Dropping Robert Blagojevich as a defendant could well give prosecutors a wedge against the former governor in their federal corruption trial. Now they can call Robert as a witness and put the squeeze on him for dirt.
The chess match in the Blagojevich criminal case goes on.
Federal prosecutors announced earlier today that they have dropped all charges against Robert Blagojevich, brother of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Robert faced four counts in the corruption trial, while Rod was charged with 20 counts.
During Blago trial No. 1, Robert testified on his own behalf. Rod, on the other hand, remained mum despite his repeated assurances that he would testify and clear his name.
How well Robert conducted himself in the dock depends on which pundit you ask. The broad consensus seemed to be that his appearance, at the very least, left more questions than it resolved.
So why abandon any attempt to get two Blagos behind bars for the price of one? Do prosecutors have less confidence in their case now that a jury came up deadlocked on all but one count against the brothers?
Perhaps, but this could turn out to be a very shrewd decision. Not accustomed to having his legal strategy thwarted, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald needs another hook in his case against Blago — and now he may have one.
He’s already observed how Robert did on the stand, and he most likely has a good idea of how to make Robert’s testimony even flimsier the next time around. But as a defendant, Robert does not have to testify, just as Rod declined to take the oath and declare his innocence.
Dropping Robert as a defendant gives Fitzgerald a clear path to calling him as a witness for Blago trial part deux. And if Robert invokes the Fifth Amendment (given that Fitzgerald could refile charges against Robert later on), Fitzgerald could declare that he’s offering him either limited or full immunity.
So refusing to testify with immunity could result in a contempt of court charge against Robert. This would put him in a legal pinch, and Fitzgerald would use this to compel him to start gabbing against Rod.
I mean, come on! Even if he were you’re brother, would you want to go to prison merely to defend Rod Blagojevich? I’d become a Chatty Cathy in a heartbeat.
We’ll see how this new twist works out for the prosecution. While it has exposed Illinois as the epicenter of political corruption in America, the trial process has been an interesting case of legal maneuvering.
Your move, Blago.
Jerry Moore is the opinions editor for Suburban Life Publications in the Chicago area. Contact him at (630) 368-8930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.