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 jurors.
“The governor 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.
And people 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 walks."
Sure, he's 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.
Despite having 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 trial?
OTHER PARTS OF THE U.S.
While people 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.
FAILURE 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 their jobs.
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.
The people 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.