CHICAGO – A federal prosecutor began making final arguments Wednesday at the corruption retrial of Rod Blagojevich, telling jurors that the ousted Illinois governor lied to their faces for seven days on the witness stand.
Occasionally hitting her fist on a lectern as she spoke, government attorney Carrie Hamilton stepped to the center of the courtroom to address the panelists who have sat through six weeks of testimony.
"The defendant lied to you under oath in this courtroom," she said, countering Blagojevich's own first words to jurors that he was there "to tell you the truth."
Hamilton several times pointed across the room at Blagojevich, who appeared upset, shaking his head, looking down at the defense table or leaning over to whisper to his attorneys. His wife, Patti, sat nearby occasionally furrowing her brow, her brother's arm around her shoulder.
The prosecutor also referred back to oaths that Blagojevich took as governor that he would fulfill his duties honestly and according to the law.
"What you have learned in court at this trial is that time and time again, the defendant violated that oath," Hamilton said. "He used his powers as governor to try to get things for him."
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. The most serious allegation is that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. He's also accused of trying to shake down executives by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses.
Throughout, Hamilton likened Blagojevich to a corrupt traffic officer who would stop drivers and press them to hand over $50 to avoid a ticket. The mere act of an officer asking for money to tear up a ticket, Hamilton told jurors, is the crime. "The law focuses on the ask, not the receipt," she said.
The messages Blagojevich allegedly sent to executives trying to squeeze them for donations, Hamilton said repeatedly, "is the policeman tapping at the window."
Hamilton also told jurors that when they deliberate they should listen carefully to FBI wiretap recordings that underpinned much of the government's three-week case.
"It will make the defendant's guilt crystal clear," she said. "Listen to his tone. ... He is serious, he wants this. ... He knows exactly what he is doing and he wants it." She added, "This is not just politics, this is a politician engaging in criminal conduct."
Jurors could start deliberating as soon as Thursday afternoon, depending on the length of closing arguments by both sides.
Hamilton sought to connect the dots for the jury, linking evidence to the charges, one by one. Her job was made easier by the government's sharply streamlined case. Jurors at the first trial last year said the prosecution's case was too scattershot and too hard to follow.
Hamilton, who has a reputation as cool and methodical, endeavored to make eye contact with jurors during the closing, smiling at them on occasion and walking through the counts slowly, pausing frequently to take quick sips from two large water bottles.
Jurors, who occasionally sagged in their seats during testimony, sat up and listened carefully as Hamilton sought to guide them through the evidence — scribbling notes as the prosecutor went on.
Attorneys for Blagojevich had rested their case earlier in the day after calling defense witnesses that included a former congressman, a former state budget office employee and an FBI agent. Prosecutors then called rebuttal witnesses including two Canadian building executives and two FBI agents.
In the retrial, the prosecution called about 15 witnesses — around half the number as in the first trial. Prosecutors asked them fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges. Unlike the first go-around, the prosecution barely touched on Blagojevich's lavish shopping or his lax, sometimes odd working habits.
Blagojevich's first trial ended with a hung jury, with the panel agreeing on a single count — that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor. Before the initial trial, Blagojevich repeatedly insisted he would testify, but he never did. His lawyers rested without calling a single witness.
The impeached governor was the star witness of the three-week defense presentation this time. Under a grueling cross-examination, Blagojevich occasionally became flustered, but repeatedly denied trying to sell or trade the Senate seat or attempting to shake down executives.
In often long-winded answers, Blagojevich argued that his talk captured on FBI wiretaps was merely brainstorming, and that he never took the schemes seriously or decided to carry them out. And though the judge barred such arguments, Blagojevich claimed he'd believed his conversations were legal and part of common political discourse.
Defense attorneys had also called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Karen Hawkins can be reached at www.twitter.com/_khawkins. Michael Tarm can be reached at www.twitter.com/mtarm
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