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.
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
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. …