Robert Blagojevich said he’s cried three times in the last 25 years.
The first time was in 1988 when his father died. The second was 11 years later, when his mother passed away.
The third was Wednesday – when his brother, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was sentenced to federal prison.
“D-Day. Dec. 7, 2011,” the former military man said. “I cried yesterday for my brother when I heard what he said and what the sentence was.”
Since Robert Blagojevich was indicted in 2009 on federal charges that were later dismissed, he had always said he and his younger brother had a strained relationship. Before this week, the two hadn’t spoken since July.
But when Robert learned on Wednesday that his kid brother had been delivered a 14-year prison term, everything else disappeared, he said.
A reporter called Robert Blagojevich to ask if he heard his brother made remarks about him to U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
“I said: ‘I can’t comment, I’m going to get emotional.’ When we finished, that’s when I lost it,” said the Nashville, Tenn., businessman. “All of our issues pale in comparison to what his sentence was yesterday. You just can’t appreciate what’s been done to us …
“It’s just grossly unfair and wrong what happened to Rod yesterday.”
Robert Blagojevich, who had chaired his brother’s campaign fund for about four months in 2008, went to trial in 2010 with the ex-governor on charges that he helped his brother attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama.
Jurors forced a mistrial, but did vote to convict Rod Blagojevich on one count. After that, prosecutors dropped charges against Robert.
In court on Wednesday, Rod Blagojevich called his brother a “good man” and offered an apology for drafting him to manage his campaign fund. He did so after he was already under federal scrutiny.
“I want to apologize to his family. I apologize for getting him involved in this whole thing. He had a happy, quiet, successful life in Nashville,” the former governor told the judge. “He came up to help his little brother. And that happy world was dramatically changed for several years for him.”
Robert said he had texted his brother in the past but the two spoke Thursday for the first time since July.
“He called me this morning,” Robert said. “I was surprised by his apology to me and well, look, we’re brothers. I’m grateful for his public apology but it’s unnecessary because we’re brothers.”
He said his brother was dealing with the sentence “remarkably well, understands he’s going away for a long time.”
The ex-governor is optimistic about an appeal, Robert said. “He said, ‘that’s the only hope I’ve got now and I’m not going to let go of that.’ ”
Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers have up to 14 days to file a notice of appeal. His team is expected to challenge everything from the length of his sentence to the tapes allowed at trial to the jurors allowed on the panel. Blagojevich is likely to again bring up the tapes and argue that the judge was wrong to rule that he could play all of them only if he testified, said defense lawyer Michael Ettinger, who went through the first trial representing Robert Blagojevich.
Ettinger said he would argue it was a violation of the “completeness doctrine” to keep out some of the tapes.
Former federal prosecutor David Weisman said while most defendants will ask for bond pending appeal and Blagojevich is expected to challenge his sentence, that’s an uphill battle.
“An appeal based solely on his sentence would not be fruitful,” Weisman said. “Zagel made a solid record of legal findings.”
One defense lawyer said Blagojevich’s best shot at a successful appeal may be to challenge the jurors who Zagel allowed to remain in the jury pool even though they initially said they had preconceived notions about the former governor.
“I was deeply disturbed by it, deeply. When you have jurors with that kind of prior knowledge and belief, that’s not a fair trial,” said defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor Phil Turner. “The only way a defendant can get a fair trial is to have a jury that is unbiased in every form or fashion.”