September 17th, 2010
11:56 AM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Beth Holloway

The mother of Natalee Holloway, an American teen who vanished in Aruba in 2005, visited a Peruvian prison Thursday and reportedly spoke to the man who she believes killed her daughter. Beth Holloway made a trip to the Castro Castro Prison along with documentary filmmaker Peter de Vries. Unconfirmed reports say she was able to see prisoner Joran Van der Sloot for at least five minutes before being led away by authorities.

Van der Sloot was arrested twice in Aruba in connection with the younger Holloway's disappearance but was never charged. He is in Peru facing murder charges in the death of Stephany Flores, who was killed in a Lima hotel in June.

FULL POST

September 16th, 2010
12:50 PM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Elizabeth Warren

After months of speculation, Elizabeth Warren has been appointed to launch the U.S. Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. President Obama named the 61-year-old Harvard-based financial attorney Wednesday as a special presidential adviser until the Senate can confirm a director to the agency, various reports said.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog called Warren an outspoken populist hero. As head of oversight for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, she has not hesitated to criticize some of the bailouts, the blog said. Yet the new agency — which would regulate mortgages and credit cards to protect consumers — was her own idea, and that brought on controversy.

Warren, a native of Norman, Oklahoma, graduated from law school in 1976 with a new baby and no job prospects, according to a 2009 profile in The Boston Globe magazine. Following her divorce two years later, she became increasingly interested in teaching about the impact of foreclosures and bankruptcy on people and the law. She has since written books about Americans in debt and the plight of middle-class America, as well as a well-known book, written with her daughter, called “The Two-Income Trap.”

Last year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked Warren to handle oversight of TARP. “I’ve really been talking about the same set of issues for a long time, but I was under the radar, and that was OK with me,” Warren told The Globe magazine. “I don’t know, but I think part of it was that the world changed. What was a boring and obscure issue [financial services] suddenly moved front and center.”

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September 15th, 2010
11:56 AM ET

Wednesday's intriguing people

Sen. Jim. DeMint

The South Carolina Republican is either the most influential conservative outside of Sarah Palin or "leader on the fringe," depending on who's describing him.

DeMint has repeatedly broken with the GOP establishment to help conservative candidates secure primary victories. His Senate Conservative Fund supported Christine O'Donnell, who won the Republican Senate nomination in Delaware on Tuesday, and Carl Paladino, who will now face Democrat Andrew Cuomo in the race for governor of New York.

Politico reported Tuesday that DeMint had transferred $250,000 from his own re-election fund to the Florida Republican Party. DeMint has supported Marco Rubio's campaign in Florida for the U.S. Senate.

Some of DeMint's moves have upset mainstream Republicans. An unnamed source told CNN Tuesday night that DeMint was boosting Democrats' chances of victory in November.

The Conservative Senate Fund's Matt Hoskins came to DeMint's defense: "Perhaps the real reason some unnamed leadership aides are upset is that these Republicans actually have principles."

CNN Political Ticker: DeMint's operation fires back

Politico: DeMint transfers $250K to Florida GOP

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September 14th, 2010
01:21 PM ET

Tuesday's intriguing people

Wayne Rooney

Soccer fans worldwide are wondering if the British striker for Manchester United - benched this weekend following a sex scandal - will be on the field Tuesday evening. While his coach denies any retribution toward Rooney, fans have angrily harassed the young player after allegations that he paid women for sex while his wife was pregnant last year. Two prostitutes came forward in the scandal.

While the 24-year-old Rooney and his wife Coleen have apparently reconciled, Rooney still faces other fallout from the scandal. Coca-Cola is considering firing him from a lucrative endorsement deal, according to Australia’s Herald Sun. Tiger Woods reportedly lost at least $12 million in endorsements following his own sex scandal, the paper said.

Herald Sun: Coca-Cola ready to ditch Wayne Rooney following alleged infidelities

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September 13th, 2010
12:30 PM ET

Monday's intriguing people

Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta

The only living member of the military to be decorated with the U.S. Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War received a phone call of thanks and congratulations last week from President Barack Obama. Rose Giunta, mother of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, told a Cedar Rapids news station that her son was profoundly touched by the honor bestowed on him. Yet the deadly ambush, in which he lost a friend, was having a deep effect on him.

Giunta, 25, was on patrol in Afghanistan during the attack when his body armor protected him from what could have been a fatal bullet wound to the chest. Recovering from the blow, he saved two colleagues, and then recovered a mortally wounded soldier from two insurgents. He remained with the soldier until help arrived.

Giunta’s mother, who will not see her son until he returns to Washington to accept the award, described the award as bittersweet.

“As much as we're here because of what Sal did,” she said, “there's parents out there that will not know, they'll never know what this feels like. And yet, their sons and daughters deserve this too."

KWWL: Iowa soldier honored by President

KWWL: Parents of Medal of Honor recipient proud and humbled

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September 10th, 2010
12:06 PM ET

Friday’s intriguing people

Sarah Shourd

The Iranian government has announced that on Saturday it will release Shourd, one of three American hikers who have been detained in the country for more than a year.

Shourd, along with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, were detained in July 2009 after the Iranian government said they strayed across an unmarked border into Iran while hiking in Iraq's Kurdistan region. The three were accused of being spies; they deny the charges.

During a visit to Iran earlier this year, Shourd's mother, Nora Shourd, said her daughter was very ill and suffering from depression.

Shourd and Bauer became engaged while imprisoned and plan to get married after their release.

Iran to release American hiker Sarah Shourd, official says

Hadidjatou Karamoko Traoré

The native of the Ivory Coast and mother of three lost her husband in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

Traoré’s husband, Abdoul-Karim Traoré, worked at Windows on the World, a restaurant on the top floors of the North Tower. After the attack, all that was found of him were his wallet, his identification cards and a few coins.

Traoré, a Muslim, takes her children to ground zero every September 11 to pray. She says praying there feels entirely natural, even if some of those standing nearby blame her religion for the attacks.

“When people run away from me, I feel sad,” she told the New York Times. “But I understand why they’re doing that. What happened was terrible.”

New York Times: Visiting ground zero, asking Allah for comfort

Residents of San Bruno, California

At least six people were killed and more than 20 were injured Thursday after a gas main exploded and destroyed more than 50 houses in a San Francisco, California, suburb.

Brothers Bob and Ed Pellegrini said in the San Jose Mercury News that the ground shook violently and they thought there was an earthquake in the Bay Area. Then they saw the flames. “It looked like hell on earth. I have never seen a ball of fire that huge," Bob Pellegrini said.

Marilyn Siacotos, 76, escaped through her back door when she saw flames on her street. "I didn't look back," she said. "I just got out before anybody (emergency responders) came."

Retired San Bruno Fire Battalion Chief Bob Hensel, who also had to evacuate, said it was the biggest fire he had seen in decades. He said his wife's car bumpers melted from the heat.

"I heard a big whooshing sound and there was a boom. Stuff started hitting the house and then it got yellow outside and then real warm," Hensel said.

The California Public Utilities Commission is investigating the cause of the explosion and fire.

San Jose Mercury News: Fire destroys dozens of homes; six dead

September 9th, 2010
11:19 AM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Imam Muhammad Musri

An Imam from Orlando met with Pastor Terry Jones yesterday, trying for 40 minutes to persuade the local pastor not to burn copies of the Quran this Saturday.

According to a report in the Gainesville Sun, Imam Muhammad Musri was in Gainesville, Florida, for another interfaith event when he decided to go to Dove World Outreach Center and ask for a one-on-one with Jones.

Following the meeting, Musri told reporters outside the church that he thinks Jones knows that American Muslims are peaceful - despite a sign in the Dove World church yard that says "Islam is of the devil."

"I told him the world would admire your courage if you come out and say, 'Because of my devotion to Christ and the Bible, I'm going to do the right thing.'" Musri said. "I strongly believe at the end of the day that he is going to make the right step and call off this event."

FULL POST

September 8th, 2010
02:02 PM ET

Wednesday's intriguing people

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Pastor Terry Jones

Two spiritual leaders plan to go ahead with actions that have sparked worldwide debate. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf will talk with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien on Wednesday evening about his decision to move ahead with the controversial Cordoba House, a community center and mosque to be built within blocks of New York’s ground zero. Meanwhile, Pastor Terry Jones told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night that his congregation will probably continue with its plan to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Both men have faced fierce criticism for their decisions. Rauf’s efforts have resulted in protests on the streets of New York and media attention on a global scale. Jones has reported death threats and has been told that Gen. David Petraeus believes the action at the 50-member Dove World Outreach Church in Gainesville, Florida, could cause harm to U.S. troops overseas. On Tuesday, protesters in Afghanistan reportedly burned an effigy of Jones.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times on Wednesday morning, Rauf described the center as a recreational facility with prayer spaces for not only Muslims but Christians and Jews as well. The name comes from a Spanish city where Muslims, Christians and Jews thrived culturally during the Middle Ages, he explained. “Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures,” he said.

Jones told Anderson Cooper that his church is weighing its options, but he is inclined to follow through with the Quran-burning. “We are simply burning a book,” Jones said. “General [Petraeus] needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them.”

In May 2009, 15 Afghan citizens were killed and many more injured after Newsweek magazine reported that U.S. military interrogators flushed a Quran down a toilet. The report was later retracted.

CNN: Pastor weighing plans to burn Qurans amid U.S. warnings

NY Times: Building on faith

FULL POST

September 2nd, 2010
11:29 AM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Anna Chapman

The woman deported from the U.S. earlier this year as a Russian spy has been photographed and videotaped for a Russian magazine. ABC News says it's the first time any of the ten 'sleeper' agents have been reported on since they pled guilty and were sent back to Moscow in July.

Chapman may face a lawsuit from the magazine, Zhara, known in English as "Heat." While she'd granted the magazine exclusive access to the photos and video, she posted the images to her Facebook page, and they were subsequently picked up and publicized by a Russian tabloid.

Chapman did not allow the magazine to interview her, saying that Russian intelligence would not let her comment. Instead she posed for the photos and video in dresses that were her own.

ABC News: Russian spy surfaces in sexy magazine shoot

FULL POST

September 1st, 2010
12:31 PM ET

Wednesday's intriguing people

Michael Douglas

The Oscar-winning actor and producer surprised viewers last night when he told "Late Show" host David Letterman that he has Stage 4 throat cancer. Looking thinner after finishing his first week of radiation and chemotherapy, Michael Douglas said he'd felt symptoms and sought medical attention earlier this summer, but the disease was not diagnosed until three weeks ago.

Audience members gasped when Douglas, 65, said the disease was at Stage 4. Letterman – polite, but persistently curious – asked, "Is Stage 4 where you want to be, or not where you want to be?"

"No." Douglas said with a humorous beat. The good news, he said, was that the disease has not spread and that he has an 80 percent chance of recovery. Also not apparently affected yet: Douglas' trademark voice. "This is just the first week," Douglas admitted, "so the progression goes down. ... The radiation continues to burn your mouth. ... You can't take solids."

Douglas said smoking and drinking contributed causing the cancer.

In a People magazine cover story released today, Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, admitted the treatment was exhausting the otherwise indefatigable performer. Still, Douglas said, "I'll beat this."

Michael Douglas: Radiation, chemo 'really knocks you out'

Michael Douglas's throat tumor won't delay 'Wall Street' opening

FULL POST

August 30th, 2010
11:18 AM ET

Monday's intriguing people

Francis Collins

The director of the National Institutes of Health - an evangelical Christian - told The New Yorker he was stunned by a federal judge's decision last week to halt federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells.

In a profile released Monday, author Peter Boyer writes that Collins has been able to balance science and faith.

His appointment to the job by President Obama had worried some scientists, already concerned by what one called the "theocracy" of the George W. Bush presidency.

"A year later, Obama's appointment of Collins seemed an inspired choice," Boyer writes. "The President had found not only a man who reflected his own view of the harmony between science and faith but an evangelical Christian who hoped that the government’s expansion of embryonic-stem-cell research might bring the culture war over science to a quiet end."
 
The court order last week changed that. Collins, who also helped map the human genome, spent part of last week calling researchers around the country, telling some of them their projects would have to shut down, Boyer reports.

The order goes beyond politics, Collins told Boyer.

"Patients and their families are counting on us to do everything in our power, ethically and responsibly, to learn how to transform these cells into entirely new therapies," he explained. "It's time to accelerate human-embryonic-stem-cell research, not throw on the brakes."

FULL POST

August 27th, 2010
12:11 PM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Glenn Beck

His Restoring Honor celebration in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., tomorrow has managed to draw protest from civil rights supporters, Christians and, of all people, members of the Tea Party. The Fox News host has been planning this event for months, yet Beck says divine intervention led to the booking of the gathering on August 28, the 47th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. That speech also took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Civil rights advocates, including a Washington, D.C., City Council member and the Rev. Al Sharpton, are organizing counter-events to "Take the Dream Back," officials said. Meanwhile, a religious concert at the Kennedy Center organized by Beck, which will include former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, has drawn ire from Christian conservatives. Beck is a Mormon, part of a religion not considered by some evangelicals as true Christianity.

Finally, Tea Party advocates think that Beck is knocking the wind out of events they have scheduled for September. "I hope they have a wonderful time, but I just don't get why he's having this and why now," Andrew Ian Dodge, Maine coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, told NPR yesterday. He called the event "Beckapalooza."

NPR: Beck comes to D.C., controversy follows

FULL POST

August 26th, 2010
11:15 AM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Ken Mehlman

The former RNC chairman and campaign manager for George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential bid has announced that he is gay.

"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," Mehlman said in the Atlantic. He is now calling for the legalization of gay marriage.

Mehlman said that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the Republican Party from pushing an anti-gay agenda that included linking homosexuality to atheism and the Federal Marriage Amendment

He said he plans to be an advocate for gay rights and that he is still a Republican.

The Atlantic: Bush campaign chief and former RNC chair: I'm gay

FULL POST

August 25th, 2010
01:35 PM ET

Wednesday's Most Intriguing People

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown is talking about Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Brown
The former FEMA director - of "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie!" fame - will host his political radio talk show from New Orleans, Louisiana, on Wednesday and Thursday. Brown will go live from 9 p.m. to midnight EST on KOA in Denver. The return to New Orleans appears to be part of Brown's campaign to address history. In an interview Tuesday with ABC News, Brown said he no longer wanted to be the historical scapegoat of the George W. Bush administration. Brown was forced to resign from FEMA on September 5, 2005.

"I remember telling the [Bush] White House, 'I don't think you guys get it. This is going to be the big one that I've been fighting to get money for, that we've all been worried about,' " he told ABC News. " 'I think this could be it, and nobody seems to care.' " Brown believes that he was targeted because Bush was not going to fire Michael Chertoff, then only the second director of the newly established Department of Homeland Security.

Rick Scott
The "health care tycoon" won Florida's Republican gubernatorial nomination Tuesday, despite being involved in one of the largest Medicare fraud investigations in history.

Dr. Nega Beru and William Neuman
The Food and Drug Administration's director of food safety told New York Times reporter Neuman in the wake of a massive egg recall that U.S. regulators opted not to mandate a hen salmonella vaccine because there was not enough proof that it was effective. In a report Wednesday, Beru said: "We didn't believe that, based on the data we had, there was sufficient scientific evidence for us to require it." Beru added that egg producers were encouraged to vaccinate their hens if they thought it would help fight salmonella. A second FDA official, Nancy Bufano, supported Beru's comments to the Times, saying the proposed U.S. vaccine was viewed as different from the one British farmers were using.

Allen West
The retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel - and Tea Party favorite - won the Republican nomination for Congress in Florida's 22nd District on Tuesday. He will now be in a rematch of his 2008 race against current U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. West, of Plantation, has spent much of the past two years campaigning throughout Broward County, where only 36.8 percent are registered Republicans and 37.1 percent are Democrats. According to the Sun-Sentinel, West has raised tons of cash and will be a formidable challenge for Klein because the district is typically anti-incumbent.

Marcos Esparza Bofill
The former day trader and garage band enthusiast faces a $172 million bill from the IRS, reports the New York Daily News. On Tuesday, the Smoking Gun posted the lien against Esparza Bofill, a 20-something who lives in New York. Though the Daily News could not get Esparza Bofill on the record, an anonymous friend told the paper that his first response was: "Who's the IRS?" Esparza Bofill apparently lived in the U.S. in 2006 and traded for one year, the Daily News said. When he failed to file an income tax return, investigators tracked his every trade. Because he did not report losses or expenses, the IRS presumed a profit on Esparza Bofill's trades, which were $500 million. "He lives a very modest life," the friend told the paper. "So just to think that all of a sudden he owes $172 million is pretty ridiculous." An accountant told the paper that Esparza Bofill just needs to file a return to resolve the problem.

August 24th, 2010
12:02 PM ET

Tuesday's intriguing people

Aijalon Mahli Gomes

Former President Jimmy Carter is heading to North Korea hoping to secure Gomes' release from a North Korean prison. The 31-year-old from Massachusetts was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in April after illegally crossing the border from China into North Korea.

"I don't know why exactly he did it [entered North Korea] but he just, I'm sure he felt, that God was saying to him: 'Good can come out of this,' " a teacher and friend of Gomes told NPR in a report today.

Gomes tried to commit suicide last month, according to North Korea. Foreign Policy magazine reports that the State Department secretly sent a team to visit Gomes earlier this month but was not able to get him released.

Last year, former President Bill Clinton intervened in the case of two American journalists - Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who had allegedly crossed the border into North Korea - and they were released.

Foriegn Policy: Exclusive: Jimmy Carter headed to North Korea on rescue mission

NPR: Why Did Aijalon Gomes Cross Into North Korea?

CNN Political Ticker: Former President Carter to travel to North Korea to free American

FULL POST

August 23rd, 2010
10:38 AM ET

Monday's intriguing people

Betty White

She received her first Emmy nomination in 1951, and this past weekend, White captured her sixth Emmy for guest-hosting “Saturday Night Live.” The 88-year-old actress had previously won Emmys in 1975, 1976, 1983, 1986 and 1996.

The Emmy win is yet another accomplishment for White, who started her career on the 1950s sitcom “Life with Elizabeth.” Known for her years on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Golden Girls,” White continued to capture accolades with various guest parts on television.

This past year, however, White saw a major resurgence when her Super Bowl Snickers ad became a fan favorite. Shortly thereafter, Facebook fans petitioned “Saturday Night Live” Executive Producer Lorne Michaels on her behalf. She hosted an acclaimed show on Mother’s Day 2010. The wife of the late “Password” host, Allen Ludden, White announced earlier this month that she’d signed a two-book deal with G.P. Putnam.

Betty White, Neil Patrick Harris win Emmys
TVGuide.com: Betty White

FULL POST

August 17th, 2010
10:15 AM ET

Tuesday's intriguing people

John Jackson

He is overseeing the release of an education study that showed in the 2007-2008 school year, only 47 percent of African-American males attending high school in the U.S. actually graduated.

"Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males 2010" is a study on academic parity in the U.S. that was released today.

New York State reports the lowest average nationwide. Of the number of black men that attended high school in 2007-2008, only 25 percent graduated. New Jersey, meanwhile, showed the greatest improvement. Of the black males who attended high school, more than 65 percent received degrees.

The study by the Schott Foundation comes out every two years.

Jackson, 37, joined the Schott Foundation as CEO in 2007. He is a product of Chicago's Southside, and its public school system. It was during his time in the public schools there that he realized the disparity between blacks and whites in education.

FULL POST

August 16th, 2010
10:39 AM ET

Monday's intriguing people

Sylvester StalloneSylvester Stallone

The action star from the '70s and '80s can still open big at the box office, and apparently big with the ladies. Recruiting a cast of six fellow action stars, along with a cameo by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stallone's "The Expendables" grossed $35 million at the box this weekend.

The "Rocky" and "Rambo" star not only starred in the picture, which received mixed reviews, he wrote and directed the film as well. He also reportedly broke his neck in a fight scene.

According to The Los Angeles Times, 40 percent of ticket buyers were female. Stallone, 64, has headlined two films since 2003 and they were both in his comfort zones - "Rambo" in 2008, and "Rocky Balboa" in 2006.

In July, Stallone appeared on the David Letterman show with where he said he'd broken his neck during a fight scene for the film. The injury required surgery. Also appearing in the film are action stars including Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, wrestler Steve Austin, Jet Li and Jason Statham.

Los Angeles Times: 'The Expendables' is a force at weekend box office

Monsters and Critics: Sylvester Stallone shows off broken neck injury x-ray
FULL POST

August 13th, 2010
11:45 AM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Laura Schlessinger

Weeks after she was nominated for her second Marconi award, the veteran talk show host used the N-word repeatedly while speaking with a black caller on her radio talk show.

Schlessinger apologized on her radio show on Wednesday for her remarks. "I talk every day about doing the right thing. And yesterday, I did the wrong thing," she said.

The Marconi nod, her string of best-selling books and her accomplishments raising money for injured vets indicated that the good doctor was on the rebound after a group of gay activists nearly shut her down altogether. In 2000, the activists launched "Stop Dr. Laura," because of a series of remarks she'd made about homosexuality. In one incident in 1998, she called homosexuality "a biological error." By 2001, she'd lost her syndicated television show as well as the support of significant advertisers.

Despite that setback, she slowly recovered. Her syndicated advice program has continued for 30 years, most recently on the Sirius/XM satellite radio network. Her most recent book came out in 2009 from Harper Collins, "In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms." She also received an award from Pentagon for raising money to help injured war veterans and their families.

She posted this comment about bigots on her blog in June:

"The callers who tell me they know a relative or friend is hostile, bigoted, or opinionated about something always get the following question from me: Tell me, do they act out on it? Do they proclaim it in public and insult or hurt people because of it? If the answer is "yes," then that person is to be shunned and, perhaps, hated If the answer is "no," that person should be commended for having a strong opinion but never hurting anyone in any form because of it."

"I don't hate people with stupid opinions or ideas," Schlessinger concluded, "I just think they're kinda stupid, that's all."

Dr. Laura blog: Pity Stupidity, But Hate Evil

National Association of Broadcasters Marconi Awards finalists for 2010

Stop Dr. Laura

FULL POST

August 12th, 2010
10:55 AM ET

Thursday's intriguing people

Rod Blagojevich

The jury overseeing his criminal trial has hinted that it cannot agree unanimously on all of the charges filed against the controversial former Illinois governor and his brother.

Much has been learned about Blagojevich since video tapes were leaked indicating he was willing to sell Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. Yet no other political figure has oddly fared so well. Blagojevich's own slate of media appearances before and during the trial have clearly contributed, said one critic.

"Blago's neverending media appearances (Letterman, Leno, Celebrity Apprentice, etc.) have already ensured his post-courtroom cache," reported NBC Chicago's "Ward Room." "To the national public, if not to Illinois, he'll always be an amiable, jazz-handed, brassier-than-thou rodent."

NBC Chicago Ward Room: Rod Blagojevich

NBC Chicago Ward Room: How Dan Rostenkowski Gave Us Rod Blagojevich

CNN: Blagojevich jury deadlocked on some counts

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