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Blagojevich appeal considers political horse-trading and criminality

Posted Jul 3, 2014 12:19 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court is considering whether former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich committed a crime when he sought to trade an appointment to a U.S. Senate seat for political favors.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule “any day now,” Politico reports in a story that looks at how the issue played out in oral arguments. The Chicago Tribune and CNS News have prior coverage of the arguments.

Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison after jurors found him guilty on 17 counts of corruption.

In oral arguments in December, lawyer Len Goodman argued there was no proof that Blagojevich ever accepted a bribe in exchange for an appointment to the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama, and Blagojevich was only engaging in political horse-trading.

The appeals court has agreed to consider the government’s tapes of Blagojevich in the appeal, said to bolster the argument that Blagojevich was considering giving the Senate seat to the daughter of the Illinois House speaker in exchange for legislative cooperation, NBC News reported in March.

During the oral arguments, 7th Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook asked if a politician had ever been previously convicted for trying to trade one job for another. The prosecutor responded she wasn’t aware of any, spurring another question from Judge Illana Rovner.

“Where is the line that differentiates legal horse-trading from a federal offense that puts you in prison?” Rovner asked.

Easterbrook told prosecutors that, under their theory, Earl Warren could have gone to prison for his supposed promise to deliver California for Dwight Eisenhower in exchange for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Prosecutors responded that, even if there was political horse-trading, it wouldn’t get Blagojevich off the hook because he also sought to trade official acts for money.

Hat tip to ISBA Legal News.

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