The U.S. is experiencing the most catastrophic oil spill in our nation’s history, over-burdensome financial regulatory legislation is about to pass a bicameral legislative conference, and President Obama recently declared that he is cruising the playground for some “ass to kick”. Sure, there is a lot of noteworthy activity in Washington these days. But let’s take our minds off of that for just one moment to catch up on some good old-fashioned political scandal.
In a sideshow atmosphere that would make P.T. Barnum jealous, “Hot” Rod Blagojevich, the disgraced former Governor of Illinois, is currently being tried in a Chicago courtroom on 24 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, bribery and extortion. Corruption and Illinois politics is nothing new, of course. In fact, if convicted, Blagojevich will be the second consecutive sitting Illinois Governor to “wear the orange” And that doesn’t mean he made the University of Illinois’ football squad.
In every possible venue, Blagojevich adamantly defends his innocence, despite the fact that the FBI possesses 500 hours of wiretaps documenting Blagojevich auctioning off Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder. In one of his more memorable lines, Blagojevich blurts out “I’ve got this thing [open Senate seat] and it’s fuc_ _ ng golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for fu _ _n’ nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there.“ (He also referred to the President Elect as a “motherf_ _ker” just for moral support, I suppose.)
Astonishing in both the buildup to and the first few days of the trial is Blago’s unabashed publicity bravado. After his unanimous impeachment by the Illinois legislature, (which he boycotted) Blago clearly refused to hire a crisis communications team and instead kept his own counsel. During this time, he famously told Esquire magazine, among other gems, that he was “blacker than Barack Obama“ (the interview featured four full color pictures of Blagojevich brushing, combing and spraying his hair).”
Perhaps seeking to broaden his appeal, or perhaps just plain devoid of rational reason, Blagojevich next turned to the most unlikely of outlets to plead his case to the American public: reality television. Originally scheduled to appear on ABC’s summer filler show I’m a Celebrity: Get Me Out Of Here, he backed out and instead sent his wife Patti as his proxy. No shrinking violet herself, Patti’s most memorable scene from the program found her cuddling and seeking solace with former NBA star John Salley.
Blago instead opted for “the big time” and appeared as a contestant on NBC’s The Celebrity Apprentice. In a move that surprised almost no one, Blago was quickly voted off the show, chided by his fellow contestants for “lack of leadership skills” and “failure to strategize and execute tasks to completion” Keep in mind, this is a man who 18 months ago insisted that a serious run for the presidency was in his future.
Of course, despite the endless hilarity the Blago trial provides political junkies, there are some serious questions that should, but likely won’t be, answered at his trial. Blagojevich was, after all, part of the Chicago Democratic political machine – many of whom, in case you haven’t noticed, are now running our nation. To infer, as many are claiming, that Blagojevich never spoke extensively with David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel and, most importantly, Tony Rezko, is extremely unlikely if not preposterous
Inside the courtroom, Blagojevich’s recent motion to dismiss the case against him is rooted in the argument that his First Amendment right to free speech protects his ability to discuss all possible methods of filling that Senate seat – both legal and illegal. He then goes as far as to cite the recently decided Citizen’s United case as evidence that his calls were protected political speech. Those legal arguments aren’t just thin, they’re Kate Moss-esque.
In addition to these suspect legal arguments, Blago likely isn’t doing himself any favors by continuously Tweeting from his seat at the trial and by his recent admonishment from the judge to stop shifting around and initiating grand gestures when he disagrees with prosecutors.
Interesting days in the Land of Lincoln. One can only wonder what Honest Abe would say.
Cameron Lynch is a former aide to three Republican Senators and president of The Lynch Group, LLC, a Republican government affairs and political consulting firm.