CHICAGO (AP) — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich may still end up serving all of his 14-year prison term despite an appeals court ruling that he didn’t break the law when he sought to secure a post in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet for appointing an Obama adviser to the president’s old U.S. Senate seat.
In overturning five of 18 corruptions counts that sent Blagojevich off to a prison, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Tuesday also ordered he be resentenced. But the court said his original prison sentence may not be extreme, even with some counts dismissed.
Speaking outside the Blagojevich family home in Chicago, his wife, Patti, told reporters later Tuesday that her husband had expressed disappointment the court didn’t hand him a clear legal victory.
“He’s disappointed, of course,” she said, the couple’s 18-year-old daughter at her side. She added more optimistically, “Possibly this is a step in the right direction of getting Rod home to his family.”
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The court’s unanimous ruling addressed a key question looming over the Blagojevich case: Where is the line between legal and illegal political wheeling and dealing? The panel’s answer: When it came to Blagojevich’s attempt to land a Cabinet seat, he did not cross the line. But his attempts to trade the Senate seat for campaign cash, however, were illegal, the court concluded.
On federal wiretaps played at his trial, the two-term Democratic governor broached the idea of a Cabinet job in exchange for appointing Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to Obama’s vacant Senate seat. That never happened.
In its ruling, the appeals court pointed to allegations that President Dwight Eisenhower named Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court after Warren offered Eisenhower key political support during the 1952 campaign. The judges said that under the logic used to charge Blagojevich, Eisenhower and Warren might have been convicted.
“If the (Blagojevich) prosecutor is right, and a swap of political favors involving a job for one of the politicians is a felony, then … both the President of the United States and the Chief Justice of the United States should have gone to prison,” the ruling says.
But the judges upheld allegations that Blagojevich sought to sell the Senate seat for campaign cash, describing the evidence against him as overwhelming. Blagojevich had argued he didn’t break the law because he never stated explicitly that he was willing to trade an appointment for campaign cash. The panel balked at that notion.
“Few politicians say, on or off the record, ‘I will exchange official act X for payment Y,'” the opinion says. “Similarly, persons who conspire to rob banks or distribute drugs do not propose or sign contracts in the statutory language.”
Defense attorney Leonard Goodman said he would urge his client to challenge the panel’s finding, possibly by asking the full appeals court to rehear the case.
For their part, prosecutors could retry Blagojevich on the dropped counts, though prosecutors often decline to retry a case if most counts are upheld. The U.S. attorney’s office has declined to comment on the ruling.
After his December 2008 arrest, Blagojevich became the butt of jokes on late-night TV, including for his well-coiffed hair and his foul-mouthed rants on FBI wiretaps. The most notorious excerpt was one where he crows about the Senate seat: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—— golden. And I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing.”
Blagojevich began serving his sentence at a prison near Denver on March 15, 2012, and has served more than three years. Before the appeal, his estimated release date was 2024; he would be 67.
Associated Press writers Tammy Webber, Don Babwin, Sophia Tareen, Herbert McCann and Sara Burnett contributed to this report.
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