1. Is Rezko an issue Republicans will exploit or a figment of our imagination?
Big Media outlets came to this website last year to scoff and mock us for our focus on Rezko. These same Big Media outlets subsequently wrote articles much more damning than anything we ever wrote. They even called Rezko, Obama’s “bagman”.
By the time the Rezko trial began many others finally began to write about Obama’s 20 year relationship with slumlord Rezko and Obama’s questionable judgment.
On the day Rezko was convicted – the day after the Democratic primary calendar ended – the Republicans pounced:
The Republicans will exploit the Obama Chicago Culture of Corruption in the same way Democrats exploited the Republican Culture of Corruption to victory in Ohio. Republicans will inform voters of the Obama hypocrisy in condemning lobbyists while associating for more than 20 years with the most corrupt elements in Chicago.
2. Is Rezko the corrupt force he appeared to be when we first started writing about him in April 2007?
Strike the word “alleged” from condemnations of Rezko. Obama’s slumlord friend has now been convicted of corruption in the Federal Courthouse in Chicago.
A federal jury found Rezko guilty on 16 of 24 counts in a trial that exposed an ingrained culture of corruption in Illinois government that has continued to flourish under Blagojevich and comes during a federal probe of his administration.
3. Is Obama imperiled by the Rezko conviction?
In a maudlin letter written by Rezko to the judge presiding in his trial, Obama’s slumlord friend Rezko made 2 points. First, Rezko said, the prosecutors are indeed interested in Senator Barack Obama’s dealings with Rezko. The second point is essentially ‘I’ll never talk’. Let’s look at these 2 statements in reverse order.
Patrick Fitzgerald the U.S. attorney in Illinois has a long history with recalcitrant witnesses. Recall Judy Miller. Judith Miller was a New York Times reporter who refused to testify in the trial of Republican “Scooter” Libby, the Bush administration official Fitzgerald had indicted on various charges.
Miller claimed, for months, she would never testify. Miller said jail time was a futile gesture because she would never testify. Never. Miller based her refusal to testify on being a journalist who would not ‘betray’ a confidential source. Fitzgerald persevered in demanding Miller’s testimony. Miller took her case to the Supreme Court all the while insisting that it was a futile gesture to imprison her because she would never talk. Miller said “I do not make confidentiality pledges lightly, but when I do I must honor them.”
Miller was sent to jail.
Big Media fully supported Judy Miller in her refusal to testify. The New York Times restated Miller’s refusal to testify – ever.
Reporters from other news organizations have endured longer jail time in the same important cause over the years, but for us and we hope for others, it should be clear after 41 days in a Virginia jail that Ms. Miller is not going to change her mind. She appears unwavering in her mission to safeguard the freedom of the press to do its job effectively.
If she is not willing to testify after 41 days, then she is not willing to testify. It’s time for the judge and the prosecutor to let Ms. Miller go.
After sitting in jail for 85 days, Judy Miller decided to testify.
Antoin “Tony” Rezko faces a maximum sentence of 300 years.
John Kass, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune summarized the Rezko future this way:
The last thing Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Rod Blagojevich needed was that letter written by convicted Illinois influence peddler Tony Rezko promising he’d never rat out his pals.
The imprisoned political fixer insisted that federal prosecutors are squeezing him, according to an exclusive Tribune report written by federal courts reporter Jeff Coen for Thursday’s paper.
“They are pressuring me to tell them the ‘wrong’ things that I supposedly know about Governor Blagojevich and Senator Obama,” the fundraiser (and Obama’s personal real estate fairy) wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve.
“I have never been a party to any wrongdoing that involved the Governor or the Senator,” Rezko argued. “I will never fabricate lies about anyone else for selfish purposes. I will take whatever comes my way, but I will never hurt innocent people.”
Amen, Tony. But those who say nothing don’t brag. They shut up.
Yet those who promise to say nothing, and promise it loudly, often have much to say later, in a calm and rational voice, meekly from the witness box.
What about Obama?
Rezko, contrary to a year’s worth of Obama propaganda, has now stated that Obama is of interest to the Federal prosecutors in Illinois. Years ago, Fitzgerald convicted the former (Republican) governor of Illinois and is intent on rooting out and destroying the culture of corruption in which Obama thrives.
U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office is leading a probe into Blagojevich’s administration and the governor’s personal finances, said he hoped the verdict would be a wake-up call for Illinois politicians.
“I hope people step back and say, ‘When you do all that stuff, it’s going to come back and bite you in a serious way,’ ” Fitzgerald said. “If the morals don’t get to them, then I hope the fear of going to jail does.”
Blagojevich, who swept to victory in 2002 with a pledge to clean up Illinois government after the Ryan years, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. But his name was invoked repeatedly during the trial as several witnesses said they heard him give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the notion of steering state business to campaign donors.
Rezko has an ugly future.
The verdict was hardly the end to Rezko’s legal peril. He is scheduled to go on trial later this year in a separate federal fraud case involving his attempts to gain financing for an ailing chain of pizza restaurants he once owned. In addition, a judge in Las Vegas issued an arrest warrant last month for Rezko, accused of skipping out on $450,000 in gambling debts he ran up in 2006 even as he knew he was under federal scrutiny in Chicago.
Prosecutors accused Rezko of misusing his influence with Blagojevich to corrupt two state boards, one that handled a $40 billion pension fund for most Illinois teachers and the other that vetted hospital projects.
The governor leaned heavily on Rezko and fellow fundraiser Christopher Kelly for advice and granted them considerable sway over administration policy and appointments. Kelly, a roofing contractor awaiting trial on unrelated federal tax fraud charges, was named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-schemer in the case against Rezko. [snip]
Testimony produced a series of stunning allegations of misconduct that went well beyond the scope of the criminal charges against Rezko.
Former state official Ali Ata told jurors he bought his post with bribes to Rezko and campaign contributions to Blagojevich. Ata was also one of several witnesses who said Rezko told them of a plot to kill the criminal probe against him by pulling strings with the Bush administration to get Fitzgerald fired.
Investigators have also been conducting probes into state hiring, contracting and board appointments under Blagojevich.
Rezko, who has written he won’t implicate Obama has stark decisions to make. It appears from trial testimony that there is sufficient evidence and witnesses to bring down Governor Blagojevich without the assistance of Antoin “Tony” Rezko. So a Rezko deal with prosecutors to “flip” on the “reform” governor will not get Rezko much of a discount on the maximum jail sentence of 300 years.
Rezko however, could provide plenty of first hand information on the tens of millions of government dollars Obama helped him obtain, the other favors Obama did for him as a state senator, and of course there is the house.
A Rezko flip on Obama could get Rezko a large discount on his potentially hefty sentence and help with immunity on the additional trials Rezko will have to endure. Sentence day is September 3, 2008.
The conviction of Antoin “Tony” Rezko on corruption charges creates a lot of incentive for him to cooperate with federal authorities who may be building other cases, a former state and federal prosecutor says.
Federal sentencing guidelines developed in the 1990s sometimes include “draconian” numbers to be faced by those convicted of crimes, said Bill Roberts, managing partner of Hinshaw & Culbertson and a former U.S. attorney, Sangamon County state’s attorney and chief counsel to then-Gov. Jim Edgar.
For instance, Rezko faces $4 million in fines and as much as 300 years in prison if he gets the maximum when he’s sentenced Sept. 3, according to the Chicago Tribune.
But a section added to the guidelines promotes cooperation by saying that judges can depart from the guidelines in cases where a defendant has “provided substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense.”
“That’s a huge tool the government holds,” Roberts said. “And it truly can almost be a get-out-of-jail card for the individual who has knowledge the government deems important.”
Perhaps Antoin “Tony” Rezko will hold up longer than the 8 weeks it took for Judy Miller to testify. Perhaps the Chicago Culture of Corruption is safe from federal prosecutors.
What is clear now is that Barack Obama has a friend in need. On September 3, 2008 Obama will find out if Rezko is a friend in deed.