Robert Blagojevich speaks out at Columbia


Curtis Lawrence

Robert Blagojevich

By Ariel Parrella-Aureli

Robert Blagojevich smiled as he held a copy of his recently released book, “Fundraiser A: My Fight for Freedom and Justice,” greeting attendees as they arrived at his book talk, “Caught in the Middle: Robert Blagojevich Speaks Out.”

The June 10 event took place at Columbia’s Ferguson Hall located in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building, where NBC Chicago’s political editor, Carol Marin, discussed with Robert Blagojevich his book regarding he and his brother’s high-profile criminal case.

But Robert Blagojevich’s smile faded as he told Marin that being on trial was “the most tumultuous” time of his life.

Robert Blagojevich, the brother of convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, published his account of being on trial through the Northern Illinois University Press on April 15 in an attempt to share his experience with the federal government after the Blagojevich brothers faced extortion and corruption charges back in 2008.

In 2008, Rod Blagojevich became the former governor’s chief fundraiser upon his brother’s request. Within four months, the federal government indicted the brothers for selling Rod Blagojevich’s Senate seat, formerly held by President Barack Obama, to former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Robert Blagojevich’s charges were dropped due to a hung jury, but Rod Blagojevich was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Robert Blagojevich told Marin that writing his book was the hardest thing he has ever had to do “other than getting indicted and surviving that.”

He said he never considered writing a book or a memoir as his wife Julie suggested, but she, along with his defense attorney, Michael Ettinger, encouraged him to do so after his charges were dropped. 

“The government turned out to be my enemy…ironically,” Robert Blagojevich said. 

Robert Blagojevich said he does not think his brother was rightfully convicted.

“The only thing Rod is guilty of is stupid talk…and he is paying for the decisions and choices he made,” he said. “The real bad guy is Patrick Fitzgerald.”

Robert Blagojevich said he will never be able to forgive Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor who went up against the Blagojevich brothers, for the perceived wrongful actions that were taken against him.

“One of my toughest emotions was my anger,” Blagojevich recalled during the interview.

He said he used those emotions as fuel during his case, adding that one of the ways he survived the “government abuse” was by standing by his principles and believing in himself that he was doing the right thing. 

Mary Gallagher, executive director of the Chicago Federation of Labor’s Workers Assistance, said she attended the event because she knows Marin asks hard-hitting questions, and she applauded her for it.

“She asked in-depth questions, but she was kind,” Gallagher added.

David Duggan, an independent law practice professional who runs a law office in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, said he attended the event because he followed the Blagojevich trial and remembers seeing both brothers at the court building on multiple occasions.

“I believe this court case does show the fallacy of our system,” Duggan said. “The government will indict someone in order to squeeze somebody else.”

Duggan has worked in criminal defense for more than 20 years and said, like Robert Blagojevich, he too has had experiences with the criminal justice system that have left him feeling jaded.

“I believe it is a sneer and a delusion,” Duggan said. “If the people truly knew what was going on, I think they would recoil in horror.”

Robert Blagojevich said he thinks he is less naïve after having gone through the federal trial, but he said he would not do anything different if he could return to the past. A member of the crowd joked with Robert Blagojevich about whether he will write another book in the future.

“I’m not expecting any life-altering experiences,” he said. “But you never know…I didn’t expect this one.”