CHICAGO — The retrial of embattled former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been pushed back a second time, from January to April, which will lesson its impact on state and city elections here this fall.
US District Judge James Zagel last week set April 20 as the new trial date following a defense team request saying January did not give them enough time to prepare. Mr. Blagojevich was convicted of one count – lying to FBI agents – during his first trial this summer, leaving the jury deadlocked on the remaining 23 charges involving racketeering, conspiracy, and bribery related to the selling of President Obama’s former US Senate seat for cash.
A restructured legal team will represent Blagojevich for the retrial. It will not include Sam Adam Jr., the leading member of the original team who delivered the opening and closing arguments.
Moving the trial to April lessons the impact the high-profile case will have on midterm elections here, as well as the race for mayor that will take place Feb. 22. If needed, a run-off in the mayor’s race is scheduled for April 5.
Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who is running in the mayoral election, was served a subpoena to testify during the first trial but was never called.
Despite not physically being in the courtroom, his name was brought up often as FBI wiretaps showed he was involved in conversations with the former governor’s staff regarding White House recommendations for the US Senate seat Blagojevich was in charge of filling.
Last week, Mr. Emanuel downplayed any suggestion of wrongdoing, telling the Chicago Sun-Times he provided “a list of four credible candidates that the president said could be potential US Senate candidates.” And he said he told the Blagojevich staff all the governor would get in return for his consideration was “thanks and appreciation.”
“The facts will speak for themselves. … That’s why I have no problem. The public will see those facts,” Emanuel said.
Blagojevich’s legal team supports Judge Zagel’s decision to move the retrial from the same time period as the mayoral election.
“With Mr. Emanuel being a candidate, that could affect the trial and we all want a fair and impartial jury,” said Sheldon Sorosky, one of the former governor’s lawyers.
However, extending the time period of the retrial means questions regarding Emanuel’s connection with Blagojevich will continue to be a factor in the race. There are already signs that Blagojevich will play a role in the race.
On Friday, the campaign office of mayoral candidate Gery Chico, the former chairman of the city college system, released a statement that “the time has come” for Emanuel “to fully disclose his role in the negotiations with Blagojevich over the US Senate seat.”
“The citizens of Chicago cannot afford to wait until after the mayoral election for Rahm Emanuel to give us all the facts,” Chico spokesperson Brooke Anderson said in the release. “Chicagoans deserve full transparency. Whether he is lawyered-up or not, Rahm should give voters all the facts before they head to the polls.”