* 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.