Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Case Against the Case Against Blagojevich

Because the case for would be too much. But my usual contrarian mood forces me to say what there is to be said in the man’s favor.

First, the laughs seem more authentic than the disgust. Which is to say, does anybody think that this sort of political horse-trading is all that uncommon, especially in Chicago or Illinois today? I mean, the part about trying to get a straight-up bribe, that’s over the top. But trying to parlay current political power into future success or campaign contributions? That is the stock and trade of pay-to-play politics. And that’s not a system Rod (I won’t keep typing his last name, too fraught with peril) created, nor is he the only one perpetuating it. Nothing about rolling his high-profile head, without more, makes me believe this situation is going to improve.

Second, from the perspective of procedural justice, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with Fitzgerald’s presser yesterday. It made for great TV, but that’s the problem. I don’t know if Rod could have gotten a fair trial absent yesterday’s show, but I’m dead certain he can’t get one now.

Fitzgerald is nobody’s fool, and no stranger to high-profile prosecutions. And we are in a slow news cycle, where it doesn’t take much to rip the CNNs of the world from wall-to-wall coverage of who’s going to be named Car Czar. Fitzgerald had to know that those sound bites would play in a loop all day. They were red meat thrown into a pit of hungry, feral dogs. And the media storyline developed quickly: this guy is the craziest, most selfish, most corrupt politician the world has ever seen.

Now, maybe he is. But that should be decided in a court of law. And it never will, not fairly, not in the state of Illinois, probably not in any state in the union at this point.

I have a theory as to why Fitzgerald approached this the way he did. He seems to have believed that Rod was actually in the process of selling Barack Obama’s seat. I once heard a couple of police officers talk about how, if they received a reliable tip about some drugs in, say, the trunk of the car, they would go seize those drugs, even if they weren’t sure the search would hold up in court. Here, maybe Fitzgerald was more concerned about stopping Rod from tainting the Senate than convicting him. Perhaps he reasoned that, by going this far in announcing in the indictment, he all but ensured that Rod would not be able to choose the next senator.

Maybe that was the right choice. These are tough values to weigh. But I do think that Fitzgerald's presser seemed like a cross between a public stoning and a stand-up routine. And that’s probably not the best way to maintain the integrity of whatever legal process awaits our always well-coiffed governor.


Marcelo Teson said...

Considering Fitz's tenacity and good work on the Plame case I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on his motivations.

Tom D said...

"Here, maybe Fitzgerald was more concerned about stopping Rod from tainting the Senate than convicting him."

I don't think your theory is based on supposition - it's just about exactly what Fitzgerald said his reasoning was, obviously without stating a lack of concern for conviction.

I am unclear on the nature of a criminal complaint versus an indictment but my impression is that it means the gears of justice are turning a little slower and that the details aren't totally filled in yet. Thus it supports your contention.

One reporter directly asked the question of when does horse-trading become illegal activity and whether both sides of the trade are illegal.

Fitzgerald answered it well in a strategic sense. He dodged the latter question more or less entirely and answered the former with the "calling a spade a spade" argument. e.g. when you ask for $1.2 million in salary for a unneeded union position in return for X you are crossing a line.

I think the public stoning aspect was directed at "Illinois political culture" rather than Roddy Rod. I think he's pissed off that arresting half of city hall and subpoenaing half of the Governor's staff didn't even have the effect of causing a little bit of caution in Rod's choice of words and location of them. The Rezko testimony is very relevant here.

I'm actually sympathetic to the Governor's malice toward the Tribune company. Their tireless campaign against Blagojevich has merit, but they have a history of throwing around words like recall pretty loosely. They weren't right for the right reasons and didn't come across as a neutral observer. So they lacked the credibility to change the culture which they ostensibly care about changing.

The Children's Hospital stuff was clearly grandstanding and I think supports your basic point that he was trying Rod in the court of public opinion.

Another issue, of course, is making sure he has the public support for remaining USA in IL, which I think he clearly has.

Hopefully he hasn't slept with any hookers, etc. otherwise we're in for a bumpy ride.