Will Rod Blagojevich Trial Be a Circus? the Ex-Governor Hopes So

Article excerpt

Jury selection begins Thursday in the Rod Blagojevich trial on corruption charges. The former Illinois governor's best defense will be his well-honed reputation as a loose cannon.

Many have predicted that the federal trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will be a circus. Whether it is could be crucial to who wins the case.

Jury selection for Mr. Blagojevich's trial opens Thursday at the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago. He is accused of 24 counts of fraud, conspiracy, bribery, and racketeering, involving attempts to trade official acts as governor in exchange for contributions to his campaign fund.

Among the parties whom prosecutors say Blagojevich sought favors from are the president of a Chicago children's hospital, the Chicago Tribune, and potential candidates for the open Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

Since his arrest Dec. 9, 2008, Blagojevich aggressively courted the American public with the celebrity savvy of Paris Hilton. Late- night talk shows, morning talk shows, primetime reality shows, a book, a weekly radio show - all were platforms for Blagojevich to sell himself to potential jurors.

He has sought to cast himself as a populist reformer who was unfairly done wrong by a Democratic political machine with an ax to grind and an overzealous federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, a man the former governor recently suggested might not be "man enough" to face him in the courtroom.

Shoot-from-the-hip charm

Blagojevich's defense team will be counting on their client's shoot-from-the-hip charm. It is how they are expected to try to dissuade jurors from taking seriously the 100 hours of telephone wiretaps the prosecution plans to play in court. The argument: Blagojevich was just a foul-mouthed politician engaged in verbal sparring in a world of pay-to-play politics.

"They're going to say what he was saying on those tapes was a verbal, stream-of-conscious thinking, and that he never did pull the trigger [on the schemes]," says Chicago securities attorney Andrew Stoltmann. "That's where the publicity tour ... helps him. He's seen as a loose cannon, as a guy who says what's on his mind. There are going to be some jurors who say that doesn't rise to the level of a criminal offense."

The prosecution's case is dependent on connecting the verbal rants to actual extortion schemes that Mr. Fitzgerald once described as a "political corruption crime spree." Its witness list includes Lon Monk, a top aide, and John Harris, Blagojevich's former chief of staff. Both men pleaded guilty to their own set of similar charges and will testify to what happened behind closed doors in order to prove that their former boss was not just about talk, but put his words to action. …