If Rod Blagojevich celebrated the fact that his jury deadlocked on all but one charge in his corruption trial yesterday, his friends at the White House had a distinctly less cheery mood. In fact, the results are the worst of all worlds for Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, and the Chicago crew in the Obama administration. Not only has one of their key allies rung up a conviction related to corruption, but now the trial will take place all over again — on the most embarrassing and potentially damaging charges:
President Obama and his top aides had come through the two-month trial with precious little damage to either their reputations or their agenda. What had once appeared like it could be a political minefield for Obama — the trial centered, after all, around whether Blagojevich desired to sell his old Senate seat — instead became a sideshow with relatively little impact, and neither the sitting president nor any of his senior aides had been dragged into testifying.
But if U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald has his way, there will be a new trial. New attempts by the prosecution to build a case against Blagojevich. New efforts by the defense to subpoena Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to the stand.
It might be no more likely that Jarrett and Emanuel would actually testify in court, but just the prospect will generate headlines again — headlines that would not aid the president’s goal of keeping his administration focused on the economy.
The trial will only be one aspect of it. In the wake of a failure to get more convictions, the media will analyze the prosecution’s case incessantly, especially in Illinois. That won’t necessarily do a lot of damage to Obama directly, but it will put an even bigger spotlight on corruption in Chicago and Springfield and tarnish everyone connected with it. The attention won’t help Alexi Giannoulias, and will make it more likely that disgusted voters will either stay home or choose Mark Kirk to fill the last two months of Obama’s term and the full next term in the US Senate.
The silver lining, though, is that the new trial probably won’t start until next year. Blagojevich will get sentenced first on his one conviction for lying to federal investigators, and then Patrick Fitzgerald will regroup and probably start a few months after the midterm elections. Assuming that works out, the trial will be over before the presidential primaries begin, keeping Blago and his circus off of the front pages as Obama runs for re-election.