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Judge: Blagojevich exhibited “mental instability”

Thursday, Mar 29, 2012

* Rod Blagojevich’s former chief of staff John Harris was sentenced to just ten days in prison yesterday. Judge James Zagel seemed to almost pity him at times

The federal judge who handed Rod Blagojevich a 14-year prison term cited the corrupt former governor’s reputation for erratic behavior Wednesday in sentencing a former top Blagojevich aide to only 10 days behind bars.

Former chief of staff John Harris’ role in the bartering over President Obama’s old Senate seat was “so serious and so crucial” that it warranted some prison time, said U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel. But Zagel also noted that Harris’s boss exhibited “elements on some level of mental instability.”

“It was difficult for me to understand, on many occasions, what the governor was doing,” Zagel told Harris. […]

Before announcing the sentence, the judge said he could not honestly claim he would have reacted to a superior’s directives differently than Harris responded to Blagojevich — with one exception.

“I would have left sooner, much sooner,” said Zagel, who was a state official in the 1970s and 1980s and credited Harris with disobeying some of Blagojevich’s orders.

The judge also cited what he described as an “unusual set of character reference letters” for Harris, many from prominent figures in city and state political circles. Zagel said he knew at least 10 of the letter writers personally.

* Judge Zagel also praised Harris for his cooperation with prosecutors

Harris’ cooperation included testifying for 10 days at two Blagojevich trials. A subdued, matter-of-fact Harris told jurors he and Blagojevich talked about parlaying the power to name someone to Obama’s seat for campaign cash or a lucrative job for Blagojevich.

Much of Harris’ testimony involved him interpreting FBI wiretaps played in court, including a Nov. 3, 2008, recording where an almost giddy-sounding Blagojevich talks about the prospect of benefiting by appointing Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.

“Now, we should get something for that, couldn’t I?” Blagojevich asks Harris.

“Yes,” responds Harris flatly.

* And the prosecution stepped up for their witness

During her 15-minute statement at the hearing, prosecutor Carrie Hamilton didn’t have a single critical word for Harris.

She told Zagel Harris was “the most important” witness at Blagojevich’s corruption trials. And unlike Blagojevich, who fought the more numerous charges against him until he recently reported to prison, Hamilton said Harris had “owned up” to his misdeeds within days of his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest.

She also highlighted what she said was Blagojevich’s extreme inconsideration for his staff. She described how on one call captured on FBI wiretaps, Harris tells Blagojevich he was hanging Christmas tree lights with his kids and wanted to get back to it.

“Blagojevich did not care what else was going on” and kept Harris on the phone for more than an hour, Hamilton said.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

27 Comments
  1. - Liberty First - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:12 am:

    Don’t most politicians exhibit mental health problems? Yesterday the Senate democrats passed a bill that requires private driver’s training companies to have SBE teaching certificates instead of meeting just the secretary of state requirements. They should be doing just the opposite - not making schools use certified teachers for drivers ed to reduce costs.


  2. - Killjoy - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:12 am:

    “elements on some level of mental instability.”

    Amazing how someone like that could have gotten elected to public office in Illinois.

    Multiple times. And to the highest office, to boot.


  3. - Esteban - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:15 am:

    Could Harris get home confinement for ten days?


  4. - Ravenswood Right Winger - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:16 am:

    When the heck is Stuart Levine beign sentenced? Is he still selling electric cigarettes?


  5. - wordslinger - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:17 am:

    What’s the point of the ten days? How does Zagel quantify that?

    He doesn’t have to.

    And yes, Blago was a world-class jerk, but so what? Lots of bosses are jerks.

    The key here, I think, is once the federales are on you, you’re cooked, no matter what. You better make them like you.


  6. - Huh? - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:22 am:

    Did Zagel give 40892-424 a tip to appeal his sentence - an insanity plea?


  7. - soccermom - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:22 am:

    @Wordslinger — I have had a LOT of jerk bosses. Blagojevich was in a class by himself.


  8. - Bluefish - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:29 am:

    More proof that when the Feds call it’s better to get on the bus than be under it.


  9. - mokenavince - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:54 am:

    Blago was about as bad as it gets. Henry the 8th would come to mind,and the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonder Land.


  10. - James the Intolerant - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 10:55 am:

    I think Fitzgerald blew his chance to use Harris to uncover City corruption. He was at O’Hare, was the Budget Chief, come on.


  11. - Shore - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 11:03 am:

    how many more figures are left to be sentenced in this case?


  12. - titan - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 11:05 am:

    aving had a couple of really poor bosses in my day, I sympathize. And I think the court got this one right.

    Harris basically used the Nuremburg Defense, which doesn’t get you a “not guilty” but does get you a more favorable sentence.


  13. - Hunterdon - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 11:26 am:

    There were a lot of Blago sycophants that enabled him to run amok who still have jobs in Illinois government.


  14. - reformer - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 11:43 am:

    Harris wasn’t some low-level flunky. He was Rod’s top enabler. Even with a discount for cooperation and pleading guilty, you’d think the sentence might have been a tad longer for someone so involved in carrying out Rod’s schemes.


  15. - Wensicia - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 12:05 pm:

    I’d rather he received a longer sentence, but the message Zagel is probably sending is to those who stand besides and silently enable corruption. Better to fess up to the feds than risk a fall like Blago’s other co-conspirators.

    I hope news of this very short term gets to Blagojevich. 10 days compared to 14 years, think about it, convict.


  16. - James - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 12:36 pm:

    Harris was very well-represented (Terry Ekl). They won Judge Zagel’s empathy.


  17. - Anonymous - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 12:39 pm:

    Zagel states he “would have left sooner, much sooner”. Who gets a nod for seeing very early on what/who they were dealing with, and left Blago early on….?


  18. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 12:56 pm:

    I’m guessing ten days includes time served?


  19. - hisgirlfriday - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 1:30 pm:

    I am confused by what Zagel said here in explaining his sentence.

    He sentenced Blagojevich to longer BECAUSE he was mentally unstable? Doesn’t it seem to anyone else that it should be the other way around? That you take more pity on the mentally unstable person? That is… unless the idea is to just lock Blagojevich up as long as possible to protect the public from him. But I don’t think that was Zagel’s intent.

    I also don’t like it that just because a guy is friends with or has worked for people Zagel personally knows that he can get a lower sentence than someone without the clout that Harris had. That seems corrupt to me.


  20. - soccermom - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 1:39 pm:

    @hgf — If Rod did not invoke a “not guilty by reason of mental defect” defense and he was found psychologically fit to stand trial, I don’t think Zagel can use his own “diagnosis” as a factor in sentencing. He’s not a psychiatrist (and I am not a lawyer, so if anybody knows better, please weigh in.)


  21. - Wensicia - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 2:14 pm:

    I don’t think Zagel was commenting on Blagojevich’s possible mental instability in relation to his 14 year sentence. He alluded to the mental instability to explain Harris’ reactions to Blagojevich’s behavior.


  22. - Aldyth - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 3:50 pm:

    I think Blago has narcissistic personality disorder. When it reaches the point where people aren’t accepting just how special you are and why rules just don’t apply to you and you can’t manipulate the world to make that work, you get stressed. You can only rationalize your actions and figure out how you’ve been plotted against so fast. Rewrite history that many times and you’d be confused, too.


  23. - Boone Logan Square - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 3:58 pm:

    The Fitzgerald gang will remind potential witnesses of what happened to Harris and Blagojevich in future cases.


  24. - mark walker - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 4:17 pm:

    The sentence makes good sense to me.

    I think Blago’s perceived instability was a mitigating factor for Zagel in judging Harris’ behavior and proper sentence.

    I once was chief of staff for a powerful corporate boss who seemed more arrogant and out of touch than Blago, and half the time I wasn’t sure if he was just showing off, or was really going to do what he bragged about. I did eventually quit over his actions, but should have done so earlier.


  25. - Anonymous - Thursday, Mar 29, 12 @ 6:44 pm:

    What about all of the Democratic elected officials and unions that endorsed the guy? Some of these people served with Blagoof in Springfield and D.C. or worked with him. Nobody saw anything?

    He was bizarre for a long, long time, but it was not an issue until he crossed a few leading Dems.


  26. - Anonymous - Friday, Mar 30, 12 @ 12:14 pm:

    Anon 6:44, I’m sure that “bizarre” applies to both sides of the aisle.

    A staffer once told me about how “bizarre” a candidate for a higher office was, and I replied that that surely could not be true.

    Should have listened to her.


  27. - Hotel Ibiza - Friday, Mar 30, 12 @ 1:04 pm:

    Blagojevich is still where belongs.


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