After four months of the drip, drip, drip of testimony about the sickening, sleazy and, in my view, criminal dealings of former Gov. George Ryan and friends, prosecutors say they're about ready to rest their case.
Of course, they've said that before only to decide to continue to drag a few more skeletons out of the closet of Ryan and friends. So everyone will just have to wait and see if they'll really finish this week. But in the event they do, the stage will be set for a real showdown, one that, if it occurs, would be worth paying to see.
I refer, of course, to the possibility that Ryan will take the witness stand to explain to jurors why all the double-dealing in which he and his friends engaged is just so much distasteful politics as usual, not the rank criminality that prosecutors have alleged.
Defense lawyers, led by the famous/infamous Dan Webb, have promised that they will have a lengthy case to present. That may well be the case, but I'm skeptical.
In criminal cases, the defense rarely puts on a lengthy presentation, and Webb and his defense lawyer colleagues already have spent considerable time on cross-examination of prosecution witnesses. So my guess is that the defense won't take all that long, not compared to the 16 weeks consumed by federal prosecutors.
However, Ryan, if he testifies, will be on the stand for a long time [–] several days I would expect.
Putting Ryan on is, needless to say, a huge risk for the defense [–] either way [–] and the decision the defense makes will be judged almost solely in hindsight. If Ryan's acquitted, whatever decision defense lawyers make will be hailed as pure genius. If he's convicted, well, I'm sure you catch my drift.
Ryan would not appear to be the ideal witness, particularly for himself. He's not terribly articulate and not terribly likeable. He can be gruff, and he has a lot of explaining to do. There is potential for prosecutors to bait and buffalo him at length.
On the other hand, if he's well prepared and provided plausible answers to every conceivable question Ryan could do himself a world of good. That's a best-case scenario, of course, because the prosecution has built a mountain of evidence showing that Ryan used his official offices (both secretary of state and governor) to let his friends make one rotten deal after another and that he received significant cash gifts from them in return.
Of that, there can be no doubt.
Further, he had his employees not investigate evidence of criminal wrongdoing brought to their attention and purposely turned a blind eye to reports that his friends were breaking the law.
Finally, it appears that the feds have him cold on federal income tax violations for failing to report as income all the money he spent on personal expenses that came from his campaign coffers. His explanation that he didn't know he was required to report the spending as personal income does not square with his misrepresentations of what the money went for.
For example, all the cash gifts that went to family members for campaign work that was never performed would show an intentional desire to mislead. It's hard to claim one was legitimately confused about being required to report cash gifts as income while at the same time offering false explanations about the payments that were made.
At any rate, Ryan is in deep trouble. Maybe he'll skate. I personally don't see how he can.
But we'll all know in due course. In the meantime, Ryan had better be working hard on keeping his story straight because his appearance on the witness stand, if he makes one, will be the most important political debate of his career.