Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Strange Case of the Sealed Blago Tapes: Negotiations for Obama's Senate Seat Edition

Guest post by Barbara F. Hollingsworth, Washington Examiner, Local Editor

On March 15, 2012, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich reported to a low-security federal prison in Colorado to begin serving a 14-year sentence for public corruption, including an attempt to sell Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.

Blagojevich’s defense attorneys have insisted that the impeached former governor will someday be exonerated on appeal because U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel improperly sealed many of the federal wiretaps they claim would have proved his innocence.

“The judge would not let him play his tapes... there {sic} had tapes in both trials that would have established his innocence. The judge wouldn’t let us play them,” defense attorney Sam Adam, Jr. told Chicago’s CBS-Channel 2.

These are same court-sealed wiretaps that Chicago Tribune reporters Jeff Coen and John Chase claim they somehow received exclusive access to while writing their book, Golden, which was published in the fall of 2012.

Coen and Chase have repeatedly refused to name the source who gave them access to “all tapes in which Rod himself was talking,” although they said during a phone interview last fall that “there was no legal ban on us publishing them.”

However, as recently pointed out, the tapes and transcripts that were not played in court were under a protective order, and “the only way to legally obtain them is from the feds.”

One of the defense attorneys for Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, was even blunter. “If Jeff Coen said he listened to the 500 hours of tapes, he's a liar," Michael Ettinger told me in a recent email. “The government wanted all tapes, copies and transcripts returned before [Robert’s case] was dismissed out.” Ettinger added in a follow-up phone call, “Rod’s team had to give them back, too. No one kept them.”

Ettinger stated, “Judge Zagel ordered them sealed in federal court. Releasing them could put you in jail. And yet [Coen and Chase] openly admitted they had sealed documents that somebody gave them. The only two possibilities are: (1) the two sets of attorneys, and (2) the government. I promise they didn’t come from us. No one from our team who was bound by the judge’s order would do that. I’ve know Sam Adams for 35 years, and Rod’s camp would have no reason to risk their law licenses and be jailed for contempt either.”

When I asked the Tribune reporters to respond to being called a liar by Robert Blagojevich’s attorney, Coen replied in an email: “I don't know how we can do that without getting into the source of the material, which we have said we can't do. There are quotes in the book that are from tapes outside the public record, so I'm not sure why this is such a mystery to you. We stand by the book.”

But that seems to be in direct contradiction to a statement made earlier by Randall Samborn, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, who told me in an email: “Any tapes that were not played at trial are not public and are not available,” when we asked for the same tapes cited by the Tribune reporters. “Your presumption that this office has provided anyone with non-public recordings is inaccurate.”

Here’s the problem: If the Tribune reporters didn’t get the tapes from the U.S. Attorney's Office, which under the terms of the protective order was the only one who could have released them without violating federal law, Chase and Coen could not have gotten them legally, as they claim.

Adding to the mystery is their own publisher’s stunning confession that their claim to have listened to hundreds of hours of court-sealed tapes was notverified before the book was published. According to, “Cynthia Sherry of Chicago Review Press recently went on the record stating that the publisher ‘trusts their authors,’ and that she trusted the Chicago Tribune and their reporters, so there was no need for her to fact-check the book.”

After Fitzgerald threw New York Times reporter Judith Miller in jail for refusing to reveal her sources in the Valerie Plame affair, it would be ironic if Fitzgerald’s office turned out to be the source of the Blago transcripts leaked to Chase and Coen, and, also, as has claimed, the source of the leaked information to the Tribune concerning the wire taps on Blago’s phones in the first place. It was Tribune reporter John Chase who informed Blago’s camp that Blago’s conversations were being recorded by the feds shortly before Blago was arrested.

“Why a grand jury subpoena didn’t go out, I don’t know,” Ettinger said. He’s not the only one.

Rod Blagojevich’s appeal is expected to be heavily based on Judge Zagel’s refusal to let his defense team play those tapes in court. In fact, last year, the Huffington Post reported that “[Sam] Adam, Jr. said if all the tapes would be played in context, Blagojevich would be exonerated. He was hopeful that when the appeals court heard all the tapes, his conviction would be overturned.”

So the tapes sealed by order of Judge Zagel will be “front and center” when Blago’s attorneys appeal his conviction on 18 corruption-related charges before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. His opening brief is due April 25.

If the Appeals Court rules that Blago didn’t get a fair trial – and what better way to prove that than by making the case that Judge Zagel refused to let his defense attorneys play wiretaps in court that could have exonerated him – his conviction could be overturned – opening the door to an unheard of third trial on the same charges.

Here’s the big question: Why are Blagojevich's attorneys not publicly challenging the Tribune reporters’ declaration that they listened to all the wiretap tapes (illegally according to the U.S. Attorney's Office) but found nothing that would exonerate Rod Blagojevich?

Could it be that a deal was struck?

Blago’s freedom for his silence?


V. said...

They really are savages.

K-Bob said...

But don't forget, Obama's people got Jack Ryan's sealed divorce proceeding unsealed.