It’s been a long time since I’ve written about former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, affectionately known as Blago.

Chicago Magazine has an in-depth and fascinating profile of and interview with Blago in prison,
His Life in Prison – BLAGO. You really need to read the whole thing, but the final paragraph sums up the essence of the ever-hopeful Blago:

As I listen to Blagojevich muse aloud about Mandela and David and other redemptive figures that he peppers the conversation with, it’s not a big leap to think he’s fantasizing about himself: being exonerated, winning an early release, being hailed as a folk hero wronged by the government—offering him a chance to revive his political career, maybe even achieve his long-held dream of one day becoming president. Whether or not he’s plotting his return, he is eager to reintroduce himself to the world: “I’m not giving up on my future.”

 

https://twitter.com/ChicagoMag/status/907439345103245312

The Chicago Magazine article prompted me to revisit our coverage of Blago. Only the longest-term readers will recall that Blago was one of the first obsessions at Legal Insurrection.

My first post about Blago was on December 9, 2008, two months after Legal Insurrection was founded, Blagojevich For Infrastructure Czar:

Illinois Governor Rudy Blagojevich has been indicted [correction 12/14/2008 – charged in a criminal complaint] for many offenses. While the press has focused on the attempt to sell Barack Obama’s open Senate seat, there is a more important aspect of the indictment as relates to Obama’s infrastructure plan.

Paragraphs 36-37 of the Criminal Complaint detail Blagojevich’s extortion of campaign contributions through his control of the Chicago Planning Board, which issued Certificates of Need for medical facility construction. Blagojevich’s unofficial “spokesman” for Planning Board matters was none other than Tony Rezko, whose wife worked a deal to help the Obamas purchase their house and who was a long-time Obama fundraiser.

That was to be the first of almost 100 posts about Blago. The deeper I got into the case, the less convinced I was that he did anything other than Chicago and Illinois politics as usual. Patrick Fitzgerald, of Scooter Libby fame, was out to get Blago, and what Patrick Fitzgerald wanted, Patrick Fitzgerald seemed to get.

Initially we covered the Illinois state shenanigans and maneuvering as to replacing Obama and attempts to remove Blago from office, ending in an Illinois Supreme Court victory for Blago, Illinois Supreme Court Rejects AG Madigan’s Motion To Remove Blagojevich

As we predicted repeatedly (here, and here, and here, and here), the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected the unprecedented request of Attorney General Lisa Madigan to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office, or alternatively, strip Blagojevich of his executive powers. The motion was ill-advised, legally weak, and based on assertions of a state emergency that were suspect at best. Though issued without explanation, the simultaneous ruling that AG Madigan is not even permitted to file a Complaint seeking Blagojevich’s ouster is a stinging rebuke to AG Madigan.

Throughout it all, I learned about how Blago was Blago, and no one could stop him from being Blago, Blagojevich’s Allusion To Churchill Was Not His Finest Hour:

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went on television yesterday and gave a speech to remember. What people will remember about the speech are the catchy phrases: “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight until I take my last breath” has received perhaps the most notoriety.

As others have noted, Blagojevich’s “fight” words were an allusion to Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech. Churchill’s speech is one of my all-time favorites, and commonly is viewed as representing the ability of a people to overcome overwhelming adversity through a willingness to fight to the end alone. Blagojevich clearly has this understanding as witnessed by his statement that “I know there are some powerful forces arrayed against me. It’s kind of lonely right now.” …

I do not know what will be the outcome of the Blagojevich trials and tribulations, although I look forward to tracking them carefully. But I have a deep sense that history will say that the speech Blagojevich gave on Friday, December 19, 2008, was not his finest hour.

Late 2008 through 2010 were the glory days of the conservative blogosphere, with many small blogs interacting and creating an ecosystem. (Twitter, in my view, pretty much destroyed that ecosystem, since it provides easier access to an audience with lower time and financial commitment than blogs.) So it was with Blago, as documented in my post The Official Guide To Blagojevich Blogs:

Welcome to Legal Insurrection’s Official Guide to Blagojevich Blogs. What makes this “official”? The same thing that makes people think the Franklin Mint is related to the U.S. Mint, even though the commercial says it’s not.

These blogs have frequent posts or links specifically about Blago. This list is a work in progress and will be updated frequently. Please post suggested blogs as Comments, or e-mail me at contact/at/legalinsurrection/dot/com (if you can’t figure out what to change in the address, I’m not sure I want your input).

What a time to be a blog. (We now call ourselves a “website,” btw.)

Who remembers Roland Burris? I do, Blagojevich Plays The Race Card On Fellow Democrats:

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris has put the Democratic party in a box. By appointing an African-American to the empty Senate seat, Blagojevich has forced his political opponents to risk being called racists. In supporting the appointment, Congressman Bobby Rush called opposition to Burris an attempted lynching. Whether this analogy is justified is questionable, but it is the same tactic that has been used against conservatives for decades, most recently by the Obama campaign. Democrats are getting a dose of their own medicine, and I hope it goes down like a bitter pill.

Burris was seated as Senator, after another Illinois Supreme Court ruling, but only after Blago’s appointment of him created much consternation among Democrats:

According to news reports, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is prepared to have armed guards bar Roland Burris from the Senate floor, despite the fact that Burris has been legally appointed to Barack Obama’s open Senate seat by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. At the same time, Reid is praising the unlawful refusal of the Illinois Secretary of State to certify the Burris appointment, in order to create a pretext for Reid not to seat Burris.

By January 2009, having witnessed national Democrats embarrass themselves over Blago and Burris, I finally figured out the essence of Blago, Blagojevich Is Good At Making Others Look Bad:

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Illinois politics. I’ve been following the Rod Blagojevich saga as an outsider looking in, from a legal perspective. One things seems clear to me, as we approach the impeachment trial: Rod Blagojevich is very good at making others look bad.

Remember Blago’s impeachment trial? I do, The Unjust and Unconstitutional Trial of Rod Blagojevich:

On Monday, January 26, 2009, the impeachment trial of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins. Nominally, the trial will be held by the Illinois Senate with the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court presiding. In reality, this case is, and always has been, under the control of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald….

The impeachment trial that is about to begin is an injustice. Not because Rod Blagojevich is innocent of the charges, or should remain in office. Rather, the injustice is a result of a prosecutor who saw it as his charge to use his bully pulpit to remove a Governor, and a legislature which willingly served this function for its own political purposes. Rod Blagojevich may not deserve sympathy, but he does deserve a fair and constitutional process, neither of which will be available at the Senate trial.

This *may* surprise you, but I took Blago’s side on impeachment, Just Say No To The Flawed Impeachment Of Rod Blagojevich:

I won’t repeat all of what I’ve said in over 50 posts over the past seven weeks, so here is the short version of why Illinois Senators should say no to this impeachment:

  1. The process is unconstitutional. The Senate delegated trial decision-making authority to Fitzgerald, in violation of the Illinois Constitution, which vests such authority exclusively in the Presiding Chief Justice and Senators. Fitzgerald started this process with his press conference, has made public only such evidence as supported his goal of removing Blagojevich from office, and has insulated that evidence from challenge. This fundamental flaw in the process has tainted the trial beyond remedy.
  2. The process is fundamentally unfair, in that it restricted Blagojevich’s ability to challenge the evidence against him as to the criminal complaint affidavit upon which the Senate relies almost exclusively for the allegations of criminal conduct. While we can debate to what extent Blagojevich is entitled to “due process,” we all should want removal of an elected Governor to require a fundamentally fair process and trial, which has been absent here.
  3. The non-criminal offenses do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses. While the Illinois Constitution does not define what is an impeachable offense, any reasonable understanding requires that the conduct be so extreme as to be the functional equivalent of a high crime or misdemeanor. The non-criminal offenses charged boil down to a political battle between the executive branch and the legislature as to the proper balance of powers. Such separation of powers contests properly are left to the courts to sort out. Impeachment on such matters merely becomes a tool for the legislature to assert its primacy in the political power game; but the players in a game should not also be the referees, which is what is happening in this impeachment proceeding.

I loved, loved, loved Blago’s “closing statement” in his Illinois Senate trial, Blago’s Masterful Closing Argument – First Take:

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich just finished his closing argument in the Senate impeachment trial. In an impassioned argument, Blagojevich invoked images of his immigrant parents, the people he tried to help by providing health care benefits, and working families….

Great closing statement aside, Blago was convicted in the impeachment trial:

Despite an impassioned last minute closing argument, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was found guilty by the Illinois Senate on the Article of Impeachment. The vote was 59-0 to convict Blagojevich of the single Article of Impeachment for abusing power. Elements of the Article included alleged criminal conduct and administrative breaches of separation of power. The Senators also voted 59-0 to disqualify Blagojevich from further public office in Illinois.

Illinois Lt. Governor Patrick J. Quinn was to be sworn in momentarily to take office as Governor. Blagojevich, who left shortly after his closing argument several hours earlier, was not in attendance.

One of our readers even produced a video, The Blagojevich Polka, which unfortunately, like Blago, no longer is available:

https://legalinsurrection.com/2010/04/my-blagos-back-is-obama-gonna-be-in-trouble/

By the time of the federal criminal trial, I was exhausted by the Blago saga, and didn’t cover the trial proceedings very carefully. There was a trial and a retrial. I did have a verdict watch, however, Blago Verdict Watch // Update – Guilty on 17 Counts.

Blago was sentenced to 14 years in prison. A statement by the judge at sentencing seemed to sum up Blago’s political career, Saga Blago diagnosis in one sentence:

“your personality may not be entirely suitable for public service.”

Blago bid farewell to freedom with a campaign-style rally:

In the Chicago magazine profile, Blago talks about his long prison sentence:

Still, the long sentence has weighed heavily on him. “It’s a terrifying prospect,” he says. “I can’t lie.” He won’t be eligible for early release until he serves a little more than 12 years. The reality hit home after a couple of days at FCI Englewood, during a meeting with his case manager: “She’s going over my file with me, and she says, ‘Well, your exit day is in May of 2024.’ This is March of 2012 when she says this. It was like Joe Frazier hitting Muhammad Ali with one of those left hooks to his body, right? And then she says, ‘But I’ve got some good news for you.’ And I was able to get out, ‘What would that be?’ And she says, ‘I’m recommending six months in a halfway house.’ So I’m calculating in my mind, OK, I can be home by Christmas 2023—maybe not home, but to the halfway house.” He chuckles at the thought. He will be 68 then.

Blago brings back a lot of memories.

Good luck in the future, Governor.