CHICAGO – Lawyers for imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich submitted an additional argument Wednesday to the federal court that's considering his appeal, saying a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision bolsters their contention that the Illinois Democrat never crossed the line from legal political horse trading into corruption.
Blagojevich, 57, is in his second year behind bars in a federal prison in Colorado serving a 14-year prison sentence for political corruption – including for seeking to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign contributions or a well-paying job.
The filing with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago cites a decision by the nation's highest court in April. In that case, McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission, the court said soliciting contributions is corruption when a politician makes explicit promises to take official action for a donation.
That's something Blagojevich did not do, his attorneys say.
"The McCutcheon decision thus supports Blagojevich's position that, where a criminal prosecution is based upon attempts to solicit campaign contributions, the government must prove a quid pro quo or explicit promise," the two-page filing says. Federal prosecutors, it contends, failed to show Blagojevich did any such thing.
The Supreme Court's higher profile and most controversial finding in McCutcheon case was that laws restricting aggregate limits on campaign contributions were unconstitutional because they violate First Amendment protections of free speech.
Blagojevich's attorneys filed their appeal one year ago, and the sides held oral arguments before a three-judge panel in Chicago in December. Going more than six months without a decision on an appeal is unusual, though it is impossible to say if the lengthy consideration bodes well for Blagojevich or for prosecutors.
Prosecutors are likely to file a response to Wednesday's defense filing, though they aren't required to. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, Randall Samborn, declined any comment.
The panel's hard-hitting questions for a Blagojevich prosecutor during oral arguments raised defense hopes that some convictions could be thrown out. The questions' focus: Exactly where is the line between legal and illegal political wheeling and dealing? And did Blagojevich cross it?
At one point, Judge Frank Easterbrook noted how exceptional the prosecution of Blagojevich was. He even compared Blagojevich's bid to land a Cabinet seat to how President Dwight Eisenhower named Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court after Warren offered Eisenhower key political support during the 1952 campaign.