Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Obama Report on Blagojevich

Obama Report on Blagojevich absolves the Obama team

Blago Report Absolves Obama

Blago Report Absolves Obama

Sunday, December 21, 2008

IS THE CASE AGAINST ROD BLAGOJEVICH A STRONG CASE?

IS THE CASE AGAINST ROD BLAGOJEVICH A STRONG CASE?

 

 

            On December 9th, 2008, Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald filed a criminal complaint and held a press conference and announced the arrest of the Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, in pertinent part, because Blagojevich was alleged to have offered to sell Barack Obama’s vacated senate seat in return for personal favors and/or for cash.  This was despite the fact the 78 page complaint makes no suggestion that the governor had received nothing of value and has not made the appointment of the Senate seat.  (http://www.chicagotribune.com/media/acrobat/2008-12/43789434.pdf)

 

            The reaction to this press conference has been swift and persuasive.  Morning, noon and night round the clock television and newspaper coverage are in effect.  To say that the You Tube Video of the Fitzgerald news conference has gone viral is an understatement.  Steven Thomma in the McClatchy papers that a new Ipsos/McClatchy online poll has found:

 

  • 95% of adults in Illinois that that Blagojevich should step down;
  • 92% of adults in that state think he should be impeached and removed from office;
  • The Illinois House of Representatives voted unanimously this week to create a committee to impeach him;
  • 44% feel the state should have a special election
  • 35% said the power to appoint a successor should be transferred to Lt. Governor Pat Quinn
  • He is the 4th Governor from Illinois to be charged with a felony since 1960

 

But trial attorneys are now beginning to suggest that the portion of the case involving the sale of the open Senate seat may not be the slam dunk that the media thinks it is.  As the conversation goes, that portion of the Blagojevich case maybe sexy, but also may be very defensible.  In other words, there is a possibility that at least on those allegations, he could be acquitted.  He hired a tough cookie, Edward Gensen, who represented R. Kelley, and former governor of Illinois George Ryan.  He said, “He’s not guilty, so we’re going to court.  We’re not agreeing to impeachment.  If you read the transcripts closely, you’ll find nobody did anything.  People are just talking, and that’s not against the law…Bad language doesn’t make you a criminal.” He has called the case a ‘fairy tale’ and the process (impeachment proceedings) ‘a witch hunt.’ (See Countdown Video, Blagojevich lawyer calls case a witch hunt, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QScevDxyXuY). 

 

Bulldog Gensen is not the only lawyer who has expressed reservations in the Government’s case.  The difference between criminal activity and the normal course of political deal making is apparently a very thin line.  Does just talking about selling a political office for personal favors, like a bribe, constitute in and of itself a crime?  Does the argument that contributions to one’s campaign fund (a derivative public benefit?) in return for support in an election (another so called public benefit) sound very much like the play for pay scandal (private benefit derived from a public office) that Blago is charged with? The former is a commonly accepted practice, but the latter could be construed as attempted bribery, a crime that does not have great sex appeal in the minds of Chicago juries.  (See Scott Turow Video, Rachel Maddow Video Making the Case, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnwYRnEEKHc).  Turow, an experienced prosecutor and writer said, “Juries regard it (attempted bribery) as a crime that takes place in the head, bad thoughts, not actual conduct.”  In other word, the thinking of a crime only falls within a grey area in politics and although prosecutable, these thoughts do not necessarily lead to a conviction.

 

Other attorneys have expressed reservations as well.  Robert S. Bennett, one of Washington’s best-known white-collar criminal defense lawyers said, ““This town is full of people who call themselves ambassadors, and all they did was pay $200,000 or $300,000 to the Republican or Democratic Party… “You have to wonder, How much of this guy’s problem was his language, rather than what he really did?”  The NY Time last week said, “In the case of Mr. Blagojevich, it would be legal for the governor to accept a campaign contribution from someone he appointed to the Senate seat. What would create legal problems for him is if he was tape-recorded specifically offering a seat in exchange for the contribution. What would make the case even easier to prosecute is if he was recorded offering the seat in exchange for a personal favor, like cash, a job or a job for a family member.”  In this case, the disclosed wiretaps so far seem to show a Blagojevich that was willing to discuss trading a Senate seat for personal favors to his aids, but not with anyone else.  So the question remains, is talk enough to convict him on the pay to play for the Senate seat count?

 

“It’s a very difficult case for a number of reasons; not the least is the nebulous nature of the charges and the inherently difficult issues when you’re talking about a person executing his First Amendment right to promote a particular politician,” said Michael D. Monico, a former federal prosecutor who is now a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago.

 

“Merely thinking about something is not a crime,” said Mr. Monico, a lawyer for Christopher Kelly, a former Blagojevich fund-raiser who was indicted last year on tax charges “Just talking about something is not a crime. You need another action for someone to commit a crime.”

 

In an article written by Mike Robinson for the AP, Chicago Defense attorney John Beal said, “"The weakness in the government's case seems to be that Blagojevich schemed to do things but didn't actually do them."

 

Robinson’s piece goes on to say, “Chicago defense attorney Ron Safer, a former federal prosecutor, said that the kind of overt act needed to win a conspiracy case should be something specific.

 

"Politicians often rub each other's back -- I'll vote for your bill if you vote for mine is as old as our union -- so that's unremarkable," he said. He said that if the case goes to trial prosecutors will focus hard on any specific attempts by the governor to trade the Senate seat or other favors for cash or jobs.

 

New York attorney Martin R. Pollner noted that prosecutors must show "overt acts" to prove a conspiracy and such acts had to be more than talks with advisers.

 

To me this is an important point on this count of what appears to be a public official conspiring to bribe another public official in return for personal favors. 

 

      The essential elements for a federal conspiracy are spelled out in §371 of the federal criminal code, and may be illustrative here.  They are: (1) an agreement (2) between two or more persons (3) to act together in committing an offense, and (4) an overt act in furtherance of that agreement.

 

The term "overt act" means some type of outward, objective action performed by one of the parties to or one of the members of the agreement or conspiracy which evidences that agreement.  The notes included with the form federal jury instruction state, an overt act is “any step that indicates that the execution of the conspiracy has begun. This can be an innocuous act and need not be illegal unto itself. For example, if two persons agree to rob a bank, then purchase a ski mask, the act of buying the mask may constitute the overt act required to charge the two with conspiracy.

 

The overt act must follow the agreement and must be executed with an intent to carry out the purpose of the conspiracy. For example, if one of the potential bank robbers buys a ski mask after the agreement is made, the purchase may not constitute the overt act if the ski mask will not be worn to carry out the ROBBERY. An overt act need not be committed by each and every conspirator; an overt act by one conspirator solidifies the offense for all coconspirators. Thus, a conspirator who does not participate in the overt act can be charged with conspiracy.”

 

In other words, the defense attorneys are right, just talking about doing something without taking any further steps to do an illegal thing may not constitute a crime.  Does Fitzgerald have a smoking gun on those tapes, or have we already heard and read his best shot?  His investigation is ongoing, so we shall see what develops.  It is of some importance that Blagojevich has been under federal investigation for years.  The NY Times reports that he has had ongoing battles with Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago; he irked Michael Madigan, the powerful Democratic state speaker, over the budget; and he infuriated just about every legislator by staying put in Chicago (rather than moving his family to the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield). His penchant for promoting his headline-grabbing proposals — like those for universal preschool and cheaper drugs from Canada — on television, rather than in the quieter halls of Springfield, also won him no friends.

 

“Rod reveled in fighting with members of the General Assembly,” said Representative Tom Cross, the state Republican leader. “He came out of the box fighting: He was the populist, and we were the big, bad General Assembly. He didn’t seem interested in policy, the budget was in disarray, and he was never there.”

 

His approval ratings that had sunk to 13 percent as details of the federal investigation into his administration had seeped out over the past three years.  At Christmastime in 2004, a nasty spat cropped up between Mr. Blagojevich and his political benefactor and father-in-law, Richard Mell, a ward chief on the northwest side of Chicago, whose political connections helped to put Blago in office, the fallout stretching well beyond the family, offering some of the clearest public hints of Mr. Blagojevich’s coming troubles. In response, Blagojevich shut down a landfill operated by a relative of Mr. Mell, saying it was taking types of waste it was not licensed to accept. Mr. Mell accused Mr. Blagojevich of shutting the facility as a personal vendetta against him, and then accused his top fund-raiser of trading appointments to state commissions and boards for campaign donations, just the image Mr. Blagojevich had been trying to avoid.  This lead to extensive investigations of Blago’s political activities and legal fees to the firm of Winston and Strawn in amounts alleged to have been paid in excess of $1 million dollars with an additional $750,000.00 still due and owing.  Other politicians avoided public appearances with him and Blago seemed to spend all of his time answering questions about political corruption allegations even before this criminal complaint was filed.

 

Lisa Madigan, the daughter of his enemy Mike Madigan, and Attorney General of the State of Illinois, filed a case with the Supreme Court of Illinois requesting that Blago be dismissed on the basis of incapacity.  She also happens to be considered by many to be his chief rival for the Governor’s seat.  That case was dismissed this week by the Illinois Supreme Court.

 

Governor Blagojevich campaigned on the basis of political ethics and reform.  He is sinking on a leaky boat of corruption and allegations of pay to play politics.  The real question is this:  Is he just a talker and a politically disliked man, who in this instance has taken no steps toward the completion of an illegal plan or is has he been caught on tape, red handed?

 


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Political Blog From James Myers, The Entertainment Critic, New Shoes For Geroge Bush

New Shoes for George Bush

A Political Blog

By James Myers

The Entertainment Critic

 

 

 

            With only 37 days left in his Presidency, must of us just wish George W., would just go away.  Apparently, this includes not only Americans who have tolerated his incompetence for the last 8 years, but also some Iraqis as well.  President Bush is currently on a secret world wind tour that includes Iraq. An unusual incident happened today at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan today. As Americans we have treated his attempts at revisionist history as laughable.  His approval rating hitting an all time low of 30%, ‘W” has dedicated the final portion of his administration as an attempt to avoid being labeled as the worst President in American history.  While Bush was hailing his presidency and the progress in Iraq, one of the journalists at the new conference let him know that his occupation in Iraq was less than welcome.

 

            A protester identified as Muntader al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, owned by Iraq and based in Cairo, shouted at Bush in Arabic, “"This is your farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."  At the same time, he was throwing his size 10 shoes at Bush, whistling one past his left ear and the second just over his head.  Iraq has not welcomed the continuing occupation of 150,000 U.S. troops, where over 4200 Americans have died, coupled with an economic loss of $576 billion dollars in the 5 years and 9 months of the war.  These figures do not include the numbers of the wounded, injured and mentally compromised Americans.  The true figure of the intangibly injured may not be known for years to come.

 

            What this incident does call attention to is the loss suffered by the Iraqi people as well.  Approximately 99,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war according to http://www.iraqbodycount.org/.  Most recently on Saturday, December 13, 2008, 13 more Iraqi civilians died.  Small wonder that the reporter was insulted by Mr. Bush’s attempts to sanitize his utter failure and criminal negligence while making statements like, "The war is not over, but it is decisively on it's way to being won."  NBC news reports that al-Zeidi has lost family in the war and has himself been kidnapped.

            Polls have shown that most Americans believe the U.S. was wrong to invade Iraq in 2003.  Most Americans believe that Bush misled the American people to believe Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, when in fact his administration knew no such weapons exists prior to the invasion, the weapons were never found after the invasion, and Bush’s credibility was forever lost as far as America was concerned.  Apparently, he hasn’t faired any better with Iraqis.  Making a statement, “There is still more work to be done,” triggered the incident as the shoes came flying, one after the other at Bush from a distance of 20 feet.   (See Video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRyQpMpcujk).  He said in a recent interview with ABC News that the biggest regret of his presidency was the false intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

            Jennifer Loven of the AP explained it this way, “In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt. Iraqis whacked a statue of Saddam with their shoes after U.S. marines toppled it to the ground following the 2003 invasion.” Recently, A detailed official history of the U.S. effort to reconstruct Iraq after Saddam Hussein's overthrow in 2003 blamed its failings on "blinkered and disjointed" prewar planning, a deadly insurgency and wasteful and ill-managed contracting.  (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28224454/, “Iraq rebuilding woes due to poor planning”)

           

The study, "Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,” was produced by a special U.S. auditing group that has dug deeply into the multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort since 2004. It is a detailed summation of the findings from many previous audits and reviews by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, led by Stuart Bowen.

Among its central conclusions is that Washington was unprepared and ill-equipped to reconstruct Iraq in the aftermath of an invasion that led to an insurgency, a collapse of government and an economy that "switched off." The document also suggests that this arose from an ill-fitting U.S. national security structure, which it said could produce an equally ineffective reconstruction effort in future conflicts.”

Bush responded with his typical aplomb.  “So what if a guy throw his shoe at me?”  After an election where the Republicans suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Barack Obama, the candidate who promised to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq in a little over a year, this type of arrogance and ignorance is what we have come to expect from ‘W.’  No wonder your disapproval rating is over 65% Mr. President.  January 20th can not come soon enough.


 

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