Stoicism is an increasingly rare trait in the days of reality television and tell-all books. And it is seldom associated with a certain Serbian surname—Rod Blagojevich, after all, did both following his arrest on corruption charges in 2008.
But the former Illinois governor's brother, Robert, appears to embody the term. He is standing side-by-side with his brother on trial, but they are world's apart inside the courtroom. Rod can be seen yacking it up with his defense team during breaks or posing for pictures outside the courthouse, ever the glad-handing politician.
You will hardly see Robert crack a smile—or a grimace, for that matter— during the trial. His defense attorney Mike Ettinger introduced him to the jury as Lt. Col. Rob Blagojevich during opening statements—a move intended to win over the four veterans on the jury. He looks the part, resembling another embattled Lt. Colonel from long ago—Oliver North of Iran-Contra fame. His square jaw and close-cropped part stand in stark contrast to the former governor's wildly grown, yet carefully groomed hair.
The differences are not just evident in courtroom behavior. Wiretaps have reinforced the contrast between the gregarious, moody governor and the discipline his brother exudes. Jurors listened to hours of wiretaps in which Rod cursed wildly and lashed out at everyone from President Barack Obama to the Chicago Tribune to the people of Illinois.
The prosecution played two recordings from the elder Blagojevich—voicemail messages in which Robert asks Children's Memorial Hospital chairman Pat Magoon and his lobbyist John Wyma for $25,000 in campaign contributions, his tone even and language polite.
"You know I'm jerking your chain, but I think (the hospital has) a potential to do well by us," Rob told Wyma just five days after Blagojevich enacted a law providing millions in Medicaid reimbursements to pediatric specialists.
Robert's telephone etiquette, however, did not ease Magoon and Wyma's sense they were being threatened.
"The governor has the power to approve or rescind that money," Magoon testified on Tuesday. "I felt threatened; I felt at risk."
Prosecutors believe Robert helped his brother solicit bribes as a fund-raiser for the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund—and the voicemail seems to prove it.
Robert is the only alleged co-conspirator to weather the trial with his brother. Fund-raiser Chris Kelly committed suicide in September and former advisers Lon Monk and John Harris testified against the brothers. Such testimony, however, has focused almost entirely on the former governor, leaving Rob and his attorneys largely mute during the prosecution's case.
Ettinger and his defense team cross examined less than half of the government's witnesses in the trial's first five weeks. When they did approach witnesses, questioning was limited to terse exchanges about Robert's involvement. Witnesses often admitted that Robert was not present during meetings in which the alleged conspiracy took place.
They may stay just as quiet when the defense argues its case. Ettinger indicated the defense team would only introduce Robert as a witness when Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and the hospital are introduced — that may take a while since the government's case against Rod dates back to 2003.
Robert, a Tennessee businessman, volunteered for his brother's 2006 reelection campaign fund as a way of getting close to Rod, according to Ettinger. He did not, however, accept a permanent job at the campaign fund until late summer of 2008. His defense team is arguing that Robert's fund-raising practices derive from his charity work at the Tennessee Red Cross. His client, he says, was calling names on a list, rather than plotting.
But the defense is relying on another more subtle argument: the two brothers just aren't close. He pointed to one campaign contribution in particular to demonstrate his point—the $250 check Robert cut to the Republican National Committee in 2004.
"They're not close. Rob's a Republican, but that's his brother, his blood," Ettinger said during his opening statement.
The more distance the better, according to former federal prosecutor Rodger Heaton, who helped convict Arkansas Gov. Guy Tucker of fraud in 1996.
"(The low profile) is probably intentional," he said. "The more they talk about Rod, the better it is for (Robert)."
Trials with high-profile defendants like the former governor often leave co-defendants in the shadows, which can be beneficial to Robert. What effect this has on a jury verdict remains to be seen, according to Heaton.
Rob Blagojevich could be tainted by the case against his brother, anchoring him to the former governor's potentially sinking ship. Or, as Heaton said, the focus on Rod may end up vindicating Robert.
"The jury could think, 'we heard forty days of stuff about Rod and only two hours on his brother—maybe he's not involved," said Heaton, who now works as a white collar criminal defense attorney at Hinshaw & Culbertson.
The defense will return to the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in Chicago on Monday to begin its case.