to the improper minimization of calls as detailed in
this motion, creating 'gaps' throughout the majority of calls, and preventing
relevant conversations from being heard in their full context, Blagojevich
requests that all wiretapped recordings be suppressed," the motion reads.

On a separate front, several media outlets are challenging Judge James Zagel's plan to keep the names of jurors a secret until eight hours after the verdict is reached.
Here's the media's reply on that: Click here

Blagojevich judge says jurors names will be kept secret

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U.S. District Judge James Zagel, the judge presiding over Rod Blagojevich's retrial, ruled today that jurors' names will remain anonymous throughout the trial and will not be made public until 8 hours after the verdict is delivered.
The issue is long a contested one, after an appeals court in the first trial told Zagel he had to hold a hearing before sealing the jurors' names.
In that hearing, Zagel called the trial unusual and noted it drew considerable publicity, allowing the possibility that jurors could be harassed if their identities were known during the trial.
In his ruling, Zagel said objectors could file objection by Feb. 17 and he would hold a hearing the last full week of February.
Jurors typically become the story after a verdict is rendered.
That's because they're an essential part of the trial.
In Blagojevich's first trial, jurors were hung on 23 of 24 counts and in many they were divided 11-1.
Click here for the ruling.

Rahm responds to "missing" Blagojevich tape

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By Fran Spielman and Natasha Korecki

Mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel addressed the subject of the "missing" tape with some of the same language he has used for months to describe his conversations with Rod Blagojevich.

He hearkened back to a two-year-old report by then-President-elect Obama's transition team that concluded there were "about four" conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich Chief-of-Staff John Harris, but "nothing inappropriate or any deal-making."

"It also noted that I was asked at the time by the President's transition (team) to provide a list of four names for the U.S. Senate: Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowsky, Dan Hynes and Congressman Jesse Jackson [Jr.]," Emanuel recalled, noting that there was a separate conversation about Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Trial testimony indicated that Blagojevich and his team considered this list a "BS list."

"I provided that list. Then, there was a question -- The governor's representative said, `What's in it for us.' And I responded, `You'll get thanks and appreciation‚ [but nothing more]. You also know how the [former] governor responded to the word, `appreciation.' That's been detailed over two years ago in the report."

Testimony at Rod Blagojevich's trial indicated that it was in fact lobbyist John Wyma who passed on that message to the Blagojevich team in early November, 2008 at Emanuel's request. Wyma at that point had been cooperating with the feds in their probe against the former governor and provided the government with the necessary information to put up wiretaps against Blagojevich.

Emanuel sloughed off the suggestion that the Blagojevich filing might be politically timed to embarrass him less than two weeks before the mayoral election.

When a television reporter noted that the filing goes out of its way to say that Emanuel did nothing wrong, the candidate laughed and said, "I look forward to your coverage tonight."


Two weeks before the Chicago Mayoral election, Rod Blagojevich's lawyers are claiming that there's a missing phone call involving Rahm Emanuel that would help bolster their contention that the former governor was trying to broker a legitimate deal for the U.S. Senate seat.
They say Rahm Emanuel and Blagojevich's then-chief of staff John Harris had a telephone conversation that, if played, would help demonstrate his argument that he was trying to broker a deal to appoint Lisa Madigan.
Blagojevich has contended he wanted Emanuel to be the go-between on the deal.
"The governor's political strategy to enlist the help of Rahm Emanuel was unfolding as the missing ... Dec. 8 call would show," lawyers write in the motion.
They say the call was made the day before Blagojevich's Dec. 9, 2008 arrest and was not turned over to the defense during the first trial.
Trial testimony indicated that two of Harris' phones were tapped but there was at least one other line that was not tapped.
Blagojevich's motion refers to this phone call as "critical to Blagojevich's defense."
They ask for a hearing to discuss the tapes.
"Blagojevich makes absolutely no assertion that Rahm Emanuel was ever involved in or aware of any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise," attorneys write in the motion.
Blagojevich is up for retrial April 20 after his case ended up in a mistrial on all but one count last summer. The jury was hung on the most explosive allegations, that the former governor schemed to sell President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Despite hundreds of recorded conversations that were played, jurors complained of a lack of smoking gun evidence.
The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment. A spokesman for Emanuel could not be reached immediately.

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