Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers pleaded with jurors not to “rubber stamp” the case against their client. It’s a case that defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein calls “a hypothetical nowhere near the reality”.
The bottom line, the defense argues, is the bottom line: “He didn’t get a dime, in campaign contributions or in his pocket,” said Goldstein.
Prosecutors have said that doesn’t matter, that the plotting and the “ask” are crimes, even if they don’t succeed. Over and over, they compared Blagojevich’s case to that of a policeman who tells a speeder he can make the ticket “go away” for $50.
Goldstein pointed out that policemen never have the right to ask for cash, while politicians seek campaign contributions all the time. And he argued that the “asks” were never made, except in the minds of government witnesses. Continuing the crooked cop analogy, Goldstein said alleged shakedown victims in this case were like motorists who say: “The way he looked at me… it just felt like a bribe.”
Goldstein heaped scorn on prosecution witnesses, many of whom came to the stand with immunity agreements and plea deals, anxious to please the government in hopes of getting a light sentence.
Goldstein said, unlike his client, they didn’t make a “voluntary walk” to the witness stand, as opposed to his client. Blagojevich, he said, took a “walk that took courage”, in an effort to explain his actions. Prosecutors, of course, say Blagojevich lied repeatedly, and that it’s his word against the word of a half-dozen people, on some counts.
Defense lawyer Goldstein began by discussing the one alleged scheme not covered in wiretap tapes— the charge that, in 2006, Blagojevich was holding up a school grant was a means of getting a campaign contribution.
Goldstein again cited the bottom line; the grant went through, Blagojevich didn’t get a fundraiser. “If Rod’s doing what they say he’s doing, he could hold onto this forever!” Goldstein argued.
As for other alleged schemes, he cited portions of tapes where Blagojevich told aides to follow the law. Prosecutors claim that’s sort of a code among thieves, as they discussed trades of state action in return for personal benefit. “By saying they are not related, you’re saying they are related,” as prosecutor Carrie Hamilton put it in her argument to the jurors.
Goldstein countered: “Please listen to the words. Words mean what they say,” especially, he argued, when delivered by a defendant who doesn’t know he’s being recorded.
The defense argument closed with tears from Blagojevich’s family, as Goldstein told jurors it had been an honor to represent Blagojevich, and proclaimed him innocent.
Both sides have urged jurors to listen, one more time, to all the tapes they’ve heard during the trial.
The defense hopes the jury will see that Blagojevich never explicitly proposed an illegal deal, and never settled on any one plan for filling the vacant Senate seat.
Prosecutors say a chronological review of the tapes will show plots developing, will show that Blagojevich spoke much more about getting campaign cash or high-paying jobs than he spoke about the things he’s testified he was really after (like a deal to install Attorney General Lisa Madigan, as part of a deal to get Blagojevich priorities through the state legislature). The government also claims Blagojevich’s tone reflects venality and desperation, rather than high-mindedness.
If jurors follow the request of both sides and listen to all the tapes all the way through, their verdict will be several days in coming.
Nick Bogert is covering the Blagojevich retrial for MSNBC.