The brother of imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says in a new book that prosecutors tried to use him as a pawn to get his younger sibling on charges he sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
While charges were eventually dropped against him, Robert Blagojevich, a 59-year-old Tennessee businessman, writes that his refusal to turn on his brother made him "collateral damage" of an overzealous prosecution that cost him his reputation, nearly $1 million in legal bills and a still unrepaired split in the Blagojevich family.
The publisher gave The Associated Press an advance copy of the book, which is titled "Fundraiser A" and set for an April release. Robert, a Republican, agreed to work as chief fundraiser for his brother, a Democrat, in mid-2008 after accepting Rod's assurances — naively, he writes — that he wasn't under investigation. An initial complaint unsealed after the then-governor's arrest on Dec. 9, 2008, referred to Robert only as "Fundraiser A."
Before the brothers' joint 2010 trial, lead prosecutor Reid Schar proposed that if Robert talked Rod into a guilty plea, charges against the elder brother could be reduced or dismissed, the book says. Regarding the odds of convictions, the book says Schar told Robert's lawyer, "We've got the governor, but your guy can win this."
"Why did they indict me in the first place if they thought I could win?" Robert asked his attorney, Michael Ettinger, in rejecting the proposal. "I was never going to ask Rod to plead guilty to save me from prosecution."
The book also blasts then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, saying the prosecutor tainted the jury pool by telling reporters on the day of Rod's arrest that "a corruption crime spree" the feds had stopped would "make Lincoln roll over in his grave."
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago declined comment on the book Monday.
Robert paints his sibling as sometimes delusional and persistently unapologetic about entangling his year-older brother in a legal nightmare. The title of one chapter, "La-La Land," is Robert's commentary on the world Rod inhabited.
While Robert delved into the evidence leading up to the trial and listened to hundreds of hours of FBI wiretaps, he was appalled that his brother went into campaign mode instead, hitting the TV talk-show circuit and appearing on "Celebrity Apprentice."
The brothers' relationship remains "completely broken," the book says. Robert in 2012 traveled from Tennessee to the Colorado prison where Rod began serving a 14-year sentence after being convicted at a 2011 retrial, but he says Rod refused to see him.
Robert, a former Army lieutenant colonel, testified in his own defense at the 2010 trial.
That trial ended deadlocked, and jurors told reporters later that Robert came across as a sympathetic figure on the witness stand and that nine jurors had voted for his outright acquittal. Two weeks later, prosecutors announced they were dropping all charges against Robert and would only retry Rod.
The dismissal of charges came only after Robert rebuffed prosecutors' suggestion that he agree to be tried separately from Rod. The book says prosecutors knew that Robert undermined the government's case by successfully engendering juror sympathy.
"When we checkmated them by not accepting their ... offer (to sever the trials), they were stuck and had no choice but to drop my charges," Robert writes, regarding government attorneys. "We beat them at their own game."
The Associated Press received an advanced copy of the book. Here are a few excerpts:
- The book blasts then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald for telling reporters on the day of the then-governor's arrest that the feds had stopped a "corruption crime spree" that would "make Lincoln roll over in his grave." Writes Robert Blagojevich, "As far as I was concerned, any idea of the presumption of innocence I should have had was long lost before the trial began — starting with Fitzgerald's comment."
- Robert saw his brother at their 2009 arraignment and became annoyed that he made no effort to express regret about the legal morass his big brother found himself in. Regarding the meeting, Robert writes: "You expect that he'll apologize for dragging you into this mess. ... Instead, he leans over the table and says, 'You don't look like a criminal to me.' You don't smile or laugh. This day is not a joke. You look at him without emotion and say, 'You look like you need a haircut.'"
- To illustrate the tension between them, Robert recounts how Rod once walked over during a court recess at their joint 2010 trial to say Robert was "coming off clean so far." Robert snapped back angrily: "Of course I should come off clean. I am clean. ... This has nothing to do with me."
- Robert's legal team made a conscious effort to avoid referring to Robert as "Rob" because they were concerned about the public confusing the allegations against him with his better-known brother's more serious ones. But during jury selection for the 2010 trial, Robert was alarmed that many would-be jurors did confuse Rob with Rod on their questionnaires. "It was obvious ... that most of the prospective jurors had already made up their minds about Rod, and I believed, by default, me," Robert writes.