Analysis: Protecting Obama Cost Prosecution Blago Case

Tuesday, 17 Aug 2010 09:35 PM

By David A. Patten

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Federal prosecutors' decision to "protect" Obama administration officials by not calling them to testify against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is "absolutely" responsible for the prosecution's stunning failure to get convictions on 23 of 24 counts, a Fox News legal analyst who closely followed the trial tells Newsmax.

Not obtaining a guilty verdict on any of the primary counts leveled against Blagojevich was viewed as a serious setback for prosecutors, especially given the federal conviction rate of over 95 percent.

"They should be so embarrassed," Fox news legal commentator Tamara Holder, a Chicago-area attorney, tells Newsmax.

Holder blamed the outcome on the lack of compelling testimony.

"I think that this is a very interesting issue, because I think that [White House Chief of Staff Rahm] Emanuel was not called [to testify], Axelrod, whomever else, Obama himself, in an effort to protect the administration," Holder says. "You know once you open the door and you put these guys on the stand, well, the cat's out of the bag and you open them to cross-examination and whatnot."

Holder characterized the verdict as "a great victory for the defense, because [U.S. Attorney] Patrick Fitzgerald promised us that Lincoln would be rolling over in his grave."

Holder adds: "He promised us that he stopped Gov. Blagojevich from his crime spree dead in his tracks, and today's decision was proof that that was a lie. The lie today was Fitzgerald lying to us, not Gov. Blagojevich lying to the FBI."

The Chicago Sun-Times described the single-count verdict as "decidedly undecided."

The jury had endured over six weeks of hearings and 14 days of deliberations. Late Tuesday, it convicted Blagojevich on only one charge, a "process crime" that he had lied to FBI officers during their investigation.

That charge was ancillary to the original allegation that Blagojevich had offered President Obama's former Senate seat to the higher bidder.

Blagojevich, never at a loss for words, responded indignantly after the verdict was announced.

“This was a persecution,’’ he said of the government's case. “. . . They threw everything they could at me. The jury agreed the government did not prove its case.’’

Prosecutors originally portrayed Blagojevich's actions as a vivid example of blatant corruption.

Fitzgerald had called his actions "a political corruption crime spree."
Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008 after FBI wiretaps recorded him profanely discussing what benefit he could derive from his decision of whom to appoint to the vacant seat.

The FBI famously recorded Blagojevich as saying: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f------ golden and I’m not giving it up for f------ nothing."

During the trial, however, Blagojevich's legal team told that the former governor was just spouting off and negotiating as politicians often do.

Holder was in the court room when the jury's verdict was read. She tells Newsmax that prosecutors looked angry and upset when the verdict was announced.

"They are in denial," she said of prosecutors. "They believe that this was just a bad jury. If I were a juror I would be very offended that this jury wasn't good enough. That's what I sensed they were saying."

Prosecutors immediately announced that they would seek a retrial on the counts the jury proved unable to decide.

One estimate Friday was that retrying the remaining counts could cost the government $25 to $30 million.

According to Holder's sources, the case had a witness list of between 600 and 800 people, including several top Obama officials such as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, White House adviser David Axelrod, and White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Prosecutors only called 35 witnesses during the trial, however. None were from the administration.

Chicago businessman Tony Rezko, who was convicted of corruption under Blagojevich, was not called. Nor was former state board member Stuart Levine, a million-dollar Blagojevich campaign donor who pled guilty in October 2006 to taking kickbacks.

"I think the Obama administration really escaped a lot of scrutiny because Emanuel wasn't called. A few union reps [testified]. Other than that, nothing was revealed," Holder says.

Asked if she believed not calling the administration officials hurt the prosecution's case, Holder replied: "Absolutely. That's exactly what this is. It was a gamble: If we protect the administration, and we don't call the key people, then can we still get a win without calling them? I think that the jury's failure to reach a decision on those counts was proof that we needed the people within the administration to tell the story: Was that seat for sale?"

When questions arose in late 2008 over what discussions took place between Obama, his advisers, and then-Gov. Blagojevich, Greg Craig, the soon-to-be White House counsel, conducted an inquiry and wrote a memo for public consumption stating there was no indication of "inappropriate discussions" occurring between the governor's office.

Obama stated he had "never spoken to the governor" about the vacant seat and had "no contact" with his office.

Craig's memo, released Dec. 23, 2008, acknowledged that in the days leading up to the election Emanuel had "one or two" conversations with Blagojevich.

During the trial, however, former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris testified that Emanuel called and told him then-Sen. Obama wanted a "close friend" of his appointed to the Senate seat.

Harris testified that he understood that person to be Valerie Jarrett, Obama's close friend and fund-raiser who now serves as one of his senior advisers.

Harris testified: "[Emanuel] asked whether it would be helpful if Sen. Obama called the governor to advocate for this individual." Harris replied "sure."

"He said, 'I'll let you know," Harris added. "He wanted to say that [Obama] had a preference."

Holder tells Newsmax that to retry the case successfully prosecutors will have to be more aggressive about presenting witnesses. She believes they will have to call Emanuel to the stand.

"Now, this is a very, very interesting situation because if the prosecution is going to retry this case, they are going to have to put Emanuel [on the stand to testify], [and] maybe Obama," Holder says.




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