That's all the Feds could get on former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich? He lied to them about a wall?
Here's how "Count 24" of the jury verdict form in Blago's corruption case reads:
"False Statement 1: Rod Blagojevich has tried to maintain a firewall between politics and government."
"False Statement 2: Rod Blagojevich does not track, or want to know, who contributes to him or how much they are contributing to him."
The jury was hung on the rest of the 23 counts, including trying to sell President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
A lone holdout reportedly stood in the way of convictions on several other counts. But somehow lying about the wall was a charge on which even the lone holdout could convict.
Who goes to prison for lying about a wall? The wall is one of the most common lies in American politics and business.
On Wall Street, there is supposed to be a wall between analysts and investment bankers. Without this wall, analysts just pump what the investment bankers dump.
History continuously proves this wall, if it exists at all, has gaps.
Just this month, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) paid a tiny $800,000 fine to settle charges from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority that it handed out stock tips without properly disclosing its investment banking revenue.
Did anyone really think this wall had been fully restored in the dramatic crackdown that followed the scandals exposed in the 2001 Internet and telecom bust? Is anybody seriously talking about throwing Morgan Stanley in prison?
There are also supposed to be walls within law firms and consulting companies that represent clients with conflicting interests. Television stations and newspapers are also supposed to erect walls between their advertising interests and their editorial pursuits.
Anyone who has lived long enough knows that these walls don't always hold. But we have to pretend that they do, so we can get on with our business.
Pretending there's a wall is no more a lie than the claim that the dead roll in graves.
"The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald declared during a nationally televised news conference in December 2008.
Why doesn't someone charge Fitzgerald with felonious lying? Lincoln can't roll. His grave is sealed with steel and concrete. And the only thing Fitzgerald has rolled are the taxpayers' eyes.
Many observers I met during Blago's trial said they thought Fitzgerald's case, for all of Fitzgerald's theatrics, was embarrassing.
The best props Fitzgerald had were recordings of Blago talking about Obama's Senate seat with common expletives: "I've got this thing and it's f-n" golden."
"One of my recorded, private conversations would sound even worse sometimes than Blagojevich's did," John Nelson, a retired ophthalmologist who sat through most of the trial just for sheer entertainment, said Wednesday.
Nelson has put up enough of a wall within himself to qualify his comments with the acknowledgement that he appreciates the free commuter pass he received as a senior when Blago was governor:
"I take my bus pass, and I get on the bus, and I tell the driver, "I've got this thing and it's f-n" golden.'"
Prosecutors say they will retry Blago, blowing millions more in tax dollars on their confusing case.
"This trial and investigation has just been a complete waste of money, and is going to continue being a waste of money," said law student Charlie Harms, who also watched much of the trial.
For now, prosecutors have achieved enough of a victory to put Blago behind a wall. Perhaps they'd like to build a special prison for every politician and business leader who brags about a wall.
I have always been fond of what the poet Robert Frost had to say about walls:
"Something there is that doesn't love a wall; That sends the frozen-ground swell under it; and spills the upper boulders in the sun; and makes gaps even two can pass abreast."
Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. He can be reached at 212-416-2617 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org, or on his blog at tellittoal.com