Before a Chicago audience on Monday, Robert Blagojevich, brother to the imprisoned former governor, said he still has a lingering question for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
“Jesse Jackson Jr. pled in federal court in Washington, D.C. He spoke to the media very briefly where he said: “I’m taking responsibility and I’m manning up.’ I’ve said repeatedly, in response to that, ‘Well, Jesse, when are you gonna man up for trying to buy the Senate seat?’ ” Robert Blagojevich said at the City Club of Chicago on Monday. “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I believe this prosecution was an agenda-driven prosecution to bring down another sitting governor and they used anyone that they could to bring him down, including his brother.”
Robert Blagojevich, of Nashville, Tennessee, is visiting Chicago this week to promote his new book: “Fundraiser A: My Fight for Freedom and Justice” (NIU Press).
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Following a legal ordeal that he says still has his wife “spooked” to this day, Robert Blagojevich said he’s most often asked to compare his brother’s situation to that of the former congressman, who pleaded guilty in a different federal case and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Jackson was recently released into a halfway house. Robert Blagojevich also spoke of federal prosecutors, characterizing the U.S. Justice Department as a win-at-all-costs system that has the deck stacked against defendants. In the case, the Blagojevich brothers were accused of conspiring to sell Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat appointment. Rob Blagojevich served as his brother’s fundraiser for four months in 2008. He has maintained all along that the government charged him to pressure his brother.
“It was very clear to me that Congressman Jackson was the man who empowered these two emissaries to come talk to us about the United States Senate seat. It is my view that Congressman Jackson was allowed to get away with a federal crime because the U.S. attorney and the FBI knew all of this from their interviews with witnesses and the people in the center of this,” he said.
An attorney for Jackson could not be reached for comment. Jackson had repeatedly denied offering any money in exchange for a Senate seat appointment.
Robert Blagojevich said FBI reports he has read indicate that a top Jackson donor told authorities that Jackson called him with a warning.
“Don’t talk about money anymore, I hear that Blagojevich is being investigated,” Robert said Raghu Nayak told the FBI that Jackson said in a phone call. “What I conclude logically from that is, Congressman Jackson was tipped off by someone that there was an investigation going on of my brother and protecting him.”
Robert Blagojevich recalled 2009, when he and his brother were both arraigned in federal court on the same day, each answering to charges in a federal indictment.
“I will never forget that moment for as long as I live,” he said. “Thinking about our parents who would have probably been shocked, of course, and overwhelmed by what happened to their sons.”
The two pleaded not guilty that day, and Robert Blagojevich went on to fight the charges at trial.
Prosecutors later dropped a bid for a retrial against him after a hung jury voted 9 to 3 in favor of acquittal. Rod Blagojevich was convicted in a second trial and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He is still awaiting the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on his appellate case.
“Until you walk in the shoes of someone who’s been there, you have no idea how overwhelmingly . . . outnumbered and out-powered you feel when you go into that courtroom,” Blagojevich said. “It is an absolute, unfair fight.”
He said he and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller were “kindred spirits” because they shared a “disrespect” for former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Miller served jail time for refusing to reveal her source to Fitzgerald during a special investigation that resulted in a felony convictions against former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.