Federal prosecutor Reid Schar questioned Rod Blagojevich this morning about the tollway and U.S. Senate seat allegations. Schar meticulously walked Blagojevich through statements made in the fall and winter of 2008, leading up to the former-Governor’s arrest. There were plenty of words to parse. Blagojevich attempted to explain his words for the jury. As Blagojevich himself has said, he talks a lot, and it seems he’s trying to portray statements about the U.S. Senate seat as just that: talk. So, when the prosecution read statements about “tanglible political support” in exchange for the U.S. Senate seat, Blagojevich explained that he did not mean tangible financial political support. When the prosecution read his references to tangible political support with “specific amounts” and a “down payment”, Blagojevich again denied that he expected campaign funds in exchange for the Senate Seat. Again, he claimed, it was just talk. Personally, when I hear someone wants something “tangible” with “specific amounts” and a “down payment”, I am led to believe they are looking for a payday. Ultimately, though, what I believe doesn’t hold sway over our former-Governor’s fate; the prosecution wrapped up their questioning of Blagojevich this morning and in a few days, his fate will be in the hands of twelve jurors.
Today I once again had the opportunity to observe the retrial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The cross examination continued, wrapping up questioning about a possible position with Heath and Human Services in the Obama Administration in exchange for placing Valerie Jarrett in vacant Senate seat. The prosecution then raised questions concerning other possible options considered by Blagojevich in exchange for appointing Jarrett, mainly a 501C4 fund, making him the head of a multimillion dollar foundation. Just before breaking for lunch the state began to inquire about the infamous statements made by the former Governor relating to the Chicago Tribune and the Tribune Company. Throughout the morning questioning focused on the implicit meanings or intentions in the statements made by Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich admits that he repeatedly talked with his advisors about leveraging his power in appointing a replacement to the Senate seat in question to achieve a favorable outcome for himself. However, he denies that he ever directly offered to exchange “X for Y”. When questioned about the proposed appointment of Valerie Jarrett as Senator with the expectation of Rod Blagojevich receiving a position in Health and Human Services, the former governor brought up the topic of political leverage. He stated that he used the possibility of appointing Lisa Madigan to the vacant Senate seat as a “stalking horse” in order to gain leverage with the Obama Administration, who allegedly made it clear that their support remained behind Jarrett for Senator, to replace the President Elect. Blagojevich stated he wanted to use his political leverage to achieve the best result for himself. The former Governor Blagojevich was disheartened when he learned that the Obama camp simply offered appreciation if Jarrett were appointed.
When the prosecution shifted topics I found myself stuck on the idea and implications of using political leverage in the decision making process. I may be naïve, but I would like to think that decisions made by our legislators are for the betterment of those they represent. Instead, I couldn’t help but wonder how many decisions have been made based on the idea of political leverage and receiving personal benefit. I have long understood that the idea of reciprocity is a part of politics, i.e. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. However, reflecting on issues raised throughout the testimony of Rod Blagojevich it becomes apparent how much political leverage occupied his time in office and affected decisions made by the governor. The suggested toll way project is one example. Conversations were presented where Blagojevich continuously asked “What can I get?” This seems to remain the single most significant question on his mind in every interaction subsequently discussed, including the Senate seat. I hope that this is simply evidence of governing gone wrong, and can serve as a model for what NOT to do.