No big break for Blago

No big break for Blago

As he approaches resentencing, no one should forget the length and breadth of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's criminality.

When former Gov. Blagojevich was sentenced after his conviction on a broad array of corruption charges, U.S. Judge James Zagel dropped the hammer on him.

Zagel ordered the smooth-talking Blagojevich to serve 14 years for his convictions in connection with overseeing one of the most wide-ranging and grandiose corruption schemes in Illinois history.

Now that a federal appeals court has thrown out some of the charges for which Blagojevich was convicted, Blagojevich supporters are urging Zagel to order a significant reduction of the sentence, if not outright release, at the Aug. 9 hearing.

Noting that Blagojevich has already served four years, they're asking for undeserved leniency.

Among Blagojevich's supporters are fellow inmates who like and admire him, no surprise given his remarkable people skills and charming personality. The Chicago Tribune reports that Blagojevich's prison supporters describe him "as kind, a mentor and a man with the utmost respect for the law."

That last reference betrays the emptiness of the argument on Blagojevich's behalf. Utmost respect for the law? As governor, Blagojevich had zero respect for the law — he sought to break it in every way imaginable as soon as he was sworn in to office.

He presided over a tsunami of corruption, so much that federal prosecutors opted not to pursue it all. His jailhouse conversion has no credibility.

So what is Judge Zagel to do with Blagojevich the second time around?

His supporters appropriately cite the appellate court's decision to overturn several of his convictions. But it's just as important to look at what the appellate court said as well as what it did.

The three-judge appellate panel pointed out that the evidence against Blagojevich was "overwhelming" and that the convictions that were upheld are sufficiently serious to justify reimposing a 14-year sentence. It also said that Blagojevich improperly benefitted from Judge Zagel's overly generous interpretation of the sentencing guidelines.

For instance, Judge Zagel gave Blagojevich time off his sentence for "acceptance of responsibility" because he said he accepted the jury's guilty verdicts and was "unbelievably sorry."

But in Blagojevich's case, the appellate court noted, "he pleaded not guilty, denied culpability at two lengthy trials, and even now contends that the evidence is insufficient on every count and that he should have been acquitted across the board."

"That's the antithesis of accepting responsibility," the appellate court stated.

It may well be that Blagojevich has done some good behind bars. He reportedly teaches history classes to inmates and formed a band. At the same time, inmates say Blagojevich spends much of his time reading, running and working out in the gym. That's pretty much all he did as governor, and it's one of the reasons state government here is a disaster.

No one should begrudge him his desire to get out of prison. But efforts by Blagojevich's fellow politicians to pave the way for his release are worthy of scorn.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky asked that Blagojevich "be reunited with his family at the earlier possible time."

"It's true that Rod did not always measure up, but he also did much good for many people in the state," she said.

Schakowsky's effort to minimize Blagojevich's serial criminality is unworthy of someone who holds her important office. But it's not uncommon for pols to come to the aid of their corrupt brethren, in some way suggesting that political corruption shouldn't be taken as seriously as other criminal behavior.

Speaking on WDWS radio this week, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin expressed similar sentiments, asserting that the sentence Zagel imposed was "excessive" and that Blagojevich has "paid a heavy price" for his misconduct. He expressed the hope that Zagel would impose "a more reasonable" sentence.

Give Durbin credit for consistency. He also urged former President George W. Bush to grant early release to imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan. Bush ignored Durbin's suggestion.

There's no question that Blagojevich's sentence was more than what Illinois politicians are used to receiving for their criminal conduct. Then again, Blagojevich's criminality also was far in excess of the usual political misconduct.

But what's wrong with hammering politicians who sell out the public trust? Weak sentencing certainly hasn't served as a deterrent, and one consequence of that is relentless corruption that has soiled Illinois' reputation from coast to coast.

Why not insert a little more risk into the risk/reward calculation our elected officials make when they embark on their criminal conspiracies?

Blagojevich knew what he was doing when he and his many co-conspirators set off on their remarkable extortion expedition. That's why the original sentence remains justified.

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ROB McCOLLEY wrote on July 17, 2016 at 5:07 am
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"Blagojevich had zero respect for the law — he sought to break it in every way imaginable as soon as he was sworn in to office."

 

Why not provide a list, or indeed a single example, of this criminality? You make a lot of grandiose statements here without any warrant or citation. Is it so hard to show your work?

Blagojevich demanded money from anyone seeking political action (not necessesarily governance). I wouldn't say that's a good thing, but it's utterly normal.

What US Ambassador didn't give generously to the campaign of the president who appointed him?

Does the News-Gazette board also disagree with the findings in Buckley v. Valeo or Citizens United? Those cases determined (correctly, I would argue) that anti-money crusaders will need to amend the constitution to prevent paid speech in political campaigns.

When was a government post EVER given to a person who didn't provide patronage in the form of work or cash?