Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Did Fitzgerald Stop Rod Too Soon?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    If Rod Blagojevich’s trial results in a hung jury, that could simply be the price U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has to pay for stopping the ex-governor’s “political corruption crime spree” before he could sell a U.S. Senate seat.

    No prosecutor likes to lose (or tie) a case, but that doesn’t mean Fitzgerald made the wrong decision by having Blagojevich arrested while he was still plotting. It just means he may have had to make a choice between preventing a crime and obtaining a conviction. Some jurors are obviously buying attorney Sam Adam Jr.’s argument that Blagojevich is innocent because he “did not take a dime.”

    Imagine if Fitzgerald had waited until Blagojevich made a Senate appointment -- assuming Blagojevich was even able to close a deal for a Senate seat, which is a pretty big assumption, after hearing the feckless governor on those tapes. The U.S. Senate would have faced a constitutional crisis as it had to determine whether to admit a member who had obtained his seat through bribery. Illinois could have been short a senator for several months, as the issue was debated in the Senate, and maybe the courts. And if the Blagojevich-appointed senator managed to take his seat, he would have been an even more reviled pariah that Roland Burris, unable to work with any of his colleagues on legislation.

    Fitzgerald spared us that possibility. Blagojevich’s arrest also led to his impeachment and removal from office, ensuring that he wouldn’t be able to sell any more offices, or shake down any more campaign contributors.

    If you’re the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, you make your bones by putting a governor’s head on your office wall. Jim Thompson nailed Otto Kerner, and went on the become the state’s longest-serving governor. Fitzgerald already has George Ryan as a trophy. He may have to settle for being the man who stopped Blagojevich from selling a Senate seat and chased him out of office. Under the circumstances, that’s better than sending Blagojevich to prison.