This past week,
I sat in on closing arguments at the Blago trial, and couldn't help
but think that the government attorney, Christopher Niewoehner was
a tool of the Chicago political machine as he spoke. I wondered
if Niewoehner ever feels that way. That came in a most pronounced
way while Niewoehner was reading the definition of bribery to the
of the state of Illinois cannot exchange taking some state action
for some personal benefit like money or a campaign contribution.
You do — that’s a bribe.”
If he's not
a tool of the machine, then where are the other Chicago politicians?
What he mentioned as a crime is allowed to go on day-in-and-day-out
in Chicago. Only a tool would get involved in their dirty political
infighting while letting the rest of them walk the streets.
Two years ago
I would've said Blago was a scoundrel like any other in Chicago.
A political hack. A dirty fellow from inside the machine. I have
no doubt that Blagojevich is guilty of all kinds of dirty things.
But then, he got dragged through the mud while many other dirty
politicians (both Republican and Democrat) were left clean. Obama,
Daley, Kjellander, Madigan, Madigan (not a typo, just a family dynasty
in the making), Jackson. Where are those guys?
As he was dragged
through the mud, people all over Chicago listened to the news each
night to hear the government bring a conspiracy case against Blagojevich.
all over Chicago, every night, said to themselves "so what?"
A guy who hates
Blago said to me the other day "If I'm on that jury, Blago
being tried for a whole slew of crimes, but when all was said and
done, the prosecuting attorney even pointed out in closing arguments:
“The law doesn’t require you to be a successful crook, it just requires
you to be a crook." Really? Is that the best you can do? The
case comes across like it's a conspiracy case, attempting to prove
that Blago conspired to do bad, instead of actually doing bad. Growing
up in Chicago, you always hear whispers of the crimes that really
happen, not just the crimes that politicians wanted to commit.
the guy's phone tapped, and his office bugged, the best the government
could do was drag out a bunch of embarrassing conversations (something
everyone in the world has had), show that Blago was a real creep,
and make the guy look bad. It seems as if the goal was to make the
guy look bad instead of proving that he'd done something wrong.
Trying to sell
a Senate seat for a million dollars? Yeah. Real dirty. Sleezy. Scummy.
The kind of stuff I expect in Chicago. The kind of stuff a guy should
go to jail for. You know what though, why can't the government prove
that it actually happened, instead of just proving that the governor
and his brother just thought about making it happen? Why isn't Jesse
Jackson Jr. on trial for trying to get that Senate seat for a million
bucks? Or $6 million, as was revealed during the trial. Why isn't
Obama on trial for trying to finesse the Senate appointment for
his benefit? I don't know, I guess those crimes aren't illegal.
I guess the two of them weren't acting under color of office as
Blago was said to have been doing. Is that supposed to make me feel
better? Did not all three of them behave in the same way — trying
to manipulate our government for their personal benefit?
In the courtroom,
I heard the defendant's attorney argue that he did get money from
vendors the state did business with, but he got the money after
official business was completed, which is entirely legal. I heard
the federal government argue the same, with the exception that they
argued that Blago made it clear to the donors that official favors
were connected to the campaign contribution. Is there anyone out
there, who honestly believes that campaign contributions do not
have an influence on an elected official? How could a government
attorney actually try to argue that every politician who gets money
from a government vendor is somehow clean, but that Blago is dirty?
It seems like a very fine line to argue without thinking yourself
a little less than genuine. Of course, the government doesn't need
to argue that exact point. It only needs to argue that Blago is
dirty and illegally so. The people of Chicago meanwhile are discussing
that point, a point of comparison. Why is Blago the only one on
OF THE U.S.
all over Chicago watched the news and said "so what?"
people all over the U.S. watched the news about Blagojevich and
laughed. They laughed at Blagojevich, and they laughed at the people
who elected him. Evidently, in their heads, if a guy is accused
of a crime, that's the same as a guy actually having committed a
crime. The jokes are everywhere, and rightfully so, but it also
goes beyond jokes. Everyone's suddenly got an expert opinion about
what a creep Blago is. The thing is, he's but the tip of the iceberg.
If he's such a louse, why isn't there more than a sham trial taking
place? If he's such a bad guy, why wasn't his impeachment anything
but a kangaroo court. This is not to say that there aren't Chicagoans
who want Blago behind bars yesterday. It's just that people believe
in the myth of a clean politician emerging from Chicago's political
culture more pervasively the farther you get from the place. Correspondingly,
the idea that Blago's a single bad apple seems easier for people
to believe the farther you get from Chicago.
Two days of
closing arguments showed me the government's lack of a case. That's
supposed to be the time that everything gets tied together for the
jury. Maybe they've proven Blagojevich had dirty thoughts and shared
them with his brother, but the fact that that's all they could get
him on speaks volumes to what a failure the prosecution is. It's
sort of like federal court in Chicago putting Capone in jail for
tax evasion, because he couldn't get caught on a slew of other things
that federal investigators believed he'd done. If closing argument
is any indicator, had I sat in on the other seven weeks of the trial,
I would have kept waiting, I would have been left waiting for the
evidence. Instead, I waited for the evidence from the anti-Blagojevich
local media and all I got was irrelevant stuff that makes a guy
look like a creep. It's not illegal to be a creep.
OF THE GOVERNMENT
Not only is
my federal government big, burdensome, and inefficient, they can't
even walk into a town like Chicago and nail the corrupt kingpins
for being corrupt. Instead, they have a show trial, of one politician,
and they go home for the day. What a lame federal government. What
other powers do we need to grant them in order to be able to put
the bad guys in jail? Is wiretapping and bugging offices not enough?
Do they need video cameras in every room, recording devices under
ever potted plant? Or maybe if we, as a nation, decide to wave a
few other constitutional amendments, they'll suddenly get good at
I went to court
expecting a case. What I got was a boring lecture on what a federal
attorney thought Blagojevich was probably thinking over the course
of a few weeks back in 2008. I look forward to hearing what the
12 Angry Men will have to say about the case after the jury hands
down a verdict.
of Illinois deserve a real investigation into the State's corruption.
The people of Illinois are not getting that. They are getting a
sham trial. Instead of seeing the whole political class investigated
and brought to court, we get one guy, as if this is supposed to
assuage us. I reject this show trial. I want justice. It is not
justice to put up one politician as a sacrificial lamb. It's injustice.
In Chicago, it's still business as usual. How can a federal attorney
look at himself in the mirror in the morning when he has to go to
work and prosecute a case like this? It's a case based on the timing
of when a politician asked for money for political favors (something
virtually all of them do). Is Governor Blagojevich any worse than
the others just because he was the one they pulled into court to
prove what he'd done was wrong? No. The whole system's dirty — from
the Chicago politician in the Oval Office, all the way down to the
aldermen and ward bosses. To add insult to all of this, I have to
pay 1/300,000,000 of the salary and benefits of a staff of federal
attorneys who will tell me that justice is being served. A law that
randomly punishes a person based on a tiny breath of distinction
between legal and illegal is an immoral law. Somehow the people
I meet from outside of Chicago, just aren't getting the fact that
this trial's a sham and that regardless of the outcome, justice
will not have been served.
Stevo [send him mail]
a candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in the 10th Congressional
District of Illinois and has been involved in Chicago politics since
childhood. He is a writer.