CHICAGO – Prosecutors and attorneys for Rod Blagojevich sharply disagree in new court filings about whether the imprisoned former Illinois governor has taken enough responsibility for his crimes to justify a reduced sentence when he's resentenced next month.
Additional arguments filed around midnight Monday come two weeks after the defense asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to slash the original 14-year sentence to five years, meaning the 59-year-old Blagojevich could theoretically go free in months with the four-plus years he's already served.
Prosecutors, who want the same 14-year term Zagel imposed in 2011, said in their new filing that Blagojevich has never accepted he broke the law, including by trying to trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat once occupied by President Barack Obama for campaign cash.
Resentencing on Aug. 9 was mandated after a 2015 appeals court decision tossed five of Blagojevich's 18 corruption convictions on the grounds his attempts to trade an appointment to the Senate seat for an appointment in the Obama administration did not break the law.
The government's filing cites a statement Blagojevich issued from his prison last year in which he said "fundraising is a part of the job of every politician" and that standards used to convict him meant "any politician can be jailed at the whim of an ambitious prosecutor."
Blagojevich, prosecutors' filing said, "suggested that the crimes of which he remained convicted involved nothing but common, everyday campaign fundraising — at once minimizing his conduct (and) mischaracterizing the evidence of his guilt." It added Blagojevich isn't "deserving of leniency."
The new filing by the ex-governor's legal team insists "Blagojevich openly admits that he made mistakes and used extremely poor judgment in the ways he carried out his fund-raising duties." It also argued that the five overturned counts call for a sentence reduction.
"The crimes he stands convicted of today are undeniably less severe than the crimes he stood convicted of back in 2011 at his original sentencing hearing," the filing said. The appeals court, it contends, found Blagojevich never took a bribe and campaign cash on personal items
While the appellate court erased five corruption counts, it went out of the way to say the original 14-year sentence could still be considered appropriate and fair for the remaining 13 counts.
The government's Monday filing challenged the defense's characterization of the appellate ruling and countered the claim Blagojevich never used campaign cash for personal expenses. It noted he didn't donate money left in his election coffers after being forced from office in early 2009, but instead spent much of that money to pay his legal bills.