A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out five of the convictions against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as well as his 14-year prison sentence, in a long-awaited decision from the court.
Here are some key points. Read the full decision.
"Blagojevich now asks us to hold that the evidence [in this case] is insufficient to convict him on any count. The argument is frivolous. The evidence, much of it from Blagojevich’s own mouth, is overwhelming.”
“But a problem in the way the instructions told the jury to consider the evidence requires us to vacate the convictions on counts that concern Blagojevich’s proposal to appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate in exchange for an appointment to the Cabinet … Because the instructions do not enable us to be sure that the jury found that Blagojevich offered to trade the appointment for a private salary after leaving the Governorship, these convictions cannot stand.”
“None of the evidence suggests that Blagojevich claimed to have an ‘official right’ to a job in the cabinet. …. An attempt to get [the President] to appoint a particular person to the Cabinet is not an attempt to secure ‘property’ from the President (or the citizenry at large).”
“It would not be plausible to describe a political trade of favors as an offer or attempt to bribe the other side. … Compensation for a job by someone than a ghost worker is a ‘bona fide salary’ – and, as we’ve pointed out, the ‘usual course of business’ in politics includes logrolling.”
“The indictment also charged Blagojevich with wire fraud. … That the negotiations used the phone system is indisputable, but where’s the fraud? Blagojevich did not try to deceive Sen. Obama.”
“The prosecutor insists … that Blagojevich’s situation is different and uncommon because he sought a post in the Cabinet for himself. It isn’t clear to us that this is unusual. The current Secretary of State was appointed to that position from a seat in the Senate, and it wouldn’t surprise us if this happened at least in part because he had performed a political service for the President.”
“If the prosecutor [in the Blagojevich case] is right, and a swap of political favors involving a job for one of the politicians is a felony, then if the standard account is true both the President of the United States and the Chief Justice of the United States should have gone to prison” [in the Warren/Eisenhower scenario].
“Because so many other convictions [against Blagojevich] remain and the district judge imposed concurrent sentences, the prosecutor may think retrial unnecessary – but the judge may have considered the sought-after Cabinet appointment in determining the length of the sentence, so we remand for re-sentencing across the board.”
“Much of Blagojevich’s appellate presentation assumes that extortion can violate the Hobbs Act only if a quid pro quo is demanded explicitly, but the statute does not have a magic-words requirement. Few politicians say, on or off the record, ‘I will exchange official act X for payment Y.’ Similarly persons who conspire to rob banks or distribute drugs do not propose or sign contracts in the statutory language. ‘Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, you know what I mean’ can amount to extortion under the Hobbs Act, just as it can furnish the gist of a Monty Python sketch.”
“It is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich’s crimes, but the district judge should consider on remand whether it is the most appropriate sentence.”