If Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has a chance at combating the conspiracy charges against him, he must never let a jury hear his words captured on federal wiretaps, say analysts quoted by USA Today. The governor was arrested Tuesday on charges that included conspiring to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Notre Dame law Prof. Jimmy Gurule describes the tapes as the “breathtaking” centerpiece of the prosecution. “Unless the governor is successful in keeping the conversations out of a future trial, it’s hard to imagine what the defense is,” Gurule says. Sheldon Sorosky, Blagojevich’s attorney, has said the governor is not guilty.
Some analysts say the governor moved beyond idle talk and into alleged criminal conspiracy when he discussed plans to broker deals with aides and his wife. Among the most damaging allegations is that on the day after Obama’s election, the governor discussed with an aide a scenario in which Blagojevich could be named Health and Human Services or Energy secretary in exchange for making a Senate appointment favored by Obama. “The question is whether this is fantasy talk,” says Loyola Law School Prof. Laurie Levenson. “If he just made a passing remark, it would be one thing. But there is a lot here.” It’s likely, she says, that defense lawyers will challenge the government’s reasoning for seeking the wiretaps. If the case moves to court, the “ultimate” question for a jury will be whether the governor intended to do what he allegedly talked about, says Erwin Chemerinsky, law school dean at the University of California Irvine.