CHICAGO – Rod Blagojevich received a fair retrial and his convictions for corruption including trying to sell President Barack Obama's Senate seat should stand, prosecutors said Tuesday in their retort to the ousted Illinois governor's request for another new trial.
The government's 133-page filing in U.S. District Court in Chicago nearly matched a 158-page defense motion last month that alleged a litany of errors at Blagojevich's retrial earlier this year.
"In reality, there was no bias, manipulation, or unfairness on the part of the prosecution, judge or jury," prosecutors said in their response. "(The) defendant was fairly convicted by a jury of his peers based on overwhelming evidence."
The filing comes just weeks before Blagojevich's sentencing hearing, scheduled to begin Oct. 6. Many legal experts say U.S. District Judge James Zagel is likely to give the 54-year-old Democrat around ten years in prison.
Blagojevich's retrial ended in June with jurors convicting him on 17 of 20 corruption counts, including that he tried to sell or trade the appointment to Obama's vacated Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash.
At Blagojevich's first trial last year, jurors were deadlocked on all but one count, convicting the twice-elected governor of making a false statement to the FBI about the extent of his participation in political fundraising.
Among other alleged judicial errors, defense attorneys pointed in their motion to one of the most memorable moments at the retrial — when lead prosecutor Reid Schar opened a blistering cross-examination of Blagojevich.
"Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?" Schar asked forcefully, referring to Blagojevich's sole conviction last year. The judge overruled a flurry of defense objections before Blagojevich finally answered quietly, "Yes."
In their filing Tuesday, prosecutors defended that opening, saying Schar was within his rights to attempt to impeach Blagojevich's credibility. And the description of Blagojevich was apt, it adds.
"Rationally speaking . . . the defendant was convicted of conduct that in common parlance is lying; therefore he was — and is — a convicted liar," according to prosecutors.
The government's filing also alleges that much of Blagojevich's defense at trial was founded on falsehoods.
"The defendant simply makes up facts that never existed and then suggests that information was unfairly withheld which could have been used to impeach the facts he has invented," it says.
Blagojevich's attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, denied on Tuesday that the defense made anything up, and he repeated assertions that there were "mountains of evidence" withheld.
Prosecutors' filing also counters a defense contention that too many retrial jurors harbored preconceived notions of their client's guilt thanks to intense media coverage. The camera-loving Blagojevich had himself to blame, they say in their filing.
Blagojevich "engaged in an unprecedented national media campaign ... for the purpose of influencing public opinion," the filing says. "That campaign was bound to have some impact, even if it was not the impact defendant had hoped for."
But Sorosky said the blame was prosecutors'. It was U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's statement to reporters immediately after Blagojevich's 2008 arrest, he argued, that sparked the media storm. He cited Fitzgerald saying at the time that federal authorities had stopped "a political corruption crime spree."
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," Sorosky said about Fitzgerald and his office's assertion that Blagojevich triggered the media frenzy. He said Fitzgerald's comments gave Blagojevich little choice but to speak out.
The defense plans to file a detailed reply to the arguments in the government's filing by early September, Sorosky said.