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Patti Blagojevich visited former Governor Rod Blagojevich in Colorado prison over the weekend, calling it "one of the saddest places on earth."
"We spent the weekend in Denver visiting Rod," Patti Blagojevich posted on her Facebook page. "He was so happy to see ... us and we were so happy to see him. That visiting room has to be one of the saddest places on earth though. All those little kids visiting their dads. It breaks your heart."
Rod Blagojevich is serving out a 14-year sentence at FCI Englewood Prison in Littleton, Colo.
Recently, his former lawyers, Sam Adam and Sam Adam Jr. visited the former governor, and reported that he looked tan and had put on at least five pounds of weight from working out.
Patti Blagojevich's Facebook posting got more than 300 "likes" and more than 100 comments.
Said one well-wisher: "(Ultimately), it doesn't matter where you all got together, you were together. That is what matters!"
Another wrote:
"The heartbreaking thing really is that the kids have to see their dads in a place like that. Just saying."
Rod Blagojevich was convicted of 18 federal corruption charges, including attempting to sell President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Scott Fawell, the former chief of staff of a different convicted governor, George Ryan, is offering a tip on how Rod Blagojevich can cut his lengthy 14-year sentence.

The former governor may be able to make a request with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to take part in a substance abuse program.

Fawell said that's what he did before going into prison.

"What you do is say that in between the time you're sentenced and the time you report, you just couldn't stop drinking," Fawell said.

It shaved time off of Fawell's 78-month sentence he received for corruption that happened while he worked for Ryan. He went through a nine-month program in prison, then got six months off in a halfway house plus one year of credit for doing the program. That's on top of time off for good behavior.

Read the rest of the story here: Start drinking

Ominous day expected for former Gov. Rod #Blagojevich

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Rod Blagojevich suffered a punishing first day of sentencing as U.S. District Judge James Zagel rejected virtually every legal argument the defense made, accused him of concocting a story about his plans for a U.S. Senate appointment and raised doubts about everything from whether the former governor really "came from nothing" to whether he was truly an "extraordinary father."

The setbacks foreshadow what's expected to be an ominous final day of the sentencing hearing on Wednesday in which Blagojevich himself is expected to make a personal appeal to the judge.

The defense asked Zagel to show the former governor mercy by focusing on a father being away from his daughters, 15 and 8, who were not in court. The emotional appeal may be among the ex-governor's only chances for leniency as the possible length of his sentence seemed to ramp up as he lost every major legal battle he faced.

Rejecting a series of defense arguments, Zagel said Blagojevich's crimes technically qualify him for a crippling prison term of 30 years to life -- though the judge quickly deemed that inappropriate "in the context of this case."

Still, it signaled the improbability of Zagel granting the kind of leniency the defense seeks -- less than 3 ½ years. Prosecutors asked for 15 to 20 years.

Read today's story, which offers a recap of Tuesday's events in Chicago federal court: click here

Rod Blagojevich needs to apologize at his sentencing hearing today if he has any hope of getting leniency while prosecutors ask for up to 20 years in prison.

Here's how another former governor -- George Ryan -- handled apologizing while he still vigorously fought for years to overturn his conviction.

For Ryan's remarks: click here

#Blagojevich's sentencing judge -- how he operates

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His background is in law enforcement, but he's carved out a reputation as a judge who plays it right down the middle, favoring neither the defense nor the prosecution.

That's the man who will write the final act to the Rod Blagojevich drama.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel, a onetime prosecutor and head of the Illinois State Police, is a jurist who has shown he can be persuaded, to a point, by compassion and a criminal's good works, lawyers who have had clients before him say.

Yet they say Zagel sticks to the law and is not easily influenced by the media or outside factors.

Defense lawyer Larry Beaumont said that when Beaumont was a federal prosecutor Zagel rejected his recommendations in some rulings.

"I've never seen him lean, ever. And I've had many cases on both sides [as a prosecutor and defense lawyer]. He analyzes the law and gives the sentence based on specific factors," Beaumont said. In Blagojevich: "I don't think either side will have any greater impact than the other."

Read more about James Zagel here: Blagojevich's judge

A federal judge on Monday denied Rod Blagojevich's quest to play up to 180 previously unaired recordings at his sentencing hearing next week in a strongly-worded order that rips the defense for the last-minute bid.
"The filing of this particular motion at this late date is simply wrongful," U.S. District Judge James Zagel wrote. "What this motion requests is my blind approval of the use of whatever excerpts it decides are relevant to "lack of ill intent" and admissible under the loosened standards of hearsay at sentencing. That request is
Zagel said Blagojevich's Thanksgiving Day filing requesting to play parts of 180 different tapes was inappropriate, given that the defense has had the information for so long.
"I have effectively been presented with a motion on which I cannot make an informed ruling," Zagel wrote. "I have no way of knowing or anything upon which to base a judgment except the assertion of one party that whatever it might be, it is critical."
However, Zagel did grant the defense request to be heard on a separate matter, involving what Blagojevich's lawyers call "new information" regarding government witness John Wyma. Zagel set a Friday hearing to discuss the matter.
Prosecutors earlier Monday urged that the request to play previously un-aired tapes at trial be denied in part because they say the ex-governor is trying to dispute an already resolved question: that he's guilty.
"To the extent the defendant intends to use the sentencing hearing to attempt to continue prove his innocence of the charges that the jury found him guilty, the defendant's use of the calls is inappropriate because (a) the calls do not support his innocence and (b) the issue of guilt has already been resolved," prosecutors wrote.


Rod Blagojevich's sentencing date was set this afternoon by U.S. District Judge James Zagel during a hearing that was not posted on Zagel's public schedule or on the official court docket.

The courtroom gallery was empty, except for a Chicago Sun-Times reporter.

After asking if the former governor waived his appearance, Zagel noted that the only order of business was to set Blagojevich's sentencing date.

Zagel had postponed Blagojevich's original Oct. 6 date because he was also presiding over the trial of Springfield businessman William Cellini, a longtime behind-the-scenes power broker in state government.

Blagojevich's lawyer, Shelly Sorosky, said in court Monday he thought the sentencing would take two days. Sorosky said the ex-governor would testify at the hearing.

"I'm sure the defendant will be making an allocation," Sorosky told Zagel. "I think I can safely say that."

Zagel told the defense to notify prosecutors by Dec. 1 if it intended to call any witnesses.

For the prosecution's part, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said he thinks most of the witnesses had been before the judge and they had been cross-examined at trial.

"I don't know what can be illuminated by calling more witnesses," Schar said.

The Chicago Sun-Times previously reported that federal prosecutors calculated Blagojevich's sentencing guideline range at 30 years to life. They have not made their recommendation public yet, though. On Friday, prosecutors revealed they would ask that Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko spend 11 to 15 years in prison. Rezko cooperated with the government after he was convicted in 2008 but prosecutors complained he wasn't that helpful and initially minimized his role in various schemes.

Blagojevich's defense team, which has been collecting letters in support of the former governor, has said it would ask that Blagojevich get probation for his offenses.

In June, a jury convicted Blagojevich on 17 of 20 counts.

Blagojevich jury: It's day four of talks.

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The jury in Rod Blagojevich's retrial is in their fourth day of deliberations.

The panel of 11 women and one man was quiet until Tuesday, when it asked about a transcript of a phone call dealing with the Senate seat. The call is about half-way through the recordings produced by the prosecution -- if that's any marker on how far along they are in talks.

The jury in last year's trial took 14 days before returning hung on 23 of 24 counts. The panel convicted only on the false statement charge, complaining the case was confusing and lacked a "smoking gun."

This time around, prosecutors put on a slimmed-back case and worked to make it more straight-forward. However, Blagojevich also took the witness stand, hoping to throw some doubt into the allegations.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki and Abdon M. Pallasch

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was sworn in to testify at his retrial moments ago.

When he was called, he stood up, buttoned his jacket, walked over to his wife Patti and kissed her on the head.

After promising to testify in his first trial, Blagojevich rested his defense without calling any witnesses. This time, he made no promises. But defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said yesterday he was prepared to take the stand.

Since last week, those close to Blagojevich have said he's been preparing to take the stand. His preparation continued over the weekend and has been more extensive this trial than the last.

Defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein will question his client, while prosecutor Reid Schar will question him once the defense is finished. Last week, Sorosky guessed Blagojevich could be on the stand for a week in total.

Before the jury was called in, Blagojevich, with lots of sighs, sat looking a bit restless at the defense table, moving around unsmiling.

Lawyers spent Wednesday afternoon hashing out what tapes they may play in open court to help their defense. But Judge James Zagel said unless Blagojevich takes the stand, they couldn't introduce most of them.

"What the jury will have is the real person sitting in the witness chair," he said. "Someone who is perfectly capable of speaking for himself."

Reporting with Lark Turner

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich stopped to give a rebuttal to his own defense witness on his way out of the courthouse moments ago.

"With regard to that other thing about Elvis, all I can tell you is that it's absurd, it's not true, it didn't happen," Blagojevich said of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. testifying this morning that Blagojevich once tried extorting him for $25,000 in exchange for an offer to appoint Jackson's wife, Sandi, to the Illinois Lottery.

Blagojevich, though, held up other statements by Jackson as accurate.

That included Jackson's testimony that the two of them never discussed fund-raising in late 2008 as Jackson sought the Senate seat appointment.

"That was exactly right and that is accurate," Blagojevich said. "Goes to the heart of how I never asked for campaign funds in exchange for the Senate seat."

Court is still in session, with attorneys hashing out recordings. But Blagojevich has left for the day.

Up today: Prosecution says it'll rest its case, possibly before lunch.
But first, we must hear from:

1. Former Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk, who will testify about a shakedown allegation involving a school in Rahm Emanuel's district when he was congressman.
2. Donald Feinstein, the executive director for that school, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.
3. Doug Scofield, who will be recalled briefly for a few follow-up questions.
4. FBI special Agent Daniel Cain.


Judge James Zagel will give the defense until Monday to begin. There's much flying about what the defense may or may not do. Blagojevich has been prepping to testify since before the trial began, including by mock cross examination from different lawyers. But sources cautioned that discussions could take a sharp turn at any time. Indeed, Blagojevich attorneys were huddling on Wednesday night after court.

Nothing can awaken a sleeping courtroom like listening to an irate ex-Illinois governor unleash a series of f-bombs, aimed at the media, the president, his faltering political career, his lack of money and just about everything else he can think of at the moment.

His voice rising, Rod Blagojevich says of President-Elect Obama on tape:
"Give this mother f----- his senator? F--- him. For nothing? F--- him!

Blagojevich is on a call with advisers and his wife, Patti. He says everyone's passing him up politically while he's stuck in Springfield with gridlock and making no money.

"I feel like I'm f------ my children. I'm stuck in this f---ing ...
nasty f---ing, s----y f---ing press," Blagojevich is heard saying as wide-eyed jurors listen.

Blagojevich says he needs work that will take "financial stress" off his family. Patti then points to Michelle Obama: "she's making $300,000 at the University of Chicago," she says.

Prosecutors played the tape to set up the next witness. While jurors just heard him complaining he has no money and he's worried about providing for his children, the next witness, Shari Schindler, will talk about what he did with all his money.

He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fine clothing -- for himself.

Blagojevich retrial: Day 10, Taking off the gloves

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Defense: On day 10 of Rod Blagojevich's retrial, defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein managed to set off Judge James Zagel, who threatened to sit him down in front of jurors.

Zagel, in turn, set off Patti Blagojevich, who went before cameras to protest Zagel's repeated sustained objections. Some reporters counted more than 100 government objections that Zagel sustained. Zagel said Goldstein flouted his repeated rulings so that he could in essence offer testimony through his questions. Zagel repeatedly blocked him, but jurors still heard the questions.

Patti Blagojevich launched a potentially dangerous salvo at the judge, charging his rulings were "a deliberate attempt to hide the truth."

What will prosecutors do today?
Prosecutor Reid Schar has previously complained to Zagel that the Blagojevich strategy is to make it appear to the public that the government is trying to hide the ball when really, the defense is just being asked to follow the same rules as everyone else in federal court.
While the ex-governor didn't do the talking in the news availability after court, he was standing at his wife's side while she did.

Up next: Union leader Tom Balanoff continues under Goldstein's cross examination.

Reporting with Lark Turner

We're back in this morning with John Harris on the stand, and a slew of recordings that delve deep into the Senate seat negotiations that were in full force in the fall of 2008.

On tape Rod Blagojevich is talking about what's next and how he can transition into the private sector while remaining politically viable.

Harris tells him he will be disappointed if he doesn't keep working for stuff he believes in.

Blagojevich has another take: "You have to understand it's very important for me to make a lot of money."

Blagojevich went on to talk about his family and how vulnerable he's making his family--wife and daughters--and how Amy will be 14 and then be off to college.

In court, Patti Blagojevich purses her lips; at end of conversation about paying for Amy's college he turns to Patti with similar look (pursed lips, disappointment).

In a recent interview, Patti and Rod said they drained Amy's college fund to pay bills, following the ex-governor's impeachment and Patti losing her job.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Government witness John Harris has gotten to the Senate seat charges, and just described two meetings with the then-governor, himself and the governor's legal adviser Bill Quinlan where Harris says Quinlan told Blagojevich he could not look for something for himself in exchange for the seat.

"You can't talk about this, you can't even joke about this," Harris said Quinlan told Blagojevich in late October 2008. "He could not talk about the two in the same sentence."

Quinlan's warning to Blagojevich is significant. His lawyer told him not to try and exchange the Senate seat for personal benefits. Blagojevich has long claimed he did not realize he was doing anything wrong or improper and that he acted with the knowledge of his advisers.

The prosecution also showed the jury an internal document Harris wrote with talking points and a plan for appointing a replacement should then-senator Barack Obama be elected president.

The document advised Blagojevich to appoint a team to help choose candidates for Senate.

"I will not turn this into a public spectacle," Harris advised Blagojevich to say in the document.

Harris said the document was only ever used for public talking points.

He's also described a conversation with then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel prior to Obama's election regarding a possible candidate for Senate.

"He told me that Senator Obama had a preferred candidate," Harris testified. " I understood [him] to be referring to Valerie Jarrett."

The prosecution is now playing a phone call where Harris relays to Blagojevich what Emanuel told him. He tells Blagojevich that Obama wants Jarrett appointed to the seat.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

After Blagojevich's lawyers raised concerns about a question on the jury questionnaire, Judge James Zagel said so long as jurors don't think the entire political system or everyone in it is corrupt, it should be 'fine,' though some prospective jurors were clearly biased.

Jurors were asked whether they thought politicians take money to influence their decisions. Blagojevich lawyer Lauren Kaeseberg said the defense was concerned "a lot of people have an objection to the system," and asked the judge to instruct jurors that the political system is not on trial. One person in particular was obviously "embittered," Zagel said.

"There are a couple of individuals who regard the entire system as corrupt. One individual I can think of .... You can't fail to notice that this person is embittered by life in general ," Zagel said. "That attitude would probably not make for the best juror."

Zagel also said that many jurors probably have legitimate excuses to be dismissed from the jury.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

When Blagojevich entered the courthouse (after going through security), a group of reporters in the courthouse's media area shouted questions after him.

"Can't!" he yelled, pointing up. "Higher power!"

It's an apparent reference to Judge James Zagel, who's warned the governor about his public comments.

The court is now in session.

It's the first day of jury selection in Rod Blagojevich's re-trial, and he arrived at the Dirksen Courthouse just minutes before he had to enter the courtroom (though many reporters waited for him for hours).

He wasn't required to be here for the first official day of the trial Wednesday because prospective jurors simply filled out questionnaires. Today, they're in the courtroom for the first time.

Apart from a few curious bystanders, no throng awaited Blagojevich this time, though fervent supporter Patty Farley, a 58-year-old Chicago resident, was there to greet the governor as she was on the first day of his trial last summer. Farley was holding a handmade "Madigate" sign that she asked Blagojevich to autograph; calling over his wife, Patti, he obliged.

"You look wonderful!" she said. He smiled, gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek.
"God bless you," Blagojevich replied before entering the courthouse to head through security.

"If Abraham Lincoln is rolling in his grave," Farley said, referencing a statement by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald when he announced the charges against Blagojevich, "it's because in his beloved state of Illinois, politics totally rules law enforcement."

Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich accused prosecutors Monday of attempting to throw the former governor "into a boxing ring with one arm tied behind his back."

" ... It appears the only request left out by the government is that the defense not be allowed to use the words 'not' and 'guilty' in the same sentence," the defense wrote in a strongly-worded response to a motion from prosecutors last week asking the judge to ban certain arguments in the trial, which is set to begin with jury selection tomorrow.

Here are some of the defense's arguments:

• Blagojevich, lawyers said, isn't publicly misleading anyone about 'playing all the tapes.' Playing more could show the jury that Blagojevich didn't plan a "linear" scheme, the filing argues; prosecutors object that the number of tapes is irrelevant to the case and, besides, they don't need to prove Blagojevich had a linear scheme.

• It's their duty, his lawyers say, to question agents' competence in recording Blagojevich.

• If Judge James Zagel agrees to uphold prosecutors' motion to ban some of these arguments in court, the jury will think of the Court as an extension of the government, they wrote.

• The defense responded to a government request to bar any testimony or evidence about events after December 5, 2008, when the Chicago Tribune reported Blagojevich's lobbyist and friend John Wyma was recording conversations with the then-governor. The defense suggests the possibility -- though they say they have no evidence of it -- that the government intentionally leaked the information to the Tribune: "A far more effective argument is that the 'leak' came from the government's cup of water, so to speak." In a retort, prosecutors called this argument "absurd" and irrelevant. To read filing, Click here

What #Blagojevich didn't say in news conference today

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Former governor Rod Blagojevich gave a news conference timed for TV and appeared to be aimed at a pool of potential jurors who will be called to federal court in a matter of days.

He spoke of his record as a governor. Then he once again complained about government recordings.

"They took selective snippets out of context," Blagojevich said of his secretly-recorded conversations. "To distort the truth and twist what is actually happening."

"Every time my lawyers tried to play tapes that would show my innocence, they objected," Blagojevich said of the prosecution.

Blagojevich didn't mention whether he would testify this time around. He didn't last time. His defense rested with no witnesses. And without playing one recording.

But if Rod Blagojevich does take the stand, according to the judge in his case, he'll have broad control over the recordings he can or cannot play in his defense.

Blagojevich also mentioned that the government filed a 24-page motion trying to block evidence or tapes. Here's our post on that motion: (click here) it actually served as a reminder that it's up to the judge -- and not the prosecution -- to allow recordings into the trial.

Here's our evening story on his news conference: Blagojevich news conference

In a repeat of what was asked for during last year's trial, government prosecutors asked Judge James Zagel Monday to ban some arguments by the defense--including one to exonerate the former governor by 'playing all the tapes' of conversations recorded on wiretaps.

It's an argument Blagojevich himself has used many times in public statements and interviews, and which was banned in the first trial.

Before the first trial, Zagel ruled neither side could suggest there was evidence that was not allowed to be played in the trial. The result of that argument, he wrote, would be "a free for all" that is "just plain lawless."

"The Court has also made clear that the Court, rather than the government, is the final arbiter of what is, and what is not, presented to the jury," prosecutors wrote in the motion. "Yet the defense has continued to suggest otherwise."

The issue will come up at a hearing Thursday morning.

Blagojevich, Jackson donor under investigation

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A federal grand jury has subpoenaed at least 30 doctors in the Chicago area as part of a probe into a wealthy Indian-American fund-raiser who owns surgical centers -- and has ties to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The FBI and IRS investigation is centered on businessman and political fund-raiser Raghuveer Nayak, a longtime fund-raiser for and donor to congressman Jackson. Nayak told investigators after Blagojevich's 2008 arrest that congressman Jackson asked him during a visit to Washington D.C. to approach the then-governor with a $6 million offer of campaign money in exchange for a Senate seat appointment.

Blagojevich faces retrial next week regarding the alleged Senate seat sale, among other charges. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has not been charged with wrongdoing and staunchly denied Nayak's allegations.

Read the full story here.

Written by Lark Turner

As it prepares for Rod Blagojevich's impending retrial, the government is looking to spare jurors from hearing superfluous exchanges caught on tape -- including a conversation between the former governor and his brother regarding their signature locks.
The defense has objected to omitting the call, where Robert Blagojevich references a donor's wife.
"She loves our hair, by the way," Rob tells his brother, according to the transcript. "Loves your hair and loves my hair and because it's all real."
The two go on to discuss travel over Christmas and upcoming fundraisers.
Prosecutors proposed tossing out sections from three other calls -- including one involving President Obama. In a call between Blagojevich and lobbyist and consultant Doug Scofield, Blagojevich complains about the position he is in following Obama's victory in 2008, calling Obama a "demi-god." The defense though wants jurors to hear that section.
In another call, prosecutors moved to block out a discussion of Blagojevich's possible impeachment on a conference call and what positions Blagojevich could ask Obama to appoint him to in exchange for naming Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.
The final redaction objected to by the defense deals with a discussion of Rahm Emanuel's appointment as Obama's Chief of Staff and what will become of his congressional seat.

Former Governor Rod Blagojevich's defense team is back in court today at 2 p.m. but it doesn't appear they'll be talking about a bid to cancel his trial.

An entry on the docket makes reference to a filing that's under seal.

Here it is: PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that on March 22, 2011 at 2:00 p.m., or as soon thereafter as counsel may be heard, we will appear before Judge James B. Zagel at 219 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL and present Defendant's sealed motion (Docket # 641) in the above captioned case, at which time and place you may appear if you see fit.

Rod Blagojevich's judge scoffed at the ex-governor's request to "cancel" his trial, essentially calling it a publicity stunt.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel said he had no legal authority to dismiss charges, that's something only prosecutors can do.
Blagojevich had asked Zagel to cancel his second trial and sentence him immediately.
Zagel said he believed the request was "intended for an audience different than the court."
But attorneys after court said their filing wasn't simply a press release.
Attorney Lauren Kaeseberg said a defendant does have a right to a speedy trial and a right to assistance of counsel but Blagojevich's team -- which is getting taxpayer funding -- hadn't been paid for months.
They say they could not submit vouchers to get public funding until the judge appointed them.
That appointment didn't come until February. When they submitted their bills, which dated back to October, they hit an impasse facing publicly appointed defense lawyers nationwide: their payment was delayed. They have since been paid through January, Kaeseberg said. Future funding uncertainty remains, however, as Congress has hinted toward cuts to the judiciary.

So did the motion die?
Zagel said he couldn't formally rule on it because lawyers hadn't formally "presented" it to him. Typically, lawyers "notice" a motion to a judge, a secondary entry that alerts the judge to a motion and asks to schedule a court time for debate.
The practice has sometimes been followed in the case, but sometimes not.
Zagel's remarks evolved into a civics lesson, explaining the separation of powers and how he, as part of the judiciary, had no control over the executive branch (prosecutors).
Attorney Sheldon Sorosky said he'd properly "notice" the motion.
But Zagel made clear the filing had no hope.

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