Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

The Chicago papers are full this morning of news and commentary bearing on Black nemesis “Skim” Jim Thompson. Yesterday, an appellate panel (belonging to the same court that will hear his Lordship’s pleas) voted 2 to 1 to uphold former governor George Ryan’s conviction and six-and-a-half-year sentence on corruption charges. Thompson himself, both a former governor of Illinois and federal prosecutor for the Northern District, afforded Ryan the services of his firm, Winston & Strawn, pro bono (services worth a reported $20 million). After the decision, Thompson held a press conference to lament the court’s conclusions. In this morning’s coverage, much was made of the ironies implicit in all this. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

“A former governor and, before that, a U.S. attorney who once locked up a former governor, Thompson is one of those all-purpose political players who has found fame and fortune in corruption—busting it, defending those accused of it, and when it came to his own oversight work on the board of Hollinger International, not bothering to notice it until it was too late. As such, he was an uncomfortable prosecution witness not long ago in the federal trial of now-convicted Sun-Times press baron Conrad Black.”

And this, from the Trib:

“Thompson, the masterful politician that he is, held a news conference. He must have skimmed the majority opinion of the three-member panel, which said that U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer acted properly in dealing with problems among the Ryan jury and that the evidence against Ryan was ‘overwhelming.’ Thompson ably leaned on the dissenting opinion, which said the Ryan verdict should have been reversed.Thompson waxed on this, staring up at the heavens at points, sighing, talking about justice and fairness and mercy for George. Then a wise old reporter—it wasn’t me—asked a question: What about the fact that quite a few judges on the [7th Circuit] court have stated publicly that they thank you for being on that court?In other words, what about the judges who thank you for making them?

‘Well, I thank them for thanking me,’ Thompson said, to peals of laughter and media chuckles. ‘I think they ought to reserve their thanks to the president of the United States who appointed them… Each of them would have to draw their own conclusions about whether any relationship would bar their serving. Whether it was a relationship in prior times with me, what the relationship was, how long it was, what’s intervened since that time.’

Did I not say he was masterful? It was like watching the greatest puppeteer in the universe, pulling infinite strings with his hands in his pockets. There was no formal declaration of clout, but Thompson smiled as he danced. A few months ago, while testifying at the trial of the now-convicted Lord Conrad Black, Thompson wasn’t half as smooth. As audit committee chairman of Black’s company, Hollinger International, Thompson was supposed to watch where the money was going. Instead, Thompson admitted he merely ‘skimmed’ the documents, which, mysteriously, allowed Black to gorge on stockholder funds. But that was Black. And this is Ryan, not some British lord who once ran a tabloid in this town.”

For Black, the point is depressingly clear: Jim Thompson is untouchable in Illinois. And any defence of Black’s that sought or seeks to dispute that fact was and is likely doomed from the start.

State of scandal: Illinois govs seem all interlocked [Chicago Sun-Times]Clout trumps kids again in Ryan case [Chicago Tribune]