Impeached Gov. Blago — the master of trivia, and not much else

So the jury in the Blago trial sends U.S. District Judge James Zagel a note admitting that it can agree on only two counts (out of a total of 28 when the 24 against Rod Blagojevich and the four against his brother Robert are totaled). The jury confides that it has not even considered the 11 wire fraud charges against Rod Blago, and no one in the press, none of the local law school experts, none of city’s former prosecutors — typically now in private practice defending white-collar criminals — whom the news stations trot out as tour guides can explain what the hell it means. Is it good for Rod? For Rob? Will the result be a hung jury, a mistrial, a conviction or acquittal on the two counts? Will the government be forced to retry the case? Who knows?

Judge Zagel had earlier summoned the brothers Blago to court to await the possibility of a final verdict. After 10 days of mostly monotonous quiet from the jury room, this Thursday, Aug. 12, looks like a pivotal day.

Again there will be a wait before the judge tells the jurors by note to take a crack at all the counts; at least to try to reach unanimity on each. And more of a wait before it’s announced that the jury will take Friday off and resume its efforts on Monday.

Robert sits with his wife, a former beauty queen contestant, and his only child, a grown son who works for a Chicago real estate investment firm. Blago and Patti head to the courthouse cafeteria where Patti, as always, knits, and Blago wows the press with his prowess at a trivia game called “Scene It?”

Given that the hundreds of hours of FBI-taped telephone conversations on which the government based most of its case made Blago sound ill-spoken and ill-educated, his answers seemed to surprise the media onlookers.

The answers didn’t surprise me. In the summer of 2003, while writing a profile of Blago, soon after he became governor — when the conventional wisdom had him on the national ticket in 2008 — I found Blago to be a veritable warehouse of facts, stats and trivia.

On the public payroll — state legislator, member of Congress, governor — for most of his adult life, Blago never broke a sweat. We know from the testimony of aides that a typical workweek included only two hours at his lavish office suite in Chicago’s Loop. When an aide tried to corner him for answers to questions on pending legislation or budgets, he would hide in his office bathroom (I know that large, well-equipped space because he showed it off to me during our first interview — “Look at the shower!” — and I could imagine him, his hairbrush in hand, primping and preening before the mirror.

What did he do with the workweek minus two hours when he wasn’t at the office? He hung out at home on Sunnyside Avenue on the city’s North Side, running, lifting weights, reading. He knows so much about presidential history (his hobby), about baseball (his hobby) because while others worked, he packed his brain on the taxpayers’ dime.

In July 2003, I went to his home after lunch to interview Patti. She had recently given birth to their second daughter. An aide ushered me into the den/library, which sported a book-lined wall. While I awaited Patti, I scanned the shelves and was hugely impressed with his collection of books on 20th-century presidents. Blago and I had talked about his favorite president (and mine), Teddy Roosevelt. I had asked him to name the best TR biographer, and expected Edmund Morris or David McCullough; instead he selected Henry Pringle for his 1931 Theodore Roosevelt: A Biography, and there it was on his shelf.

Patti breast-fed the baby while I interviewed her. Then in walked Gov. Blago, resplendently groomed and attired. He interrupted his wife mid-sentence (she didn’t seem to mind, as she didn’t seem happy in the role of first lady of Illinois) and began to engage me on the finer points of footnoting in political biography.

I called my editor as I drove home and asked, “What in the world is the governor of Illinois doing home in the middle of the day discussing books?” It was charming but, as an Illinois taxpayer, I thought, even then, that he should be working.

I didn’t realize then what a complete lay-about he was, but I should have. Right there on one of the scores of pages of transcripts from our recorded conversations was Blago boasting that when he was in Congress, he avoided going to caucus meetings. “I’d miss a lot of those caucuses; I had other things to do, like go running, fundraising.” He didn’t get elected to go to meetings, he told me. Huh?

I didn’t ask him what he got elected to do, because I had spent enough time with him to know he’d answer, “To help the people.” The real answer was to become so full of facts that he could shine at a trivia game while his wife knitted and the world waited to learn if he’d soon trade in his $5,000 Oxford suits and $300 ties for an orange jumpsuit.