Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Blago’s Brother Robert: Patrick Fitzgerald ‘Poisoned’ Jury Pool

On Monday, after jurors in the Blagojevich retrial delivered a nearly sweeping guilty verdict, I called the gov’s brother, Robert. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation, in which he accuses U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of “[poisoning] the jury pool and the media,” and says that the feds used him as a pawn…

Robert Blagojevich
Robert Blagojevich
On Monday, after jurors in the Blagojevich retrial delivered a nearly sweeping guilty verdict, I called the gov’s brother, Robert. Older than Rod by 16 months, Rob is a former banker, an Army veteran, and a serious man. He was also a co-defendant in Blago’s first trial, but in the wake of the deadlocked jury, the government dropped the charges against Rob. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation, in which he accuses U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of “[poisoning] the jury pool and the media,” and says that the feds used him as a pawn in the first trial to get to his brother. Rob also expresses relief that his parents were not around to see the two siblings go through their legal battles.

CF: Have you spoken to your brother?
RB:
I’m not commenting on [that]. I’m just going to keep that between us. [The Sun-Times reports that the brothers did not speak on Monday, but that Rob sent Rod a text message.]

CF: You told the hosts of a local radio show here that you intended to make an appearance at Rod’s retrial, but you didn’t.
RB:
I was strongly advised by my attorney not to come to Chicago. I was asked to testify by Rod’s lawyers and I wanted to do that, but Mike [attorney Michael Ettinger] advised me not to because of the way the government dismissed its charges against me—without prejudice, which means they could re-indict me on whatever pretense they could find, or if I somehow was inconsistent in my testimony from the previous trial they would charge me with perjury. 

CF: What did you think of your brother’s representation?
RB:
I totally commend Shelly Sorosky for stepping up as a friend and a lawyer for my brother. He’s is a special person who did the best he could … with limited resources. Shelly to me is a family hero. They [Sorosky, Aaron Goldstein and Lauren Kaeseberg] threw themselves into it.

CF: You’ve referred several times to the nightmare of fighting the feds. In what way was it a nightmare?
RB:
The government wages a war of attrition on you. When I was indicted they knew that I had some financial flexibility; they knew because they eavesdropped on my … conversations with my financial advisor. I believe part of their reasoning in indicting me was they would eliminate me as a possible source to help Rod. I felt I was being used as a pawn to get my brother to plead because they had come to us asking for a global solution.

CF: What do you mean by “global solution?”
RB:
My attorney had a conversation with the lead prosecutor. And [the prosecutor] said, “We’ve got the governor, but your guy can win.” That was shocking to me when I heard that; when they’re telling my lawyer I can win, why would they indict me? Michael explained to me that he [replied], “Well he’s not going to plead to felony charges. He didn’t break the law. He’ll start talking to you at the misdemeanor level, and the prosecutor said, “You know we can’t do that,” and Mike said, “Yes you can.”  [The prosecutor’s] answer was, “We’re looking for a global solution. We’d like the brothers to talk and figure this out between the two of them.”

CF: So you’re not crazy about the prosecutor. What about his boss, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald?
RB:
I think it’s best for me not to comment right now; I’m just too raw. I will comment on the press conference [from the morning of Blago’s arrest in 2008, when Fitzpatrick referred to the need to stop a “political corruption crime spree” and noted that Blago’s conduct “would make Lincoln roll over in his grave”] because that affected me directly. Fitzpatrick polluted—actually poisoned—the jury pool and the media. Here’s one of the many things I’ve learned out of this experience: the government is not always right, and we as American citizens have got to be very mindful of the its power so they don’t … use it against us. These prosecutors have gotten more than their pound of flesh from [Rod], a guy who did not make a dime off of this—who was not intending, in my opinion, to make a dime off of it while he was in office. He was a politician trying to cut deals that had been cut since before our Constitution was forged.

[NOTE: A request for comment from the U.S. Attorney’s office here, specifically from Fitzpatrick and Reid Schar, was declined by spokesman Randall Samborn.]

CF: Your thoughts on Judge Zagel?
RB:
I believe based on news accounts I’ve read that there’s a strong argument for an appeal given how the judge presided over this second trial. I know what he was like during the first trial, and it sounds like he was even less objective on this one.

CF: What advice would you give to Rod now?
RB:
Now’s the time for Rod to re-evaluate. This is a life-altering experience, and Rod now has to re-evaluate where he is—come to grips with certain realities. He’s a fighter. He won’t quit fighting, and he’ll use the legal system as best he can to continue to fight.

CF: So you’re in Nashville [Rob and wife Julie moved back there last summer], and you tell me you’re disillusioned with the news media and you get your news mostly from the Web. Did you follow your brother’s trial by reading the Sun-Times and Tribune online?
RB:
Yes, of the two, I found the Sun-Times to be very objective and balanced in how they reported this whole thing—and the Tribune less so. Carol Marin was very objective and fair. [Eric] Zorn and John Kass—the opinion I have of them is so low I’m not going to even comment on that. 

CF: You hadn’t been close to your brother, so why did you agree to fundraise for him?
RB:
I was planning on leaving the corporate world [in 2003, he was an executive with the Fifth Third Bank] and going into business for myself. I own apartment complexes in three states, and I own a commercial property in another state. I’ve got managers running each of my properties, so it allowed me flexibility. Julie and I were up in Chicago visiting our son [Alex Blagojevich lives here and works as a commercial real estate broker], and Rod asked me to come to the house and asked me if I would consider fundraising for him. He had no one else he could trust. Julie encouraged me to do it. I was disinclined because the last thing I wanted to do was make cold calls to people. Julie said, “This is a chance for you to get closer to your brother,” who she believed really had no clue who I was or had no appreciation for what I may or may not have achieved in life at that point. She thought my parents would think that would be a neat thing for me to do.

CF: How’s Julie doing?
RB:
[She] never one time wavered in her belief in me and worked real hard in doing transcriptions of the tapes, when I could not bear to listen to them. She would sit there with the headphones on so I didn’t have to listen, and she would transcribe for hours and hours so it would save us money and help our case. We go through the rhythms and patterns of life and routines of life, but this doesn’t leave you.

CF: Do you think much about your parents these days?
RB: 
All the time. One memory I have is when Rod and I are standing in front of Zagel being arraigned in April 2009, and they’re reading whatever they read to us because it’s a blur to me, but they’re naming our names. And I’m thinking about my mom and dad how they would be processing this, and for the first time, I’m glad that they had passed and wouldn’t have to endure what we were about to have to endure together.

CF: Why didn’t Rod just serve out his second term and take a job with one of the big law firms? They love to hire politicians and they pay them big bucks.
RB:
I can’t answer that. My brother is motivated sometimes by just visceral instinct and response. I think he was feeling left behind by the Obama train that was going to Washington.

CF: One thing I’ve noticed is that, in all those hundreds of hours of tapes that we’ve heard or read, neither you nor your brother ever said anything that was racist or anti-Semitic.
RB:
You’re the first person who has brought that up to me. We were raised to be unbiased and judge people not by accident of birth but on the merits of their character. My parents would be proud to hear that. There’s another thing: neither one of us was cheating on our wives.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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3 years ago
Posted by soccer

Everybody is wildly innocent well after they've been proven guilty sixteen times.
As Willie Sutton once said when asked why he robbed banks? " the prosectors, the media and the jury pool are poisoned against me. Woe is me, woe is me. The children, think of the children".

3 years ago
Posted by cindr

I cannot buy into what he says. Rod Blagojevich did absolutely nothing to stop crime sprees or corruption. They thought they could shake me down and did absolutely nothing to right the wrongs that were done. There could never be any meetings of the minds. Isn't it true that when he was trying to pass his insurance plan that a buddy of his went into the insurance business? People like Rod Blagojevich come a dime a dozen and do not give a hoot what the Constitution, Illinois Compiled Statues, or law states. People are used as pawns in a game of chess, "Checkmate".

3 years ago
Posted by John Skawski

Pathetic drivel from another idiotic citizen of the "Blago Bizzaro world".

Hey Rob, who tried to "poison" jury more than your diarrhea of the mouth brother - by appearing in front of every microphone and camera in the past 2 years?

Let me spell it out slowly for you -

G U I L T Y

Please stay in Nashville!!!!

US Attorneys - Job well done - plenty more crooks to prosecute in Chicago.

3 years ago
Posted by Orion

I agree with Brother Blago on this one. If talking about doing something is now a crime, the prisons had better expand.
The Feds are the ultimate Big Brother of Orwell's 1984.

3 years ago
Posted by wilbur

I am sure Robert knows he WASN'T acquitted in the first trial, so attempting to portray himself as a wronged American whose government is out of control is an attempt to regain the honor he, himself, destroyed. Who attempted to influence the juries more? Robert and his brother, along with a string of personal lawyers, have not waged their fight in the court as much as they have in the public space for 2 1/2 years. Never being held accountable for their utterances. When did the government even speak on these cases? When the Governor was arrested, which is appropriate because it was so extraordinary, during trial and when the Governor was convicted by ALL the Jurors in most ALL the counts in the 2nd trial and nearly ALL the jurors in the 1st trial. So, by any measure of honesty and fairness, the Blago brothers have attempted to spin and influence jurors outside the court more than any defendants in recent memory. Even the jurors noted the clever attempt by Blago to tailor his personal "story" to their own individual backgrounds and smartly saw him for what he really is...a con man who has finally been caught. Robert's self-righteous indignation aside, he was directly involved in the scheme to raise money for his brother, shake down various people (some of whom I believe are guilty as well of fostering this environment) and I am sure he thinks he was found innocent. He stands as a charged, but not yet convicted nor acquitted, man who repeatedly shows a disdain for the principles of this democracy and a very poor understanding of what the people care about. After all, it was the people that were convinced, beyond all reasonable doubt based on all the evidence presented and challenged by Blago, of the guilt of his brother and they so much as said so afterwards. So, Robert, take your warped view of fairness and the U.S. Constitution back to school and re-educate yourself on honest government and the need for transparent and open government.

3 years ago
Posted by DavidHesterChi

I like Ms. Felsenthal's last question. I would like to hear tape of Rahm Emanuel's or the Pritzkers' calls when they discusses Zionism with the AIPAC types etc.. I'm quite sure we'd hear hate, bigotry and xenophobia/islamophobia on those phone lines. No doubt about it.

3 years ago
Posted by bumpenjack

I really thought Robert Blagojevich was a victim of his brother prior to this article but clearly he is as disingenuous as his brother. For him to say, Rod wasn't trying to make a "dime off of this" after hearing those tapes is astounding.I see why the prosecutors went after him.He is obviously not a stupid man so why does he think everyone else is? Clearly, they both suffer from the same delusions.

3 years ago
Posted by Paul

I'm no fan of Blago's, but this guy Fitzgerald is one big creep!. He's ruin more than one life,
he's strictly in this for himself. What he did to Scooter Libby is a complete disgrace. I just
hope one day gets what's coming to him. The whole idea of these "Special Prosecutors" is
absolutely ridiculous, all they do is live high hog and waste the taxpayers money.

3 years ago
Posted by TomW

I have known this man for over 30 years. A finer man than this I have not known....

3 years ago
Posted by hogsmile

"... as Blagojevich ... awaits his sentence, some here — including leaders of the reform efforts that followed his arrest — say ... they are not convinced {his} conviction will drastically change the pattern of corruption for which {Illinois} politicians have become notorious ...".

-- NY Times, 6/29/2011

Mr. Blagojevich's criticism of his brother's prosecutor seems to vindicate those skeptics.

3 years ago
Posted by PeteyPeppers

You people are very stupid.

The jury convicted Rod because they "felt" he was guilty. Or when he started talking they could "tell he was lying".

Heres news for you - thats NOT how its supposed to be. the criminal justice system is seriously flawed. Anyone can be convicted of anything even if they didn't do anything whatsoever. Just the same guilty people can be aquited.

Its not a jury's job to act as a lie detector - its their job to go over the EVIDENCE. There was no evidence that this guy did anything wrong. NONE. If you believe there is you, again are an idiot.

The REAL crooks are the prosecuter, the Madigan's, Quinn, the USA DOJ in general. Look how they convicted Joe Lombardo, who had on record at the time of a murder that he was in a police station filling out a police report. Yet the jury disregarded that FACT and conviced him on HERESAY. Heresay is ONLY ok when its not by the defendants.

Its just sickening how blind you people are. You believe anything your government says without question.

3 years ago
Posted by millie lencioni

Right about now, Rob should be thanking his lucky stars that he wasn't sentenced too. Considering the fact that these brothers are educated and street-smart, they both come across as spoiled brats that never accept responsibility for their actions. The only thing that he stated that I found truthful, was the fact that their parents weren't here to watch this. They would be so disappointed.

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