It's fourth and long for Rod Blagojevich. Bottom of the 9th, nobody on. The politician who once enjoyed landslide victories, now preparing to stand alone in the well of a federal courtroom, where a federal judge could send him to prison for more than a dozen years.
Blagojevich appeared Tuesday before Judge James Zagel for sentencing. Prosecutors have indicated they will call no witnesses. But on the eve of the Blagojevich sentencing, they offered one last parting shot, declaring the former governor did not appear to have gotten the message that contrition would serve him well.
"Blagojevich accepts no responsibility whatsoever for his criminal actions," prosecutors wrote. "Blagojevich continues to blame everyone but himself for his actions."
Indeed, in their own filing, defense lawyers, at times, appeared to do just that.
"Mr. Blagojevich did not occupy a leadership role vis-a-vis the other participants in the case, and did not direct them in criminal activities," they said. "Rod Blagojevich did not have control over his advisors. They poorly and improperly encouraged him, directed him, used him, lied to him, embarrassed him, and led him into the morass of a 6-year investigation that resulted in the destruction of his life, and career."
Prosecutors countered that the defense position was contradicted by "mountains of evidence."
"In numerous recorded conversations, Blagojevich can be heard directing the criminal activity," they wrote. Far from being a passive observer, they contended Blagojevich was an active participant in a series of criminal schemes, which included attempts to sell the Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.
The government has asked Zagel for a sentence of 15 to 20 years. The former governor's attorneys have not suggested a number, asking only for leniency. They contend that the crimes for which Blagojevich was convicted would call for, at most, 51 months in prison. And while prosecutors say the governor schemed to reap a total of $1.6 million in benefits, his lawyers note that he never saw a penny, an irony, they say, as others in the case benefitted handsomely.
"If hoped-for amounts were the standard," they wrote, "then public officials sentenced under this guideline could see swings in their criminal sentences of decades based solely on the loftiness of their hopes and dreams of future benefits."
Prosecutors contend that Blagojevich committed perjury when he tried to explain his actions as benefits he felt he could legally pursue while negotiating the appointment of a Senate candidate. Later, they note, he contended that he always intended to appoint Attorney General Lisa Madigan. In making the two seemingly contradictory statements, they allege, one of the stories had to be a lie.
For their part, defense attorneys have asked Zagel for mercy, contending he is a broken man who poses no threats.
"The current situation for his family is dire," they wrote. "He has lost his career and reputation. His family is close to bankruptcy. He has suffered every kind of public ridicule and humiliation."
Blagojevich's lawyers say they intend to present a handful of undercover tapes which were never played at trial, which they contend will cast his other comments in a more favorable light. The former governor is expected to address the court as well.