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Column: No Crime In Retrying Ex-Ill. Gov. Blagojevich

Allan Lengel

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

There’s no question it was a major embarrassment for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald when a Chicago jury on Tuesday convicted the over-chatty ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on only 1 of 24 counts — and that sole count did not even go to the meat of the case.

But I have to disagree with my former paper, the Washington Post, which said in an editorial that Fitzgerald “should back off” retrying the case. I also disagree with the Wall Street Journal editorial, which said Fitzgerald should resign or be removed by the Justice Department.

The Post said a retrial would amount to persecution, not prosecution. The Journal says that Fitzgerald piled up charges in this case and others and “this pattern points to a willful prosecutor who throws an exaggerated book at unpopular defendants and hopes at least one of the charges will stick, even as he flouts due process and the presumption of innocence when the political winds are high.”

First off, the jury voted 11-1 to convict on some counts including the most publicized one that Blagojevich tried selling the Senate seat vacated by Obama. One juror  said she thought Blagojevich was simply engaging in politics as usual. Sad, but true.

A retrial is not inappropriate. Even in the best of cases, you can run into a juror who simply holds out, rightly or wrongly. It happens. It doesn’t mean your case is a stinker or that you shouldn’t retry the case; it doesn’t mean you’re mean, vindictive if you retry the case.

Politicians have to learn that with political office comes the responsibility of being honest and having some integrity. Shaking down people for money shouldn’t be part of the job description.

Frankly, I find Rod Blagojevich amusing. So do a lot of other folks around the country. But he stepped way over the line. He knew he was stepping over the line. Unfortunately, yes, stepping over the line is simply politics as usual in Illinois and other parts of the country like Louisiana and New Jersey.

We need to keep sending a message this isn’t the politics as usual we want.


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