Updated | August 18 Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor accused of turning his public office into a money-making scheme, was found guilty of one count of lying to federal agents Tuesday. But the jury deadlocked on the remaining 23 charges against him, and the judge said he planned to declare a mistrial.
Blagojevich had faced an array of charges, including allegations that he attempted to sell Barack Obama’s former Senate seat to the highest bidder. He was ousted by the Illinois state legislature last year, and had spent considerable time before and during the trial in several madcap media appearances, all the while maintaining his innocence.
The jurors deliberated for 14 days, signaling several times that they were having difficulty reaching a verdict. After four notes to the judge seeking guidance, the jury returned a unanimous decision on only one of the charges against Blagojevich, finding him guilty of lying to FBI agents when he told them he had kept his political activity and official business separate. The charge carries a maximum five-year prison term.
The day after the verdict was announced, jurors who spoke to the media said Blagojevich and his brother, Robert, who was also on trial, had narrowly avoided convictions on several other, more serious charges. Steve Wlodek told Chicago public broadcaster WBEZ that most of the jurors were convinced by wiretaps that seemed to capture Blagojevich using the Senate seat as a bargaining chip to enrich himself and his family. But at least one juror held out, scuttling any chance at a unanimous verdict.
Ultimately, Wlodek said, he was disappointed with the outcome of the trial.
“I feel like we let the people of the state down. I feel that there was some blatant disregard for the laws and our Senate seat and some other bills that were out there, and justice was not served,” Wlodeck told WBEZ. “You get every juror except one, that’s a pretty telling story from that standpoint, because it’s close. They got the senate seat it’s just a matter of who’s on the jury.
As he left the federal courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday, Blagojevich pledged to fight his conviction on appeal, and said prosecutors could not prove he had done anything illegal, according to the Associated Press. “This jury shows you that the government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me,” Blagojevich said. “They could not prove I did anything wrong — except for one nebulous charge from five years ago.”
The judge has set a hearing for Aug. 26 to decide how to proceed with a new trial.
The result was seen widely as a victory for Blagojevich and his legal team, and a significant setback for federal prosecutors, who vowed immediately to retry the case. Federal authorities staged a dramatic raid of Blagojevich’s home in Chicago in December 2008, arresting him just before dawn in what officials described as an attempt to stop “a political corruption crime spree.” But the arrest also complicated the case, legal experts have said, because Blagojevich had yet to succeed in any of his alleged deals.
A new trial may also be bad news for the White House, which has sought to avoid being dragged into Blagojevich’s mess. The former governor’s legal team unsuccessfully subpoenaed key administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and adviser Valerie Jarrett, in a bid to muddy the waters and portray Blagojevich as an innocent, if hapless politician caught up in a corrupt Chicago machine.
After the trial, Robert Blagojevich, spoke briefly to reporters. “I feel strong. I feel confident. I don’t feel in any way deterred. I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said. “I’ve got ultimate confidence in my acquittal.”
Of the former governor’s conviction for making false statements to federal authorities, he added, “I feel bad for my brother.”