Robert Blagojevich, brother of convicted former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, told Carol Marin on Wednesday that fighting his indictment for corruption was “the most tumultuous experience of my life.”
The interview was held in Columbia College Chicago’s Ferguson Hall and was sponsored by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a public interest group that encourages public participation and transparency in government.
Blagojevich spoke in front of a small audience of about 50 people as he explained his lingering anger over what he called, “a story of government overreach and abuse.”
In December 2008, just four months after Robert Blagojevich agreed to work as chairman for Friends of Blagojevich, his brother Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund, the governor was arrested on corruption charges that included an attempt to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.
A month later, Rod Blagojevich became the first governor in Illinois history to be impeached.
Both Robert and Rod Blagojevich were indicted, Robert Blagojevich with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit extortion, attempted extortion, and conspiracy to commit bribery. Both brothers pleaded not guilty.
While all the charges against Robert Blagojevich were eventually dropped, after two trials Rod Blagojevich was found guilty of public corruption for trying to sell the Senate seat as well as extortion relating to state funds being directed towards a children’s hospital and race track.
On December 7, 2011, Robert Blagojevich watched as his brother received his sentence: 14 years in federal prison.
Although Fundraiser A is a nonfiction piece, Robert Blagojevich told Marin there are definitely heroes and villains. He hailed Michael Ettinger, his defense attorney during the trial, as his hero.
Blagojevich’s opinion on former US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor who represented the Northern District of Illinois and who prosecuted both Blagojevichs’ cases, was much less favorable.
“Patrick Fitzgerald is the bad guy, not my brother,” he said.
In fact, Blagojevich said, the only thing the former governor was actually guilty of was trusting the wrong people and lying to investigators.
“They manipulated him,” Blagojevich said. “They used him. They did whatever they could to beat him down. I don’t respect it, but I understand the decision he made to testify how he did.”
Robert Blagojevich also blasted the federal government for using him as a pawn to prosecute his brother and said there was an agenda behind the whole thing.
“They have immunity from accountability,” he said. “I was quite naïve. I trusted in my government, but I learned very quickly that we’re not dealing with a fair deck.”
Despite his lingering anger at what he perceives as a lack of justice, Robert Blagojevich said he does not blame his brother for what happened. “He’s guilty of trusting people,” Blagojevich said. “He’s an earnest guy who surrounded himself with people who took advantage of him.”
Sarah Brune, deputy director for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, applauded Blagojevich’s openness about his past.
“It was really interesting to see someone speak so candidly about such a personal experience,” Brune said. “It steamrolled his life.”
Other audience members agreed with Blagojevich’s harsh critique of the government.
“It has the veneer of great democracy, but its veneer is very, very thin,” said David Duggan, a retired attorney, writer and community organizer.
Blagojevich said he truly believed his story was one the public should hear but conceded he is ready for this chapter to be over.
“I’m prepared to move on,” he said.