CHICAGO – Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday asked a full federal appeals court to rehear his case, hoping it will overturn more of his 18 corruption convictions than the five that a three-judge panel threw out last month.
Thirty minutes after his lawyers filed the request for a rehearing by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the imprisoned Democrat issued his first public statement since reporting to a Colorado prison three years ago. In it, the two-term governor struck the same defiant tone that he brought to the TV talk-show circuit before his two trials.
"I wish this was over. But I must fight on. What is at stake is nothing less than the rule of law," Blagojevich, 58, said in a statement released through a public relations firm.
In their request for a rehearing, Blagojevich's lawyers contend there are uniquely important legal issues at play that warrant the entire bench's attention, including just where the line lies between legal and illegal political horse-trading.
In its July 21 ruling, the three-judge panel threw out convictions linked to Blagojevich's attempt to land a post in President Barack Obama's Cabinet in exchange for appointing an Obama adviser to the president's old U.S. Senate seat.
It also ordered that he be resentenced. But the ruling said the original 14-year sentence might be considered fair even after subtracting the five overturned counts. So, Blagojevich's chances of a drastically reduced sentence seem slim unless the full court rehears the appeal and overturns more counts.
The odds are against that happening.
The 7th Circuit only agrees to such, full-court hearings a few times per year. For Blagojevich's case to be reheard, a majority of the nine active judges must vote in favor of the request.
A central focus of the July opinion was precisely the question of when an elected official crosses the line from legal into illegal political wheeling and dealing.
The three judges found Blagojevich crossed that line when he sought money — including campaign cash — for naming someone to Obama's old Senate seat. But they said he didn't cross it by asking for a Cabinet seat for himself. Secretly trading favors based on politicians' executive powers, the panel concluded, is a legitimate way to get things done.
In his statement, Blagojevich suggested that the way he pressed for contributions was standard fare among politicians, and was legal.
"Fundraising is a part of the job of every politician," he said.
He echoed Tuesday's 15-page filing in criticizing instructions to jurors at his retrial that seeking contributions in conjunction with talk about gubernatorial action automatically violates the law.
"It makes the standard so low that any politician can be jailed at the whim of an ambitious prosecutor," Blagojevich said. "That standard is wrong and needs to be corrected."