just walk; he should sue the government for defaming his character.
He went free on 23 of 24 counts. The one count that he didn't go
free on, shouldn't even be a law: he was found guilty of lying to
the FBI. That lame law did not require a wiretap to find him guilty.
Nor did it require the very public desecration of a man's name.
Chicago politicians are quite capable of desecrating their own names
without the help of the federal government. The job of the federal
prosecutor is to work hard to let courts and verdicts find a man
guilty or innocent.
government — 1. failed to build a winning case 2. failed to build
a credible case 3. failed to go after any corrupt Chicago politician
of significance. All three of which make me question the value of
the FBI and the need for its existence. On top of that, it is worth
noting that once the prosecution rested with their case, Blagojevich's
team was so certain that they had not proven the case that Blagojevich
did not even put on a defense. He did not defend himself in a federal
criminal case and still had a hung jury. Part of the FBI's mission,
found here, is to
"uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States."
If you can't win a corruption case in Chicago, you're doing something
wrong. That leaves me with the feeling that the FBI and the Department
of Justice have deeper trouble than Blago. The FBI's latest
dustup with Wikipedia over the FBI logo shows how out of touch
with reality the FBI is. Maybe it's time to try a new approach.
As the laws
stand, you can't lie to the FBI, or else you'll go to jail. Specifically
Blago was convicted of telling two lies: 1. That he maintains a
firewall between state business and politics and 2. That he does
not track, or want to know, who contributes to him or how much.
These can be found here,
on page 69 of the federal indictment against Blagojevich. Blago
will go to prison simply because he said those things. The law assumes
an allegiance to the God-like superiority of the State over the
people by saying that lying to the FBI is not allowed. I think lying's
a bad thing to do, but thankfully, all things that I think are bad
are not illegal.
While we are
not allowed to lie to the great couriers of justice, the FBI, they
are allowed to do things to us that would be considered indecent
among the common people. The FBI can wiretap your home phone lines,
record your phone conversations, and play them publicly for all
to hear, even when playing them is irrelevant to any criminal proceeding.
They can break into your office while you're not there and your
staff is away, using locksmithing equipment for jimmying locks.
Once in your offices they can plant bugs and put you under surveillance.
They can do worse things, as well; those things didn't get mentioned
during the Blago trial. It's odd that we willingly cede our rights
to a government that so ineffectively uses those powers to protect
us. We don't require much in return.
FBI to behave in such a way assumes an allegiance to the God-like
goodness of the FBI. No person that is not entirely good and trustworthy
should be able to invade private space. He or she might end up doing
bad things with what is learned in that private space. The thing
is, no one is pure. People do bad things. Even government does bad
things, because government is not a theory, but is a group of real
people, which means that government makes mistakes, sometimes really
big ones. Despite all this, our laws tell us that the great State
must never be lied to, and the great State must never be denied
secret entrance to your most private places. To deny the great State
that authority will put you at risk of very public embarrassment,
expensive legal bills, jail time, loss of sacred honor, liberty,
and even life. Strangely, some very good people do not realize that
the great State is not God, yet they treat it like a deity, like
the greatest deity, because even God offers us free will.
and entering and planting bugs stuff is not from some action film
that I once watched about the FBI. It's from reality, or at least
as much reality as was allowed out in federal court this summer
during the Blagojevich trial. The FBI broke into the Friends of
Blagojevich campaign office to plant bugs in two rooms, planted
a camera outside and began observing what was happening there. Or,
as gently stated in the criminal complaint, which can be found here,
"On the morning of October 22, 2008, the FBI began intercepting
oral communications in those rooms." Information collected
during the surveillance of those rooms and the Blagojevich family's
tapped home phone line was played publicly, making people cringe
in embarrassment over their governor. Then after the shock wore
off, many attentive people who heard the tapes were left with a
sort of "So what? Is being skuzzy illegal?" and "Aren't
there bigger fish that also need frying?"
of privacy and the role of government seem to be upside-down in
this day. Government keeps secrets from the governed. Individuals
can be tormented, prosecuted, fined, and imprisoned for releasing
them. Sadly, WikiLeaks will likely become a good example of this.
Government discloses our secrets. We may not legally hide from their
pursuit of our secrets, no matter how innocent we are. It's as if
the new standard is for government to be as secretive as possible,
but to expect for the governed to be without privacy. Common sense
would dictate a contrary situation: that government has no right
being secretive and individuals have unimpeachable privacy.
There's a meaningful
distinction in privacy as it relates to Blagojevich — is discussion
about state business really a private matter? I am inclined to say
that it should not be private. Greater transparency and less power
in the hands of government would likely make for a better government.
However, that must be evenly applied. A law that is randomly applied
to punish only a small number of people is not a just law. Anything
Blagojevich is subject to, every politician should be subject to.
That is currently not the case, since the private phone calls of
the rest of the country's wheeling and dealing politicians are not
being played on the evening news. One of the disservices of this
case is that other politicians are not being held to the same standard
Trying to affect
public opinion is not enough of a reason to warrant breaking and
entering and bugging an innocent man's office. There's something
wrong with the fact the government did that. Destroying a man's
reputation is not the goal of our criminal system. Finding a man
guilty or not guilty is. The guilty are then punished and separated
from society. Even though Blago was not convicted on 23 of the 24
counts, Blago really looks very guilty to the great masses that
unquestioningly digest spoonful after spoonful of whatever stewed
and mashed baby food the media feeds them. And the people who pull
the levers of power in Chicago and at the highest levels of our
country are in contrast made to look like great citizens, when they
are likely more deserving of shackles than the former governor.
The FBI failed
to effectively use these powers to build a case against Blagojevich.
Without the power to wiretap, the outcome of this case would have
been the same — Blago found guilty of lying to the FBI. The exception
would have been that his private phone calls would have remained
Am I defending
the rights of a dirty Chicago politician to have private phone calls?
Yes, I am. Every human has rights and by protecting them from
government intrusion, I protect myself. The more government
is trained to recognize the displeasure that comes from violating
a person's rights, the less likely that violation is to occur. Standing
up for the rights of the unpopular Blago, simultaneously is defense
for the rights of every other person. Maybe a federal government
with less power to punish with impunity would be more judicious
in deciding who it brings to court.
There are many
out there who feel pushed around by the employees of the federal
government. I know because about 30 of them wrote me last week after
"Free Blago" essay was published on LRC. It made me
feel sick to read some of their personal accounts of the way government
pushes people around and to reflect on how so few people care until
they are the ones being pushed around. If you and I care about others
today, we are less likely to have to care about ourselves being
pushed around by the government tomorrow.
should sue the ineffective federal prosecutor for going out of his
way to defame him. By standing up for his own rights, Blago will
be standing up for the rights of others as well. The smoking gun
of the trial will be some late night chuckle between a Bush appointee
and an Obama appointee where one tells the other "Well, if
we don't convict him, at least his name will be too dirty for him
to ever hold a decent job again." That won't be the good part
of the trial though. The good part of the trial will be digging
around to find that comment.
reason I'd like to see Blagojevich sue the federal government is
because there's a chance he might end up with a judge who will permit
him to conduct wide-ranging discovery.
cases begin as a theory; then the judge tells the defense to give
the plaintiff all the information he or she needs on specific issues.
That's a way that a plaintiff can find additional evidence to support
his or her theory. This process is called discovery.
I'd like to see Blago go into the details of who decided that he'd
get visited from the FBI at 6:15 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.? Who decided
to bring Blago's brother Robert Blagojevich into the trial as a
bargaining chip? How were the dirty tricks planned and who was behind
the planning of those dirty tricks? Who in Mayor Daley's circle
knew before the fact that Blago would be arrested? Who in State
Representative Madigan's circle kept an eye on the case and was
there whenever a little influence was needed to keep secrets buried?
What role did Mike Madigan's daughter, the Illinois Attorney General,
Lisa Madigan play in all of this? When was Madigan responsible for
pulling strings in this case? How did prosecutors decide that Congressman
Jesse Jackson Jr. would go free? Who decided that Jackson's Indian
(dots, not feathers) powerbrokers would go free? What was Obama's
role in this trial and what level of control did the White House
have over the content of the arguments and the direction of the
case? What made Obama so confident that he should negotiate with
Blago about the Senate seat that he had occupied? Had he done similar
backroom deals with him before? What kind of culture existed among
these other men that allowed Blagojevich to feel comfortable bargaining
over a Senate seat? I'd love to see some of those unanswered questions
answered publicly, on the record, and under oath.
But, of course,
that won't happen. No, because Blagojevich did exactly what he was
supposed to do. He didn't sell out Daley, he didn't sell out Madigan,
he didn't sell out his father-in-law, and most importantly he didn't
sell out Obama. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass put it quite
well in an article chronicling who the winners were in Blago's (a.k.a.
"Dead Meat" in Kass's parlance) decision to not put on
a defense. Below is an excerpt from that article:
Picture the leader of the free world, walking the family dog,
Bo, on the White House lawn, the plastic bag in the pocket, like
some perfect TV dad.
the news that Blagojevich has rested his case and won’t testify
or call any witnesses.
when — in my purely fictional mental tableau of the president
waiting for Bo to do business on the lawn — Obama fishes into
his pocket for a smoke and lights up.
takes a big drag, exhales with a satisfied sigh. Ahhhhh.
Why is our
Blago cutting short his defense, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of
staff, won’t be called as a defense witness to talk about how
the Obama White House transcended the old broken politics of the
past by haggling with Blago over the Obama Senate seat.
As a lawyer,
Obama would know that without a defense case, there’s no way that
the president’s old real estate fairy, Tony Rezko, would come
up as a prosecution rebuttal witness.
he says, thinking of Dead Meat, as he looks to the west, toward
Chicago, blowing smoke through that famous smile.
Then he and
Rahm enjoy some celebratory mojitos in the Rose Garden and toast
class is thrilled by the Blago verdict. Not because Blago got off
with a conviction on only one count, but because Blago got convicted.
That means everyone can look back at the trial to say that justice
had really been done and can state far and wide: "Chicago has
been cleaned up by President Obama, who always had a feeling that
there were dirty deals going down among the other Chicago politicians."
With the results of the trial, Chicago's political class has been
reminded that they have the power to lie and cheat with impunity,
while scapegoats get jail time. This is exactly the kind of federal
government they want — the kind that selectively applies the laws.
Are you an influential Chicago politician? Well, at least until
you start to fall from grace, you can be assured impunity.
I would love
to see Blagojevich sue the government. Seldom do you hear truthful
statements from the government. Seldom do people speak truthful
statements about how our government functions. Once in a while little
bits and pieces can be caught that accurately depict the way government
works. In a courtroom, those bits and pieces tend to be more common.
The journalists (read stenographers) who are present in court won't
pass along enough of the good stuff to their readers, but if you
happen to be in a courtroom, especially when a politician, a mobster,
or an influence peddler takes the stand, you are treated to some
real pearls of wisdom on how our system works. In my dreams Blagojevich
sues and Richard Daley, Mike Madigan, Rahm Emmanuel, and Barack
Obama end up getting dragged into court to take the stand. Wouldn't
that be something, a trial where some of the most powerful politicians
in Chicago and in the U.S. are taken into court and forced to talk
about their execution of their official duties under oath. In a
freer country, it wouldn't just be a dream.
Stevo [send him mail]
is the author of Somewhere
Between Bratislava and DC
and is working on his next book. He's been active in Chicago political
campaigns since childhood.