Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich met with a renowned Chicago criminal lawyer Saturday as he weighed his legal options on how to fight a scandal that has left his career in tatters and disrupted President-elect Barack Obama’s White House transition.
The Democratic governor had a four-hour meeting with Ed Genson in the lawyer’s downtown office Saturday. Genson has defended newspaper baron Conrad Black, R&B singer R. Kelly and numerous public figures on corruption charges, earning a reputation as the lawyer big shots call when they get in a bind in Chicago.
Genson confirmed the two met but wouldn’t discuss details of their dialogue. When asked if he would take the case, Genson said: "We’ll make our mutual decision on Monday."
Blagojevich had brushed back calls for his resignation after he was charged with trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat. He sought to project a business-as-usual image amid the turmoil, going to work every day and handling state business.
As the legal maneuvering intensified, some observers speculated that he might be trying to leverage the governorship to his advantage in his criminal case — just like prosecutors said he did with the Senate seat for financial gain.
"I would be saying, ‘Let me see what I can get in exchange for you resigning. Don’t just give it up for nothing. Let me see if I can get you a better deal,’" said Steve Cron, a defense lawyer from Santa Monica, Calif.
Others suggested his lingering refusal to resign is more rooted in his ego than anything else. The governor has been known to love being in the spotlight, whether the attention is good or bad.
"You would think he would see his life collapsing around him," said Chicago defense lawyer John Beal, who was in the courtroom with Blagojevich this week and noted how carefree he seemed. "But he was the center of attention and seemed to love it."
The scandal continued to hound Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s choice for chief of staff. About a dozen protesters stood outside Jackson’s office Saturday demanding his resignation, and Republicans called for more information from Obama about Emanuel’s role in the Senate selection process.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Emanuel had conversations — captured on wiretaps — before the election with the Blagojevich administration about who would replace Obama in the Senate. The report did not suggest any dealmaking in the conversations, and Obama has strongly denied that anyone on his team committed wrongdoing.
Jackson was identified as one of the candidates Blagojevich was considering to replace Obama, and a criminal complaint said his supporters were willing to raise $1.5 million for the governor to make the appointment happen.
Blagojevich’s political future remains in limbo. The Legislature could start impeachment proceedings as soon as Monday, and the Illinois Supreme Court could act on a request by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to strip him of his powers.
Madigan’s staff has taken steps to rewrite lender-assurance language on a short-term borrowing plan, according to a spokeswoman for state Comptroller Dan Hynes. That would head off any problems the state has had in paying its bills over the Blagojevich scandal.
The governor has not made any public comments about his future. Spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the governor plans to sign a bill Monday that provides tax credits to filmmakers in Illinois.
Beal, the Chicago lawyer, said Blagojevich may be contemplating a deal with prosecutors or be in denial. Beal said he has seen many white-collar clients go through a defiant denial stage after they’re charged with a crime.
"It often takes awhile to sink in on a gut level how much trouble they’ve gotten themselves into and what their options are," Beal said.
Chicago defense attorney and former assistant U.S. attorney Ron Safer said the prospect of trading a resignation in a plea deal with federal prosecutors may be far-fetched, but Blagojevich’s nature seems to be a self-serving one in which he gains a personal advantage from every action he takes.
Safer sized up the prospect of a possible resignation and plea deal from his perspective as a former federal prosecutor: "If he came in and said, ‘Look, I want to plead guilty. I want to cooperate. I want to accept responsibility. I’m going to resign my office,’ all of those would indicate to me acceptance and would be relevant to me as a prosecutor."
Associated Press Writer Christopher Wills contributed to this report from Springfield.