Updated 9/3/10 9:54 a.m.
Fourteen days of jury deliberations are over, and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is proving some of the resiliency to prosecution that he has claimed for the better part of two years. Yesterday a jury returned a guilty verdict on only one of the 24 counts against him. But it’s no free ride for the embattled Northwestern alumnus (Weinberg ‘79); he could now serve up to five years in prison for lying to the FBI.
The FBI arrested Blagojevich in an early-morning raid on his Ravenswood Manor home in December 2008. He faced accusations of numerous criminal activities, including wire fraud and demanding the firing of Chicago Tribune employees in exchange for state assistance with Wrigley Field.
The most notable charge brought against Blagojevich: attempting to sell an appointment to then-President-elect Barack Obama’s former Senate seat. “I’ve got this thing, and it’s fucking golden,” he told an aide in an oft-quoted recording, referring to the seat. “I’m just not giving it up for fucking nothing.” The Tribune has reported that the 12-member jury needed only one more vote to convict the former governor of conspiring to sell the seat.
After the arrest, Blagojevich’s name and image spilled into a media gyre that flung him into TV spots on Good Morning America, The View and The Celebrity Apprentice. TV news programs churned out stories about the investigation. His name became a punch line on late night talk shows.
Through it all, Blagojevich maintained his innocence. In a press conference shortly after his arrest he said, “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight, I will fight, until I take my last breath.” The attitude became a sort of mantra for Blagojevich, even after his impeachment and removal from office. The mini-biography on his Twitter account — defiantly entitled “governorrod” — reads, “Former governor of Illinois, host of talk radio program WLS and innocent of all charges.”
Blagojevich may yet find himself proclaiming his innocence in court again soon — prosecutors are readying for a retrial, which Judge James Zagel says probably will be held the first week of January 2011.
The ultimate question of Blagojevich’s guilt will hang in the air for months. In the meantime, take a walk through more than a year of North by Northwestern coverage of the former governor. At times it was serious, at times befuddled and at times inane. And that seems about fitting for the public official capable of a curious sort of political alchemy — turning corruption charges into national stardom.
|Those happy, carefree days (April 12, 2007): Long before images of the former governor and his immaculate hair splashed across the front pages of newspapers across the country, Blagojevich spoke in Northwestern’s Fisk Hall, in an event sponsored by the Political Action Organization. He chatted about health care, taxes and his encounters with former President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Photo: Tom Nunlist / North by Northwestern)|
|Blagojevich pulls a fast one with Burris (January 19, 2009): Last year, now-Managing Editor Matt Connolly argued that Sen. Roland Burris accepted Blagojevich’s appointed too easily — hurting his own reputation and playing right into Blago’s hands. “I don’t look upon the governor’s problems as my problems,” Burris said to CNN. “I look at the governor’s problems as his problems.” (Photo courtesy of the United States Senate. Licensed under Creative Commons)|
|League of extraordinary law-breakers (January 22, 2009): Can you name all the criminal activities that have occupied famous Northwestern grads? Here’s a start: tax evasion, ringing up $268,000 in political favors, gambling on college sports and creating the first large-scale computer virus. Blagojevich is just the latest in a dynasty of crooked alumni. We’ve seen our athletes, politicians, FBI agents and business leaders thrown in the slammer. (Photo by jburwen on flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)|
|The blacklisted (January 26, 2009): When the FBI arrested Blagojevich, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial page editors found themselves named in the investigation. They were on the former governor’s “enemies list,” targeted for removal from their jobs in exchange for millions of dollars. “We had no idea,” editor Bruce Dold said in a Crain lecture at Northwestern. “The newsroom did not know that we were part of the story.” (Screen grab from a video by Jared T. Miller / North by Northwestern)|
|The exclusive North by Northwestern interview (January 28, 2009): Amid the burgeoning corruption scandal, veteran newsman Kyle Warren offers new news from the NEWS! news team. Warren and plucky correspondent Jessica McKenna prepare to sit down for an interview with Rod Blagojevich. They plan to take him to task for his alleged crimes — if he would ever show up. Keep your eyes peeled for a white track suit. (Screen grab from a video by Ben Millstein / North by Northwestern)|
|The fabulous life of Rod Blagojevich (February 5, 2009): A year before Blagojevich’s debut on The Apprentice, writer Serena Dai, now of NUIntel, pushed for a reality TV show for the former governor. Why? “He’s a quasi-politician turned village idiot whom we can all find joy in laughing at,” she wrote. “Last time I turned on the TV, Rod was shown walking aimlessly on a sidewalk in Chicago as if he were lost.” (Photo by taekwonweirdo on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)|
|The ascent of Rod Blagojevich (March 1, 2010): If you’d gone to Northwestern with Rod Blagojevich, you might not have even noticed him. He transferred from the University of Tampa for his junior and senior years, never lived on campus and graduated late. His senior headshot isn’t even in the 1979 Syllabus. Aubrey Blanche, now a managing editor, traces Blagojevich’s history from inception to investigation. (Photo from WikiMedia, licensed under Creative Commons)|
|“I’m the anti-Nixon.” (March 3, 2010): The Northwestern University College Democrats brought Blagojevich to campus last school year for what was dubbed a discourse on “ethics in government.” A panel of three professors grilled him on his ethics record. And in front of an audience of about 1000 — which included a heckler — Blagojevich again refuted the criminal charges brought against him. “Play the tapes,” he said. “They will prove me innocent.” (Photo by Emily Chow / North by Northwestern)|