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The [Wednesday] Papers

So much nonsense causing so much despair.

If we can't even get Blago right, what hope is there for anything else?

To his amateur apologists - including some prominent members of the media:

This one isn't even close. Head over to @BeachwoodReport for the world's best Blago commentary, then come back here for bonus coverage. I'll wait.

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Blago's prosecutors (Reid Schar, Chris Niewoehner, Carrie Hamilton and Patrick Fitzgerald) have issued a statement. Now, obviously I don't automatically believe everything prosecutors say - just as I don't believe everything defense lawyers say. In this case, however, prosecutors' assertions stood up against the known evidence, while defense statements fell apart when measured against the indisputable facts. Sorry, but it's true! So here goes:

The following statement was issued today regarding the President's commutation of the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich:

"Although the President has exercised his lawful authority to commute the remaining portion of Mr. Blagojevich's prison sentence, Mr. Blagojevich remains a felon, convicted of multiple serious acts of corruption as governor. The criminal conduct for which a jury unanimously convicted Mr. Blagojevich included the following actions:

(1) extorting the CEO of a children's hospital by withholding important state funding to help sick children until the CEO provided campaign contributions;

(2) extorting the owners of a racetrack by intentionally holding up the signing of important state legislation until the owners provided campaign contributions in response to an explicit demand for them;

(3) extortionately demanding funding for a high-paying private sector job, as well as campaign contributions, in exchange for naming a replacement to an open U.S. Senate seat; and

(4) lying to the FBI to cover up his criminal activity.

The law and extensive facts underlying Mr. Blagojevich's conviction were reviewed by independent judges on an appellate court and by the Supreme Court of the United States. These courts affirmed Mr. Blagojevich's conviction and sentence, and the appellate court described the evidence against him as "overwhelming."

Extortion by a public official is a very serious crime, routinely prosecuted throughout the United States whenever, as here, it can be detected and proven. That has to be the case in America: a justice system must hold public officials accountable for corruption. It would be unfair to their victims and the public to do otherwise.

While the President has the power to reduce Mr. Blagojevich's sentence, the fact remains that the former governor was convicted of very serious crimes. His prosecution serves as proof that elected officials who betray those they are elected to serve will be held to account."

Mr. Schar, Mr. Niewoehner, and Judge Hamilton are former Assistant United States Attorneys in Chicago who represented the government at trial in U.S.A. v. Blagojevich. Mr. Fitzgerald was the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois during the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Blagojevich. This statement is issued in their individual capacities.

Sure, but wasn't a 14-year sentence a bit harsh?

Actually, no. Blagojevich's sentence was at the low end of the guidelines. He got a break.

See also: Blago Ruling Indicts Media.

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And yet, at least some of Blago's apologists are getting a free ride. Shia Kapos, for example, allowed this into her reporting for Politico without correcting the record:

"Everyone knows 14 years was way beyond the sentencing norms," said Delmarie Cobb, a longtime political operative who served as Hillary Clinton's Illinois press secretary in 2016 and worked on Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign.

Everyone knows that except the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said this in 2017 - just three years ago:

The sentence was again 168 months. As before, the judge determined that the Sentencing Guidelines recommend a term within the range of 360 months to life, then made some reductions that produced a final range of 151 to 188 months. (Our first opinion rejected a challenge to that range. See 794 F.3d at 743.)

The judge recognized that 168 months is a stiff sentence for non-violent crimes by someone with no criminal record and unlikely to commit the same kinds of crimes again, because his impeachment and removal from office by the state legislature makes him ineligible for election to a new state office. Ill. Const. Art IV ยง14. But the judge concluded that the sentence is justified by the gravity of Blagojevich's offenses and the need to deter other public officials from acting as Blagojevich did.

Our first opinion stated: "It is not possible to call 168 months unlawfully high for Blagojevich's crimes, but the district judge should consider on remand whether it is the most appropriate sentence. 794 F.3d at 743. The judge did consider that issue in the new sentencing and stuck by his conclusion.

As did they.

So Delmarie Cobb is flat-out wrong - as is Kapos for letting her state that without correcting the record.

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"He didn't do anything," Cobb also told Kapos.

The CEO of the children's hospital he shook down for a campaign contribution before releasing Medicaid reimbursement funds begs to differ. Via the Daily Herald:

"The head of the Naperville hospital wore a wire to provide evidence of a shakedown scheme against Edward that led to convictions of Blagojevich confederates and helped build the federal case against the governor.

Now retired, she said both Trump and Blagojevich "totally abused the power entrusted to each of them."

"I recognize it was a long sentence," Davis said. "One of the reasons it was a long sentence is that (Blagojevich) never took individual responsibility for what he had done."

Exactly right.

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"People go up for murder and don't get 14 years," [Cobb] said, echoing the reasons Trump gave for commuting Blagojevich's sentence.

Again, this is simply not true. From the Tribune:

First-degree murder in Illinois carries a sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment, depending on various factors. Those convicted of first-degree murder have to serve 100 percent of their sentence.

Among those various factors, I'm fairly certain: whether the defendant admits guilt, expresses remorse, and cooperates with the police and prosecutors. (Blago has done none of those things.)

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"Cobb . . . argued there are some African Americans who believe Blagojevich got such a long sentence because he was friendly to the black community."

I'm sure there are those who think that. There are also those that think Blagojevich is an alien.

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"Democratic state Rep. LaShawn Ford echoed the sentiment, saying Blagojevich wasn't just good at schmoozing, he endeared himself to the African-American community for hiring black people in his administration and pushing for policies that benefited minorities.

"He hired a lot of African Americans, he supported early childhood education programs that created jobs and allowed parents to go to work, and you saw blacks get contracts to agencies more than you ever did before and maybe even since," Ford said. It wasn't about campaign photo ops, he said. Blagojevich earned a reputation for follow-through.

The state's political establishment just collectively spit out their coffee because Blagojevich's reputation was exactly the opposite: governing by press release and photo op and leaving the follow-up to others.

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Now let's turn our attention to longtime Blago sympathizer and access journalist Natasha Korecki, whose Politico piece led the site for a significant amount of time Tuesday and this morning.

"Prosecutors had calculated that under federal guidelines, Blagojevich's crimes technically qualified for 30 years to life in prison, but they asked for 15 to 20 years."

So far, so good.

"[Blagojevich's judge], as it happens, was the same judge who in 2009 had sentenced mob informant Nick Calabrese to 12 years in prison. Calabrese helped take down the Chicago mob. He also killed 14 people."

Okay, one sentence has nothing to do with the other. I mean, we can play that game all day and Blagojevich would hardly be the most aggrieved defendant. But more to the point, and what Korecki doesn't tell her readers, is that Calabrese was, as the Tribune reported at the time, "the only made member of the Chicago Outfit ever to testify against his superiors. His cooperation solved some of the Chicago area's most notorious gangland killings and sent three mob leaders away for life. Weighing Calabrese's terrible crimes against his unprecedented testimony in the Family Secrets trial, a federal judge sentenced him to just 12 years and 4 months behind bars, leaving relatives of Calabrese's many victims outraged and distraught."

What does this mean? First, that Calabrese's relatively light sentence was an outrage in itself at the time, so measuring Blagojevich's sentence against it is deceitfully stacking the deck; and second, that Calabrese's relatively light sentence was a result of his death-defying cooperation with federal investigators as well as a message to other mobsters that such cooperation will be rewarded. Agree or not, but important context nonetheless.

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Back to Korecki:

"I've written hundreds of stories, blog posts, magazine articles and, finally, a book on Blagojevich's case. There was one sentiment I heard over and over again, which went something like, 'I know Blagojevich was guilty as hell, but 14 years is insane.'"

She and I travel in different circles, because I've rarely heard that. But when I have, it's almost always from someone who either thinks the entire Blagojevich case was about him "selling" a U.S. Senate seat or who is not bothered by political corruption because it's a way of life around here. Also, because they've read Korecki.

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"The prosecution long battled public perception of the charges against Blagojevich as overkill - despite a stockpile of secret recordings in which Blagojevich famously said of the Senate seat Obama vacated, 'I've got this thing and it's f---ing golden.' Questions always swirled around the criminal case: Wasn't this just a ham-handed governor, emasculated and rejected by the political establishment, a politically isolated boor, who was talking big on the phone?"

Who asked those questions? Korecki!

Note, too, that she fails to mention Blagojevich's other schemes - how many times do we have to note that he shook down a children's hospital?

"Yes, attempting but failing to commit a crime is still a crime, but it's another thing to convince an average person it's illegal and punishable, especially in city where standing on someone's neck for a payoff is a way of life."

I don't know if it's really that tough to convince an "average person," but prosecutors certainly convinced a jury, a judge and several appeals courts.

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"[E]ven Fitzgerald was second-guessed when, in 2008 - the day the sitting governor was arrested in his jogging suit - Fitzgerald declared 'the conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.' The defense accused him of breaking Justice Department ethics guidelines forbidding extrajudicial comments and possibly tainting a jury pool."

Again with the passive voice. Who did the second-guessing, Blago's defense attorneys? Beyond that, Blagojevich is the one who set out to taint the jury pool with is reality TV and talk tour.

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"The Blagojevich case provided additional ammunition to critics of law enforcement already screaming about government overreach."

Really? Who? How?

"The most severe example was Blagojevich's longtime friend, Chris Kelly. Prosecutors, attempting to turn Kelly into a government witness, brought three separate indictments against him. After prosecutors filed a motion to revoke his bond, Kelly, who battled depression, took his own life. With his dying breath he told his girlfriend: 'Tell them they won.'"

Were those indictments not valid? Is Korecki really blaming Kelly's suicide on federal prosecutors? The degree of disingenuousness in this piece astounds.

*

"It was against this backdrop that prosecutors brought their case. And the public reservations played out in court.

"Despite what appeared to be overwhelming evidence, the first time prosecutors brought Blagojevich to trial, the jury was unable to reach a consensus, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial on 23 of 24 counts."

So Korecki admits the evidence was overwhelming. What Korecki doesn't tell you is that the jury wasn't simply "unable to reach a consensus," it was held up by a lone holdout juror who simply couldn't be reasoned with.

Nonetheless. prosecutors pared down their case - to Blagojevich's benefit - for the retrial.

*

"Even then, some of the jurors afterward expressed regret; they liked Blagojevich, but they had to follow the letter of the law."

Somehow, Korecki thinks supports her point, but not so: despite liking Blagojevich, they followed the letter of the law.

*

Blagojevich (and Kelly) weren't the only ones who got snared in the myriad schemes emanating from the governor's office at the time. From NBC Chicago in 2012:

A judge has handed a two-year sentence to a longtime friend of Rod Blagojevich who stood close to the former Illinois governor as his fortunes rose, but who turned against him after his 2008 arrest. Lon Monk's sentencing Tuesday came weeks after Blagojevich reported to prison to begin a 14-year sentence for corruption counts. Monk is one of the last members of Blagojevich's inner circle to be sentenced in a legal saga stretching back a decade.

"I am prepared to serve my sentence," Monk said Tuesday. "My family is preparing."

Monk testified at both of Blagojevich's trials. He told jurors he and Blagojevich tried to squeeze a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign donation.

Monk pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud and agreed to testify in exchange for a government recommendation that he serve two years rather than the maximum five. Part of his sentence also includes paying a $7,500 fine.

And:

John Harris, Blagojevich's last chief of staff, was last week sentenced to just 10 days in prison for helping his old boss try to sell President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

At Blagojevich's sentencing in December, Zagel explained why he felt the one-term congressman and two-term governor deserved a stiff sentence, telling the crowded courtroom that Blagojevich had been the ringleader of the illegal schemes and that, as a top elected official, he had violated voters' trust.

Many believe Zagel got Blagojevich's sentence right.

"Sure, 14 years in longer than 10 days," said longtime Illinois political observer Charlie Wheeler. "But Blagojevich was at the top of the pile . . . Harris was small fry. To me, Blagojevich deserved just what he got."

Huh, imagine that.

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ChicagoReddit

Where in Chicago could use a pizza shop? from r/chicago

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ChicagoGram

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ChicagoTube

iLe at the Old Town School earlier this month.

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TweetWood
A sampling of the non-Blago delight and disgust you can find @BeachwoodReport.

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The Beachwood Piss Me Off Line: And don't tell me it's raining.



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Posted on February 19, 2020


MUSIC - The Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza.
TV - Newsmax On Fox News's Betrayal.
POLITICS - Dear Black Students ...
SPORTS - Beachwood Sports Radio: Losing Ugly.

BOOKS - Ralph Steadman's Life In Ink.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Cole Hauser's Last Champion.


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