UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, No. 11‑3853

DECIDED JULY 21, 2015

EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge. Rod Blagojevich was convicted of 18 crimes after two jury trials. The crimes include attempted extortion from campaign contributors, corrupt solicitation of funds, wire fraud, and lying to federal investigators. The first trial ended with a conviction on the false statement count and a mistrial on the others after the jury could not agree. The second trial produced convictions on 17 additional counts.

Blagojevich now asks us to hold that the evidence is insufficient to convict him on any count. The argument is frivolous. The evidence, much of it from Blagojevich’s own mouth, is overwhelming. To the extent there are factual disputes, the jury was entitled to credit the prosecution’s evidence and to find that Blagojevich acted with the knowledge required for conviction.

But a problem in the way the instructions told the jury to consider the evidence requires us to vacate the convictions on counts that concern Blagojevich’s proposal to appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate in exchange for an appointment to the Cabinet. A jury could have found that Blagojevich asked the President‑elect for a private‑sector job, or for funds that he could control, but the instructions permitted the jury to convict even if it found that his only request of Sen. Obama was for a position in the Cabinet. The instructions treated all proposals alike. We conclude, however, that they are legally different: a proposal to trade one public act for another, a form of logrolling, is fundamentally unlike the swap of an official act for a private payment.

Because the instructions do not enable us to be sure that the jury found that Blagojevich offered to trade the appointment for a private salary after leaving the Governorship, these convictions cannot stand.

McCormick describes the offense as a quid pro quo: a public official performs an official act (or promises to do so) in exchange for a private benefit, such as money.

A political logroll, by contrast, is the swap of one official act for another. Representative A agrees with Representative B to vote for milk price supports, if B agrees to vote for tighter controls on air pollution. A President appoints C as an ambassador, which Senator D asked the President to do, in exchange for D’s promise to vote to confirm E as a member of the National Labor Relations Board. Governance would hardly be possible without these accommodations, which allow each public official to achieve more of his principal objective while surrendering something about which he cares less, but the other politician cares more strongly.

A proposal to appoint a particular person to one office (say, the Cabinet) in exchange for someone else’s promise to appoint a different person to a different office (say, the Senate), is a common exercise in logrolling.

It would be more than a little surprising to Members of Congress if the judiciary found in the Hobbs Act, or the mail fraud statute, a rule making everyday politics criminal.

Let us go through the three statutes again. McCormick holds that a politician’s offer to perform a valuable service can violate §1951 as extortion if it involves a quid pro quo: a public act in exchange for a valuable return promise. We’ve already explained, however, why logrolling does not violate §1951. The exclusion in §666(c) for bona fide employment also applies no matter who gets the job. Who would get the public job does not matter to §1346 either. Indeed, the analysis in United States v. Thompson, 484 F.3d 877 (7th Cir. 2007), applies to Blagojevich too.

Thompson holds, among other things, that the interest in receiving a salary from a public job is not a form of private benefit for the purpose of federal criminal statutes.

What we have said so far requires the reversal of the convictions on Counts 5, 6, 21, 22, and 23, though the prosecutor is free to try again without reliance on Blagojevich’s quest for a position in the Cabinet. (The evidence that Blagojevich sought money in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate is sufficient to convict, so there is no double–‐‑jeopardy obstacle to retrial. See Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1 (1978).) Because many other convictions remain and the district judge imposed concurrent sentences, the prosecutor may think retrial unnecessary—but the judge may have considered the sought–‐‑after Cabinet appointment in determining the length of the sentence, so we remand for resentencing across the board.

By:  Chicago Federal Criminal Defense Attorney Michael J. Petro

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