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Friday, March 07, 2008

Andy Martin on Barack Obama and the Rezko trial, Day One

Andy Martin looks at the first day of trial for Barack Obama’s fundraiser and confidante Tony Rezko. Martin says Rezko could walk from the criminal charges he faces in Chicago; federal prosecutors presented a dispirited opening day of evidence and argument. Legal expert Martin analyzes the complex issues involving the presidential candidate and his former supporter. Andy says the worse is yet to come for Obama.

Executive Editor

“Factually Correct, Not
Politically Correct”





(CHICAGO)(March 7, 2008) We had scheduled a pure “Obama” column for today, but it will have to wait a day. People want to know where I stand on the Rezko trial. Rezko, of course, was Senator Barack Obama’s long-time friend, promoter and financier.

Obama may have to invoke Shakespeare’s Macbeth as the Rezko parade proceeds, “Out damned spot! Out I say.” But the Rezko spot is not going away. Tony Rezko was an integral part of Barack Obama’s rise to power over the past two decades in Chicago politics.

Obama may want to pretend Rezko was a nothingburger, with a “who me?” shrug. The only answer, “Yah, you.”

First, a couple of “caveats,” or legalese for “warnings.” I have not been in court during the Rezko proceedings, and I have never met any of the participants. I don’t believe I have ever spoken to anyone involved in the trial.

Second, you must forgive me the temptation to say “I told you so.” I have been screaming about the extent and depth of the Obama-Rezko connection since November, 2006. A long time. No one cared. No one believed. No one outside the case knew the true extent and expanse of the relationship, except me.

Now, slowly, the truth is coming to the surface. And truth is often not a pretty sight in Chicago politics. Over the past couple of months we have been providing special insight into the progress of Rezko’s federal case and, again, no one was noticing. But it’s all there on my net postings to see.

I have been involved in the federal court at 219 S. Dearborn for thirty-nine years (no, I’m not that old, but Jack Benny would approve, at least in my 39th year). I know how federal courts and federal prosecutors and federal judges operate. They want to win, and they will do virtually anything to win. Some judges let prosecutors get away with it.

With those caveats, here are my observations. I must also stress that these are my conclusions after the first day of trial. As the case unfolds my views could, obviously, change.

First, I think the federal government has a weak case against Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

Governor Rod Blagojevich is the obvious target of the proceedings, the invisible Great White Whale in the courtroom. But I sense something happened. For some reason, the case broke too soon.

I was stunned by the tepid way the prosecutors opened. In any solid prosecution, a prosecutor wants to wake up the jury and sound the alarm. THIS IS A BAD, BAD, MAN! The government’s opening witnesses in Rezko’s case were pedestrian, almost subdued. The FBI agent’s testimony was peripheral.

Some of my columns on the pre-trial prosecutorial corruption and abuse fall can now be understood in context. I wrote that Rezko was thrown in jail before trial on trumped up allegations. Borrowing money to pay your lawyers is not, after all, a crime. It is hardly evidence of an intent to cut and run (earlier columns have addressed these shenanigans, see links below).

And so the federal government, facing a weak case and uncertain evidence, as well as a highly unstable key witness, decided to torture Tony Rezko to soften him up for trial. They asked the judge to jail him before trial, and locked him in a dungeon, 23 hours a day, and degraded him in every way possible, to the point of even denying him a belt for his pants in court, all “for his own protection.”

Hey, it's the American way. Wherever we go in the world, we take our torture and our prisons with us. It sad, but true. Abu Ghraib was not an aberration. The people committing the abuses were as American as apple pie. Guantanamo? You don’t need to go there. Just look at Tony Rezko, on trial in Chicago and jailed 23 hours day to prevent him from preparing his defense. We will have to see if the prosecutors’ dirty trick works. The whole idea of jailing Rezko was to smear and demean him, not because the government had a strong case but because prosecutors came to the realization they had a weak case, and wanted to punish Rezko before he was convicted of anything.

How did the defense open on Thursday? Just the way I predicted weeks ago. By playing the Obama card. The Obama card was played softly, but it was there in counsel’s opening statement. Rezko’s attorney linked Tony to Republicans and Democrats and, among them, to Mr. Obama himself. Obama promptly issued a press release saying “this case is not about me.”

Indeed the case is very much about Mr. Obama.

The Chicago media have sold the nation the biggest pig-in-a-poke in recent political history. They have sold Obama as the great savior, the Teflon “hope,” when Obama is merely just another glib Sammy Glick, who challenged the Chicago Democratic Machine until he got his own slice of the pie, and then quietly slept with Emil Jones and the other slimy machine hacks in The Party.

If there was such a tort (legal wrong) as journalistic malpractice, all of Chicago’s media should be put on trial and charged with defrauding the American people about Barack Obama. They wanted him to win, because he was a good story, and a great local story, and they engineered his ascent while fully aware of the cancer behind the curtain.

And so while Obama might claim the Rezko trial is not about him, and he is not actually a part of the scheme in which Rezko and Levine are charged, Rezko was linked to Obama in ways far deeper than Obama has yet admitted.

And that leads me to my second conclusion:

Obama’s links to Rezko will cut both ways. They may persuade some jurors that Rezko was merely a “politician,” and vote not to convict him. Or they may decide Rezko’s sleaze tainted Obama, and convict anyway. Both prosecutors and defense counsel have to careful how they use and defend against the Obama connection. Prosecutors don’t want to appear to be smearing Obama in the midst of an election, even if that is what they end up having to do to win their case.

Because I know that prosecutors holding a weak hand will invariably try to bolster their case with irrelevant smears, I read the judge’s Rule 404 (b) order carefully. Nine single-spaced pages of rope-a-dope. The 404 (b) motion was an admission that prosecutors knew they had a case with big holes. Federal Rule of Evidence 404 (b) allows the admission of what is essentially “smear” evidence, because the evidence is irrelevant to the real charges on trial. So 404 (b) allows parties to introduce evidence, with court approval, that “links” the “other acts” to the defendant in a criminal case.

It was clear from the prosecutors’ 404 (b) claims that they need extraneous and extrinsic evidence to bolster their presentation. A 404 (b) motion is not a sign of prosecutorial confidence; it is evidence of prosecutorial concern.

When you combine the government’s desperate plea to the judge to admit smear evidence, together with the very tepid opening day of the trial, the Department of Justice has only one way to go: down.

Stuart Levine, the government’s key witness, is a prosecutor’s nightmare. Levin has apparently overdosed on drugs for decades. Some drugs I have never even heard of. Special K? Got me. I never heard of it before the Levine case.

In a drug prosecution you do expect druggies and dealers and lowlifes to testify against a defendant. Absolutely. Common sense leads a jury to accept the reality that lowlifes testify against lowlifes in drug prosecutions.

In a white collar case, a prosecutor wants squeaky clean witnesses, not drug addicts who arrived at the office each morning and starting “using.” The jury is going to have a difficult time accepting Levine’s testimony as a basis to convict Rezko, never mind what Assistant U. S. Attorneys say.

At the end of the day, when jurors went home Thursday (I don’t believe they are sequestered even though there is secrecy about their identities) many of them must have asked, “Is this all there is?” Clearly, the government did not put on a strong opening against Rezko.

Rezko could still be convicted. Innocent people are convicted of trumped up charges every day.

But Rezko has one ace to play against the government’s jokers. The State of Illinois itself. One of the ironies of the case is that Republicans are as dirty as Democrats. The evidence in Rezko’s case does not reflect a Democrat-thing or a Republican-thing. Both parties are all mired in the same thievery, corruption and conflicts of interest. Here in Illinois we call these bipartisan pirates “the Combine.” Rezko’s defense will be he was engaging in routine Illinois politics, not criminal activity.

And although I am still somewhat confused by what money went where, and why, at the end of the day Rezko is going to appear to be acting as the agent of “Public Official A,” i.e. Governor Blagojevich. Juries develop a collective sense of fairness. In a case where the government’s witnesses are sleazy and bargained for leniency, and where the “big enchilada” is not a defendant sitting in the dock alongside his minions, juries have a harder time convicting the underlings. Which is why I feel Rezko could very well walk.

All of which brings me full-circle to where I started. Something tells me this case was “brought before it’s time.” The case is not fully formed; the evidence is not as strong as it should be. Rezko is a big fish, but he is not the big fish.

Finally, if I may be indulged to repeat some comments I have previously made, the worst blow for Obama is that whichever way the numbers are crunched in the Rezko trial or outside the Rezko courtroom, it is now clear that Barack and Michelle Obama bought their “dream home” in Kenwood with money indirectly provided by an Iraqi wheeler-dealer.

The ultimate twist of fate: Obama brags about opposing the war, then has his own home partially financed by someone who was, depending on whom you believe, a Saddam Hussein stooge or a Saddam victim. Either way, an Iraqi appears to have helped finance the purchase of the Obama “compound” in Chicago. Yekkkh.

Obama’s defense will be (here it is!) “I didn’t know.” But people are finally waking up to the fact that there are a lot of things Barack Obama “doesn’t know” these days.

My colleague John Kass calls all of this corruption “the Chicago Way.” Indeed it is. For myself, I am much more sympathetic to the victims of the national press who are finally beginning to see Obama’s puss ooze to the surface. To them I say, “Welcome to Chicago. Welcome to the real Obama.” And, sadly, “Welcome to Illinois.”

Public officials here still do things the old fashioned way. They steal. They lie. They take favors and give favors. They don’t ask no stinkin’ questions about where the money is coming from in a complicated real estate transaction. And when they get caught, they say “I don’t know.” Welcome to Barack Obama’s Chicago.

Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley is the true master of the Chicago Way. Given how gullible the media are, maybe Daley, not Obama, should be running for president. At least people would be under no illusions about what they were getting in a candidate.

Welcome to Chicago. And, oh, “Book’em Danno.”


Chicago-based Internet journalist, broadcaster and media critic Andy Martin is the Executive Editor and publisher of © Copyright by Andy Martin 2008. Martin covers regional, national and world events with over forty years of experience. He has been a candidate for U. S. Senator from Illinois. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. Columns also posted at; Comments? E-mail: Media contact: (866) 706-2639.


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