The federal government opened their case against former governor Rod Blagojevich in terse and measured tones today -- and the defense roared back.
The two disparate styles mimicked the manner in which both sides have waged rhetorical warfare over the past 18 months. The government methodically laying out its case while Blagojevich was yammering and stammering and gesticulating for all -- for everyone -- to see.
The prosecution's opening arguments rested on the perception of Blagojevich as a selfish, corrupt man who tried to use the power of state government to derive personal benefit.
"Rod Blagojevich was trying to use his position as governor to get something of benefit for himself," said prosecutor Carrie Hamilton, who also opened the trial against convicted influence peddler and Blagojevich associate Tony Rezko. "When he was supposed to be asking 'What about the people of Illinois,' he was asking 'What about me?'"
Speaking calmly and methodically, Hamilton told the jurors that Blagojevich was deep in debt and struggling with payments, and that he saw President Obama's vacant Senate seat as a "golden ticket".
Hamilton described an administration where Blagojevich enlisted an inner circle which included the already convicted Tony Rezko, his chief of staff Lon Monk, who has pled guilty to corruption charges, and Chris Kelly, the Blagojevich stalwart who killed himself rather than testify against his former boss.
On a giant screen, she ticked off the alleged shakedowns: a $500,000 kickback for a pension deal; hundreds of thousands of dollars in a scheme involving the teacher’s retirement board; a demand for a fundraiser from a school needing state funds; a half million dollar demand from road builders in exchange for a new highway program; a hundred thousand dollars from one horse track owner in exchange for his signature on a racing bill; a 25 thousand dollar shakedown of Children’s Hospital; the attempted extortion of the Tribune company to gain the ouster of their editorial board; and what she said could have been a million dollar deal for Barack Obama’s senate seat.
Blagojevich, Hamilton said, began plotting these misdeeds from the first day he took office in order to line his own pockets.
Line his own pockets? Sam Adam Jr., responding for the defense, would have none of it, and argued if Blagojevich were trying to line his pockets, he wouldn't be penniless now.
“This is the biggest political corruption case in history,” Blagojevich's lawyer, Sam Adam Jr., thundered to the jury. “And what do they tell you? He’s broke; doesn’t have a dime!”
In a bombastic performance that saw the attorney criss-cross the courtroom, pound his fist, clap his hands, joke, guffaw, and even swear (albeit in the context of a quote), Adam Jr. declared that Rod Blagojevich was an honest man -- and a fool.
"That man there is as honest as the day is long," Adam Jr. said, pointing at Blagojevich. "You'll know it in your gut ... All you're going to see is he made a mistake. His judgment is horrible, horrible, horrible."
Trying to portray Blagojevich as a naive man plied by the malicious intent of his so-called friends, Adam Jr. told the jury that Blagojevich "trusted the wrong people," including Stuart Levine ("the most corrupt man ever") and Tony Rezko ("the Bernie Madoff of Chicago.").
As for Blagojevich: "He ain't corrupt," Adam Jr. said.
Blagojevich furiously took notes during the prosecution’s description of his litany of misdeeds, as the jury seemed riveted by the presentation. That jury, 11 men and 7 women, includes a young Best Buy clerk, a Marine veteran who was wounded in Lebanon and has trouble sitting for prolonged periods, and a woman who said that most of what she knew about the former governor was based on Jay Leno’s jokes about him on late night TV.
The first witness in the case, an FBI agent, will take the stand Wednesday morning.