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General News    H2'ed 2/4/14

Governor Rod Blagojevich's Defense Attorney Compares Chris Christie's Situation to Blago's... and It's Not Pretty

Chicago Defense Attorney Sam Adam Jr.
Chicago Defense Attorney Sam Adam Jr.
(Image by Sam Adam Jr.)
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I interviewed Sam Adam Jr., rated one of the top 100 defense attorneys in America, who defended former governor Rod Blagojevich he first time he was tried. I asked him to compare the Blagojevich case with Chris Christie's situation.  He did, discussing how the case would be approached by defense and prosecution, and discussing advantages and disadvantages Christie has. 
Attorney Adam started off commenting, "I see Chris Christie having a lot of problems now under mail and wire fraud, maybe a RICO statutes as well coming down the line."
"RICO, how is that?" I inquired.
Sam Adam Jr. replied,
""the Hoboken Mayor said that the Christie Administration through a Lieutenant Governor, as well as other aides of Christie have withheld Sandy funds because the Mayor of Hoboken will not approve a development in Hoboken connected to Christie. Now that's a very important thing. That's exactly what happened with  Blagojevich.  
"For years here in Chicago and in Illinois, there were accusations being thrown about down in Springfield, in the capital, about  Blagojevich doing certain things in a corrupt pattern.  That he was connecting campaign funds with contracts.  And it didn't really go anywhere for the first term that he had and it really didn't go anywhere in the second term until there were accusations made about the senate seat and that's what brought the Feds in and that's what made them truly start looking at all of these things and started to investigate it.  
"Now Chris Christie, that's happening here.  As the Bridgegate comes out, which I don't think they're going to find too much of a criminal activity, certainly it doesn't look good, but as far as the law is concerned I don't care about that.  But the criminality of it is something that the Feds are going to focus on and what they're going to do is try to use Bridgegate here.   "Go in there and ask those questions and then use the grand jury to get at other areas where there might be a pay-to-play politics, where there might be one for the other where you might have a quid pro quo and if the Hoboken Mayor is correct or truthful that the Lieutenant Governor connected campaign funds with another project and the Christie administration is involved in that, that is certainly something that the Feds are going to be interested in and certainly something that looks like a quid pro quo so it's going to develop into much more than just this bridge incident."
Beyond Bridgegate
I asked, "What about the criminality of Bridgegate?"
Blagojevich defense attorney Adam answered,
"Well the truth of the matter is there are so many laws on the books that you can get anybody for anything if you want to.  Now what is very very concerning here is when it comes to-- and I have to link these two because of the players involved here-- one of the port authority, I guess aides or port authority persons, for lack of a better term, involved here is an individual who also is involved with a law firm that was being used to lobby on behalf of the Rockefeller Group.  
"Now the Rockefeller Group is trying to develop in Hoboken and he and his firm were out there lobbying for that group.  Now what's going to be very interesting here is how the Feds use Bridgegate.  Do they come at this individual and say listen, we know that there's probably no criminal activity here on Bridgegate, that there certainly things that were wrong, certainly things that shouldn't have been done this way, certainly the people of New Jersey and the people of New York shouldn't be held hostage to vendettas, but we're really interested over here, what can you tell me on Christie's involvement on Bridegate?  And then slowly move them in to the withholding of the Sandy Hurricane funds.  
"That's what I think is very important here and that's what I think is going to be just like  Blagojevich and the criminality portion of it is what they're going to use to develop other areas of corruption and Christie is going to have to sit down with his defense attorney and talk about all of these various areas.  Now if I were representing Christie, there's two things I would do first.  First thing I would do is have an open and honest conversation with him"
"Second thing you have to do, in my opinion, because this is where the hook is-- this is the problem in pay-to-play corruption investigations... sit them down and go through his campaign contributions list for the last six to seven years.  Anybody who gave a contribution or anybody who is related that gave a contribution to somebody who got a contract, the Feds are going to be looking at every single one of those contributions.
"Every single one of the individuals who gave a contribution-- whether it's five dollars or fifty thousand dollars, and that's where I think Christie is going to have to, at this point in time, now that this Hoboken Mayor has come out and said these other accusations, he's going to have to slow down, if we're talking legally here, not politically, try to be quiet on as much as he can, and sit down with a defense lawyer and figure out, 'were there contributions given here that look like pay to play politics?'  Because now that this has come to light, he's going to have to answer every single question he can on whether or not this was pay to play."
"Now, you mention Federal Prosecutions.  How do Federal Prosecutions work in a case like  Blagojevich or Christie?" I asked.  Mr. Adam replied,
"I have been doing this for fifteen years and I have come to a real belief here that when it comes to investigating crimes that haven't happened yet like, when you're trying to set up a drug deal or you're trying to set up a political pay-to-play, the Feds are not very good at it.  They bumble. They don't understand how things really work. These people come out of the highest and best law schools and they don't understand the ground game. But when it comes to investigating crimes that have already happened, there's nobody better than the FBI at doing that.  
"And that's why I think Blagojevich had such a problem with the investigations-- because they were only investigating crimes that had already taken place.  Now the senate seat, well, they got tapes on that issue. The senate seat was one of the problems that they had, was one of the things we hung them on in the trial, because there were tapes that weren't being played that we had, because the Federal Government was setting these things up and I don't think they're very good at it. But on the other counts, that had already occurred, they had a very solid case. They had the paperwork down and ...they went through it in a very concise and effective way.  
" Christie's problem is , it looks to me, like some of these things have already occurred and that's how the Federal Prosecution and the federal investigation is going to go.  They're going to go back and get things you cannot change.  They're going to go back and get emails like we've already seen the legislature is doing in New Jersey.  
"They're going to go back and talk to people and investigate their way forward, and because they have so many resources, because they have many of the best and brightest and also because nothing can be changed to effect what's already been done, he's got some real issues, if there is a single pay-to-play or can even look like pay-to-play instance that he was aware of and if this governor, if this Mayor is telling the truth, he's got some real legal problems."
"There's also the case of the Hurricane Sandy ad campaign that was not competitively sourced and it looked more like an ad for him and his family," I interjected.  Sam Adam Jr. replied,
"...the reason that is important is one of the things, when you're talking about wire fraud and mail fraud, that the government has to prove, is that there was, honest services were not given. And one of the ways in which you prove that these were not honest services is, 'was there a gain to the individual who did the fraud?'
"Well that's what the Feds are going to try to develop if they're investigating this.  Was the use of these ad campaigns, was the use of these pictures of him a benefit to Christie that resulted from the fraud?  If so then you can prove not honest services.  
"In  Blagojevich one of the ways they did this was they said his wife received payments from one of the other alleged co-conspirators and that was the personal benefit that the family received.  Here they also said in Blagojevich that him trying to get this senate seat was a personal benefit to him because it paid a thousand dollars more than the governor's salary.  
"If you recall, they said Blagojevich wanted to trade the appointing of a senator for him to get (his own appointment as) head of HHS, Health and Human Services.  If the President would appoint him to be Health and Human Services Director he would give the President anybody that the President wanted-- in this case it was Valerie Jarrett-- the spot of appointed Senator.  Well the government said and the judge allowed that that was a personal benefit to Blagojevich even though it wasn't money, even though it wasn't campaign funds, even though it wasn't money in his pocket like a traditional bribe, that benefit helped him.  
"Well here it very well may look like one of the benefits to Christie was that he is trying to run for President.  He wants to go out here and do this, the ad campaign shows he and his family in a very positive light, and that was the benefit to cause him to commit these frauds and that's one of the things they're going to have to prove and that's one of the things that you can be certain the government is going to look at."
Will the Insulation of His Appointees Protect Him?
I took advantage of a pause in Sam's commentary and asked,  "Now, he's got the insulation of a crew of people surrounding him so that he may not have actually had to sign off on anything personally.  Does that protect him?"  Sam responded,
"...let's suppose Christie didn't know anything about this and these individuals acted on their own.  Let's say for the sake of argument that's true, then those individuals can save him.  They say, 'look we did these things ourselves, the governor never knew these things, and while they look bad I don't care how it looks this is the absolute truth.' If fifteen of fifteen people that they subpoena or bring in to the grand jury say that and there's no evidence to the contrary then it can save him, no question about it. 
"But the opposite is true too, it only really takes one of them to break the chain down.  If one of them comes forward and says 'listen, he and I got together on this and discussed this.  He and I, he always told me he's not going to sign anything, to keep it away from him, but he knew what was going on,' that can start the domino effect and all those other individuals can come forward and say the same thing.
"Now, because of the pressure of facing federal indictment, because of the pressure of going to jail, those individuals come and testify against him, that's even more powerful than if he signed off on certain things because now you have individuals who had these conversations with him who are going to testify to those conversations, and it looks suspicious.  
"As I have learned as a criminal defense attorney many times what looks suspicious is much more important than the actual physical evidence in and of itself because you can explain away a lot of these things but circumstances are a very tough case to beat because most folks believe in the principle and when they come and sit on a jury they have it, that if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, well heck, it must be a duck.
How Will the Feds Use Christie's People to Get to Him?
Digging deeper, I asked Adam, "So you have got these people who surround Christie, like David Wildstein, who has already pleaded the fifth, how will the Feds use these people to get to Christie?"  Adam replied,
"Okay.  That's a very important question but it needs to be broken down just a little bit.  We don't know, and I want to be clear on this, we don't know if Christie did anything and I am not going to say he did, but let's assume for the sake of argument, just for this discussion that he did, this is how they'll use Wildman.  
"Wildman has already been very clear about this.  He came forward" and said listen I will stand on the fifth amendment.  I have a right not to incriminate myself.  However if you give me immunity I'll tell you everything I know.  
"Now, I am here in Chicago, which has been considered, for a long time, one of the most corrupt political states and cities in America and I have said this over and over and over again, while I am a criminal defense lawyer,  and I have defended Governor Blagojevich and mayors here, I am tired of political corruption and so the way I would handle it if I was the US Attorney in this matter is I would start offering out immunity like candy to a baby.  
"What a lot of people don't understand is that when you're offered immunity there is no more fifth amendment  You're not allowed to stand on the fifth amendment  The only thing an individual can do is go to court and refuse to answer and then be held in contempt and go to jail.  Once you have been offered immunity you cannot not answer the questions without being in violation of the law and there are very few times that people... just refuse to answer. 
"So I would, and I think this very well may happen, is that you start offering immunity down below, so that you can start working your way up the chain. And if they believe that Christie is involved, and I got to tell you" once a Mayor of Hoboken comes out and starts saying that there has been a connection between Sandy Hurricane funds and other projects, that in and of itself is a quid pro quo and is in violation of the RICO act or, should I say, a violation of wire and mail fraud, because they're going to just use the check that comes in from Sandy as the wire fraud. The US Attorney out there has got to believe there is some connection between criminal activity and the Christie administration since it was the Lieutenant Governor who allegedly did those things.
"He'll start offering immunity down below to see what they know and build the case up.  That's what I think. There is nobody better than the Feds at doing that-- going below and building up.  And if that's the case, which, I think, is how they'll handle this, one of those guys is going to get immunity and once that happens, once that occurs, the chips are going to start falling, the dominoes are going to start falling and getting in line with a serious criminal investigation.
Will they nail Christie they way they nailed Blagojevich in his first trial?
Sam Adam Jr. went on to explain another potential risk and vulnerability Christie faces:
"Now the last thing I'll say on that, and I don't think the Feds will do this, they did it in Blagojevich and if you recall this, this is the one count I lost, I didn't lose any of the other counts on Blagojevich when I represented him, the one count I did lose though was lying to an FBI Agent.  A lot of people don't know this but the statute is ten-oh-one and that's what we call it in the business, ten-oh-one is lying to a Federal Agent.  
"That's a crime in and of itself.  While we argued and argued and argued the first amendment and you have a right to lie as long as you're not under oath, that argument has failed.  If a Federal Agent comes to you and you tell them something that is not true, knowingly, that in and of itself is a crime.  Well what happened in 2005 and 2006 with  Blagojevich is the Feds came to him and sat down and his lawyers allowed him to do this, talked to them and answered question after question after question.  
"The first one was not recorded, the second one was.  He was indicted for telling lies regarding his campaign fund during the one that was not recorded.  If I were the US Attorney and seeing that I know how politicians are, they just have to talk, I would offer the chance for Christie to come in and answer all questions, now he's going to do one of two things.  He's either going to turn that down or say yes I'll do it.  Now the chances that he turns that down because he's trying to run for political office, heck right this minute he's in Florida trying to get campaign funds, so you've got to know where his head is, he is truly a politician.  
"He's not going to turn down, especially to be made public, the opportunity to talk about this.  Once you get him in your office and you give it to him straight, you don't do anything untoward.You give it to him straight you ask him question after question after question.  Now he is on the hook for whatever he has answered and you're going to either, A make sure that you've shown that this individual did nothing wrong,  which is what the Feds should be  into too.  They should not just be trying to get convictions, they should be also trying to root out those who are innocent, but two is, if he has told you a lie you have got him on ten-oh-one and you have got an opportunity to do perjury."
Uh oh. The Investigator the NJ Legislature Hired is..."
Sam Adam Jr. talked about the investigator the NJ legislators hired:
"Reid Shar was the US Attorney who prosecuted Blago here in Illinois.  He has now been hired by the legislature in New Jersey to head up that investigation.  I can tell you this about Reid, he is extremely thorough, he is extremely dedicated, and if there are some of those things, that's where Reid will be very very very good at rooting out what occurred."
On Christie's Political Aspirations
Defense attorney Adam observed, "I think that Christie is going to have some real issues here to decide.  If that's the route that they take, they want to talk to him first, my advice as the criminal defense attorney is look, your political career has to take a step back to your freedom and right now we can't answer these questions because we don't know what they have and we can't go in there and answer anything."
Christie's Advantage
Christie has a huge advantage, Sam Adam Jr. points out. "One of the things that is going to help Christie is the fact he was a former US Attorney who did former investigations in criminal corruption and in politics.  I think he got a hundred and thirty three convictions for pay-to-play politics and corruption in the political sphere, so he is going to know how the US Attorney works."  
RICO vs. Wire and Mail Fraud Charges
Following up on Adam's mention of RICO and mail and wire fraud, I asked about the differences between them. Sam Adam Jr. responded,
"With RICO, which is Racketeering and Influencing Organizations Act, basically to give it to you in a layman's term, there are a certain number of individual crimes that the government has said 'look we want to crack down on, but we're not able to get at the individuals because they're hiding behind a corporate veil or they're hiding behind an organization.'  So what we've done and it came out of Notre Dame with a man by the name of Blakely, he said listen, we need to get a law in the books that said if in ten years you do two certain crimes and you use an organization to do it, we can now get you for racketeering.  That way we can, in criminal terms or should I say layman's terms, pierce the corporate veil.  
So you can't, if you have an organization, say you're a police officer and you take two bribes, and you did it as a police officer, now we can get you in Federal Court because you have violated the RICO statute. You have committed two counts of bribery in ten years and you used either the fraternal order of police or whatever police department you're on as the organization. That's a little tougher to do to get somebody on than wire and mail fraud. And the reason is this, wire and mail fraud is conducting a fraud by using the mail in any way shape or form, even if you yourself didn't use the mail or the wire, if somebody that you were doing this with did you are now under mail and wire fraud.
Sam Adam Jr. Summarizes Christie's Case-- Maybe Worse off than Blagojevich:
"The reason I think Christie may have a serious problem here, I'm not saying he does, but he certainly MAY have a serious problem here, is it's even more explicit than what Blagojevich was charged with doing.  There's now accusations here that you tried to trade Sandy funds for getting a job done and also at the same time, while that's occurring, the individual's law firm who is representing the party that is trying to get the project approved is somebody that you appointed to the port authority.  Now that's pretty darn close, and who is involved in sending emails back and forth about getting the traffic problems for the city and the Mayor who went against the Governor.  That's some pretty serious allegations here and misuse of power which is not what we had in Blagojevich."
How Will a Federal Investigation Affect Chris Christie?
I asked, "So let's say that the Feds make the decision to go all out against Christie, what will that look like and how will that affect his life?" Sam Adam Jr. answered,
"I can tell you this, it will forever change his life, his family's life, if they decide to go full fledged.  I know that there have been some accusations or at least some rumblings that he may have had some people put on a payroll that were looked at for ghost payrolling, that one of them was a woman and stayed at some of the same hotels he stayed at.  If there's any truth, any truth to any affairs, it's going to come out.  That's one of the blessings that I had in Blagojevich that he was so devoted to his family, they looked him up and down and there was not a single love note not a single phone call untoward any woman.  That's going to be one of the things that effects whatever decision Christie makes.  And if there is anything out there, and I don't suggest there is, but if there is ""-
I interrupted, saying, "Well there is.  There is Michelle Brown, when he was a US Attorney and she was also, he loaned her fifty thousand dollars and when he became governor he gave her a two hundred and twenty thousand dollar job that she was totally unqualified for, so unqualified for that he had to hire somebody else to do the actual job.  That's what they're reporting." Sam replied,
"Well then you know when he comes home at night, and I have seen his wife on TV staunchly going after reporters because they were talking about his weight, this is a woman who is dedicated to him, at least publicly.  That's going to effect the rest of his marriage, there's no question, whether it's true or not true.  It's always going to be in the back of the mind of his wife.  What really went on?  And that's of course going to effect the rest of his life.  That's just on a personal level.  Politically we're already seeing huge ramifications just by the investigation.  
"You know we say, in this country, you're innocent until proven guilty, but other than when you actually take the oath as a juror, and I can say this without any hesitation, that in my experience, jurors, once they're sworn in really and honestly take it to heart, that's why I love this country. That's why I think this is one of the best systems because they really do, they really do take it to heart, 99.9% of the time.  But in public opinion, so many people have already convicted him on this that it has got to effect his political life.  Already the Governor of Florida won't do anything in public with him.  Now that's got to effect you tremendously just by the hint of an investigation.  Just by the hint of doing something wrong.  People are backing away from donating campaign contributions which means you can't win as President of the United States."
There's a lot more in the interview and transcript. But this article is already way over length limit. 
Listen to the audio podcast here
Or read the full transcript here
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