Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pardon for former Apprentice Star?

At Politico, David Bernstein argues that former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich "was sentenced as if he had actually pocketed $1.625 million in cash bribes" and "most of this amount comes from the $1.5 million in campaign contributions that he was offered by backers of then-Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. if Blagojevich named Jackson to Obama’s old Senate seat." And, finally, "No such contribution was ever made."

Bernstein notes the U.S. Probation Department believed Blago's sentence should not have been based on the "unsolicited offer" by Jackson’s associates because there was “not enough evidence to support that this is the amount the defendant could obtain or thought he could obtain.” But the judge rejected the probation department’s recommendation.
... five and a half years into his 14-year sentence, after two trials and multiple appeals, the former Illinois governor is now down to his last legal avenue: a petition for a writ of certiorari, pleading for a review by the Supreme Court. His lawyers are planning to file the petition on November 2. The odds that the court will hear a case are, as always, long, and Blagojevich has already been denied once before. A denial this time around would in all likelihood close his nine-year legal saga. His only remaining hope—a Hail Mary, at best—would be for Donald Trump to issue a presidential pardon or clemency. If not, Blagojevich will have to serve out his sentence at a low-security prison camp outside Denver until he is eligible for release in 2024.
Blagojevich has maintained "adamantly, loudly and to little avail—that he was wrongfully accused," but legal experts tell Bernstein that his case "is no laughing matter" - he "got a raw deal in the courts" that "could serve as a dangerous legal precedent." Why? Because the "expansive standard used to prosecute and convict him" might "make criminals out of virtually every politician in America for the unseemly, but routine, business of political deal-making."

In addition, "a number of recent Supreme Court decisions concerning political corruption, particularly under Chief Justice John Roberts, have given Blagojevich’s legal team cause for hope." 
The question is not whether Blagojevich sought the quid, which is not in itself illegal, but whether he attempted to, or did, deliver the quo, which is illegal if delivered on condition of the quid. Bernstein recalls:
Two juries struggled to sift the smoke from the fire and answer this question. In Blagojevich’s first trial, jurors deliberated for 14 days—an unusually long time—and wound up deadlocked on all but one of 24 counts against Blagojevich: that he lied to the FBI. District Judge James B. Zagel declared a mistrial on the 23 counts on which the jury could not reach a verdict. Eventually, Jury No. 2—after deliberating 10 days—agreed about Blagojevich’s guilt, convicting him of 17 of 20 corruption counts.  ... But in July 2015, a three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit threw out five of the 18 counts against him. All five of the vacated counts involved Blagojevich’s attempts to sell Obama’s old Senate seat for campaign money or a job—the very same shenanigans that Fitzgerald decried as the “most cynical” and “most appalling” part of Blagojevich’s “political corruption crime spree” ... The judges returned the case back to the lower court for resentencing. Zagel, however, was not persuaded by Blagojevich’s arguments and refused to reduce his sentence, reinstating it in full. 
As for the Supreme Court, it "has redrawn the line between illegal bribery and the ordinary business of politics" in "a series of cases decided between 2010 and 2016. Federal anti-corruption laws declared to be "too broad, and in turn narrowed the legal definition of corruption, making it much harder for the government to win such convictions, let alone serve indictments like the one against Blagojevich in the first place." And, there remains "deep disagreement among the federal circuit courts about the correct legal standard for determining where to draw the line between illegal and innocuous behavior."

See full story here.

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