Rod “Bleeping” Blagojevich is currently the governor of Illinois, and having been under federal investigation for about five years, he has seen some of his top aides and other associates (like Tony Rezko) get put away by diligent prosecutors. Given that most people in the know fully expected an indictment to come his way; one could imagine that Gov. Blagojevich would be careful, sober, and circumspect in his dealings. Yes, one could imagine, but it would be just your imagination. Blagojevich was anything but sober in his dealings with regard to his absolute authority to appoint a replacement to Barack Obama’s now vacant seat in the US Senate. Hence, on a cold Tuesday morning, before Chicago cocks could crow at the sun, federal law enforcement officials knocked on the governor’s door and took him into custody; proving again an old aphorism that whom the gods wish to destroy they first make drunk with power.
This story brings to mind a great song from the musical Chicago; the refrain of the song, titled Cell Block Tango, is “He had it coming!” Let me be the first to nominate it as Rod Blagojevich’s new theme song.
I love the Blagojevich story so much, and for so many reasons — but my main reason is that this man, more than any other, (Spitzer, Clinton, et al) typifies
H U B R I S.
On the Monday before his arrest, when news reports were already emerging that federal prosecutors had incriminating audio recordings of the governor, Rod “Bleeping” Blagojevich held a press conference and took time to address the reports. I can describe the hubris, but it is only truly appreciated when witnessed.
If I was to turn this blog over to reporting on every American public official who is indicted and charged both of us would soon tire of the monotony. Honorable mentions that didn’t rise to the level of Case Study include:
- Arizona Republican Congressman Rick Renzi, who is currently under indictment for corruption.
- Florida Democrat Congressman Tim Mahoney; who took over pedophile Mark Foley’s seat until he was caught on tape telling his former mistress that he fired her because she served at his pleasure; is currently under investigation about whether his $100,000- plus payoffs to this mistress were illegal. After the scandal broke the US House Democratic Caucus fired Mahoney by forcing him to withdraw from re-election.
- Louisiana Democrat Congressman William Jefferson, a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who recently lost a run-off election in his heavily Democratic and majority-black district to a Republican of Vietnamese origin. Hopefully Jefferson will now have more time to fight indictments for bribery and money laundering he is under, after having been caught on videotape taking $100,000.
- Charles O’Byrne, fmr. Chief of Staff to NY Gov. David Patterson, who was forced to resign his job after it was reported that he failed to disclose a debt to the IRS on public disclosure forms. Yeah! That is all he did wrong — but they still forced him from his job.
- And of course, there is Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who is implicated by mounting evidence to have committed some of the same offenses Ted Stevens was convicted for committing. Let me point out that Sen. Coleman is currently locked in a riveting recount with Al Franken after his re-election bid; and Sen. Coleman has NOT been charged or indicted with anything at this time.
But none of these Honorable Mentions rises to the heady mix of stupidity, incompetence, and negligence of the public officials covered in the American Case Study Series Part I, Part II, and Finale. So if you haven’t read the three case studies, you are fundamentally unprepared for class, and where I’m heading till the end of the year — go back and read them in full.
But all the same, let us do a synopsis and an update.
American Case Study Part I – Fmr. NY Gov. Elliott Spitzer engaged in a series of financial transactions that seemed as if they were structured to evade automatic disclosure laws. These transactions generated Suspicious Activities Reports (SARs) that led investigators to the conclusion that Spitzer availed himself of the sexual services of prostitutes. Prosecutors investigating this conclusion got a warrant, wiretapped the governor and were building a case to prosecute him under an obscure and arcane federal law called the Mann Act. After the story broke on the front page of the New York Times, Spitzer resigned and waited to face charges. Prosecutors announced recently that they would not seek charges against the former governor given that he didn’t use public or official funds to pay his hookers, I repeat, Spitzer was never charged with a crime. And, as a footnote there will be a congressional investigation into the Spitzer investigation to ensure that prosecutors were not influenced improperly by partisan political vendetta. If they were, expect the prosecutors to face charges themselves. Spitzer is now working again at his father’s mega-million dollar real estate company; and just started a new column with Slate.com.
American Case Study Part I cont’d – Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted, not of bribery, but of failing to disclose the receipt of material gifts and services from friends. There were no allegations of bribery, no quid-pro-quo, just a failure to file forms that by law Stevens was required to file. At trial the prosecution presented evidence including the testimony of a long time friend that recorded incriminating phone conversations with Sen. Stevens while professing brotherly love for him during said conversations. After he was convicted by a federal jury, and the taint of corruption caused Stevens to lose his re-election bid to the US Senate seat he had held since 1968, his victorious opponent recently said that it would be cruel to put the octogenarian senator in jail. Stevens may even have his sentence commuted by outgoing President Bush.
American Case Study, Part I – While discouraging Sarah Palin cronies from violating personnel laws and ethics guidelines by seeking to fire her ex-brother-in-law, fmr. Alaskan Public Safety Director Walt Monegan told a Palin-flack “This conversation is discoverable” (referring to the fact the state trooper lines are recorded) “you don’t want [Mike Wooten] to own your house do you?” This is not a threat of criminal sanction, it is a reminder that civil court sanctions exist to reign in the abuse of government authority by individuals. Do we have a civil court structure that works in Jamaica?
American Case Study, Part II – Republican Congressman Vito Fossella ran a red light in the middle of the night in some Virginia suburb. Unfortunately for him his lips were stained red from drinking red wine when he ran the red light, and after failing sobriety tests he was arrested and charged with drunk driving as it was found his blood-alchohol-level was over twice the legal limit. The trooper who arrested him was quoted in an interview saying he had no idea who Vito Fossella was at the time he was arresting him, nor would it have mattered. Further, the arrest led to the disclosure of a love-child and extra-marital affair that caused Fossella to decline to seek re-election. The congressional seat, held by the Republican Party for 35 years, fell into Democratic hands in the Nov 4th election, even though the district didn’t vote for Obama as president. Fossella was sentenced last Monday to serve the mandatory five days in jail for drunk-driving conviction, though he is appealing the sentence.
American Case Study, Finale – let me just say that I’d have saved the word “Finale” for Rod Blagojevich and not used it for Kwame Kilpatrick if only I’d known this case against Blagojevich would be so scandalous and juicy. Fmr. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, scion of an influential political family in Detroit, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and sentenced to 120 days in jail, disbarred from the future practice of law, and further ordered to pay the City of Detroit a million dollars in restitution. Kilpatrick was having an affair with his Chief of Staff and both he and she lied on the stand in a civil case brought on by a fired police official. Now, both Kilpatrick and his former lover are in jail serving sentences for perjury. Again, civil court proves a remedy to official misconduct.
So the take-away from all these above cases is this: corruption and official vice can be contained, prosecuted and significantly reduced when there is the political will (read: “desire”) to do it. In anticipation of the fact that there are many Jamaicans suffering from low self esteem that causes them to subscribe to the Myth of the Jamaica Wrecktangle. I have pointed out that there is nothing intrinsically bad about either the geographic territory of Jamaica, or Jamaicans as a people, that prevents long established laws and order from working in Jamaica.
With those posts rehashed and summarized let me spend the rest of my time in this post unpacking certain details from this whole Blagojevich matter that I think can inform any efforts to make Jamaica a better place.
Let me point out that there is no doubt that Blagojevich will resign; his Chief of Staff John Harris, who was charged alongside the governor has already resigned. Legal analysts in America say, and though a layman I’m inclined to agree, that the only reason he hasn’t resigned yet is to maintain leverage in his dealings with the prosecutors.
- But note the important detail, that his Chief-of-Staff was arrested along with him. In America, when you serve someone important, they will get the presidential pardon later while you rot in jail. In Jamaica, there is an enabling support network for criminality whether it is the secretary that drops off cash for the big-man or the baby-madda that hides guns for the little-man. And it is time to prosecute these enablers zealously and without mercy.
- Also, note that the political players who decided that they would entertain pay-for-play proposals will be ruined on the back of this. Jesse Jackson Jr. has already come out and held an “emotional” press conference to deny allegations of misconduct. The press conference may satiate the masses but hardcore political junkies like me have seen this movie before; namely when Bill Clinton, and Kwame Kilpatrick gave emotional press conferences to deny allegations. I was willing to give Jackson Jr. the benefit of the doubt prior to the press conference, but now I fully expect him to be further implicated in unethical behavior even if nothing illegal.
- And finally note that the prosecutor going after Blagojevich is something of a celebrity prosecutor who has irreproachably non-partisan prosecutorial instincts. Patrick Fitzgerald was selected by the Bush administration to be the outside prosecutor who investigated the Valerie Plame leak, an investigation which resulted in the federal conviction of VP Cheney’s aide Scooter Libby. Is there any celebrity prosecutor in Jamaica? We have super-cops known for their murderous hard-policing abilities; but do we have any super-prosecutors?
I will end on this point, I was very proud of Paula Llewellyn when she was appointed Jamaica’s Director of Public Prosecutions. She seemed qualified at that time to drain the fetid swamp we call political representation in Jamaica:
Llewellyn … has made a name for herself by prosecuting high-profile and controversial cases such as the Braeton Seven Killings; the Crawle Killings; and the Flankers Killings; the Sonia Jones case; the Caldon Financing fraud case involving Nicole Fullerton; the prosecution of Lester Lloyd Coke, otherwise called Jim Brown; Donald ‘Zeeks’ Phipps; Joel Andem; and Jamaica’s first criminal case in the 1990s where DNA played prominently.
Paul Henry, Jamaica Observer, March 4, 2008
However, as we end 2008, I am left wondering of D.P.P. Llewellyn: What the hell happened?