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updated 8/18/2010 10:32:05 AM ET 2010-08-18T14:32:05
ANALYSIS

Whatever else it means, the desultory end Tuesday to the federal corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ensures we are stuck with the knucklehead at least through most of 2011. He won't be going to prison anytime soon for the one (of 24) counts for which he was convicted after a multimillion dollar trial. But he won't be receding into history, either, on account of a prompt decision by federal prosecutors to declare they intend to retry him for allegedly trying to sell former President Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. Think Blagojevich I was a barnburner? What until you get a load of Blagojevich, Part Deux, the Sequel, the Revenge.

I kid. There are a lot of different layers of meaning to the jury's inability to render any sort of meaningful verdict after months of trial and weeks of deliberations. The easiest and most simple explanation is that there was a holdout thwarting the will of the other 11 jurors. And, indeed, one juror evidently said Tuesday after the fact that there was a holdout who "just didn't see what we all saw." If that's what happened here, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald no doubt will see a silver lining, tinker a bit with the presentation of his case next time out, and spend a whole lot more time and attention on jury selection.

It's also possible that federal prosecutors are kicking themselves right now for a lost opportunity. Did they, as Blagojevich's lawyers claim, stop their case fatally short, erroneously believing they would later supplement their case by attacking the former governor's story on cross-examination? Were they so cocky about those famous wiretaps that they didn't pour it on the way they should have? Did they not sufficiently explain all those cuss words uttered by Blagojevich as he sought to wheel and deal? Were they too complicated or not complicated enough? You can be sure they'll be talking to the jurors to get a sense of what they could have done better. Same goes for Team Blagojevich. If the score here really was 11-1 against, they ought not now be potted plants.

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Another layer of meaning comes from the fact that this case never quite fit the typical pegs that we like to give to federal criminal cases. There was no violent crime here — so there were no grieving family members of the victim attending the trial. This was not a case of terrorism. But the defendants in the dock were not white-collar criminals, either. So who are the real victims of the crimes with which Blagojevich was charged? Who lost of a life, or a limb, or a pension, or a life's fortune, off of Blagojevich's conduct (no matter how heinous we may feel it was)? The fact that Fitzgerald was able to convict I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in similar circumstances (President George W. Bush later granted him clemency) didn't translate into a victory. Jurors, it seems, will still always give prosecutors more of the benefit of the doubt when there are real, tangible "victims" to account for.

Looking for a more political layer of meaning? How about the notion that jurors in America today — like the rest of us — are so disgusted with politics and politicians, the selling of political seats, and the grotesque bargaining that we are now essentially forgiving criminal conduct as "business as usual." It's easy to hear from the voice of our alleged "lone holdout" the following [fictitious] quote: "Why is what this guy did different in tone or tenor from what a thousand hack politicians do every day in Chicago and Washington and everywhere else in America?" Is it possible that "routine" politics have become so venal and unbecoming that we cannot distinguish it from official corruption and fraud and obstruction? And if so, how ironic that the political judgment against Blagojevich was so swift and stern compared with the still-looming legal judgment.

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Deep stuff. So maybe you want to flit about a bit in some lighter fare. I am struck by the fact that Blagojevich, the reality show wannabe, now has been convicted of the very same federal crime — lying to a federal agent — that took down Martha Stewart. It's true. I was there. Stewart was convicted of making false statements and ended up serving six months in prison followed by a few luxurious months in home detention. If the feds offer a similar deal — six months in prison then a few months at Stewart's mansion — I'd make the deal if I were Blagojevich. Think of how much money the two would make on that reality show!

I kid again. Tuesday's non-verdict verdict was a rare but permanent blemish on Fitzgerald's impressive record as a prosecutor of the high and mighty. It is a temporary victory for the defendants; the sort of victory that generates a special sort of political luster. It says mostly about Chicago juries that they sure must like their free lunches every day to have stayed deadlocked like that for nearly two weeks. And it guarantees us another year, at least, of Blagojevich-o-rama. The hair. The defiance. The whole shebang. The sequel isn't likely to be as dramatic as the original; they rarely are. But I'm betting next time we'll have a happy ending, one way or the other.

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Video: Blagojevich juror speaks out

  1. Closed captioning of: Blagojevich juror speaks out

    >>> us. good morning to you, sir.

    >> good morning to you.

    >> yesterday after the verdict, rod blagojevich said this was a persecution, they threw everything they could at me, the jury agreed the government did not prove its case. is that how you see it?

    >> personally, no. i saw it as the prosecution did prove its case. there was a difference of opinion and interpretation of the evidence and several people voted not guilty on several counts. as was mentioned there was the 11-1 for a few of the counts.

    >> that one holdout we understand was a retired woman. what was her argument against convicting the ex-governor?

    >> the argument was that he was a politician. he was talking to other politicians. sometimes his fund-raiser, sometimes his chief of staff or deputy governor, and he was just talking. she thought that no crime was being committed. it was just political talk. that was her position. we -- all of us, as a jury, respected her position and her right to have that opinion.

    >> yeah.

    >> it differed from ours.

    >> how would you describe the atmosphere in the jury room?

    >> there were times, especially later on, where the frustration level went up and there was tension, but it was always a feeling of respect for other people's opinions. so there was no shouting. there was no fighting. it was fairly amicable, our deliberations. there were times where there was anger and frustration, but overall, i would say we did respect each other.

    >> you know, you say the government did prove its case but only got a conviction on one count. what do you think was the major flaw in its case?

    >> the major flaw was probably the complexity of the case, the amount of information that we had to digest, the length of the judge's instructions to us that we had to learn legal terms, we had to learn the law and how to apply it to the evidence that was given to us either in witness testimony or in wire-tap conversations.

    >> would you like to see the prosecutors retry the case and, if so, what advice would you give them?

    >> personally, i would. if possible, to streamline the case, concentrate on areas where they have more information and not rely so much on witness testimony which was sometimes weak. that's where we split the most. the vote could be something like five guilty to seven not guilty or it would flip. sometimes it would be 9-3. so it was all over. i think it was a testimony to the jurors that they were deliberating on the basis of evidence and not through bias or discrimination or whatever they heard in the media.

    >> you know, you sound like somebody who is pretty much exhausted and glad this is over. we really appreciate you joining us this morning.

    >> thank you. you're welcome.

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