Blagojevich Corruption Trial May Touch Obama

Wednesday, 02 Jun 2010 07:49 AM

 

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Even Rod Blagojevich's lawyer finds him a bit strange, which may provide the key to the former Illinois governor's strategy at his upcoming corruption trial -- he was all talk, but no action.

Among the 24 counts of fraud, conspiracy, bribery and racketeering that could land Blagojevich a long prison sentence are charges he dangled President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder or demanded a cabinet post for himself in exchange for naming an Obama aide to the seat.

Since his arrest at dawn on December 9, 2008, Blagojevich has repeated his mantra of innocence in nonstop interviews, in a book, on the airwaves as a local disc jockey, and to anyone who would listen on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" television show.

Married with two young daughters, the 53-year-old former two-term Democrat governor and, before that, three-term U.S. representative said he is trying to make a living since being impeached and ousted last year by the state legislature.

His attorney told an interviewer that he had neither the capability nor the intention of shutting Blagojevich up.

"He's a celebrity idiot, but he is a celebrity," Sam Adam Jr. told Chicago Magazine of plans to let his client testify.

Quieting Blagojevich would never work, he added.

"I can't. But you're going to see when he testifies. He's truly funny -- totally self-absorbed but truly funny," Adams said. "He's also one of the most insecure people I've ever met. It's such a strange dynamic."

Another possible wild card in Blagojevich's long-awaited trial that begins on Thursday is whether it will entangle Obama and his aides in Illinois' hurly-burly political theater.

The trial, which is expected to last up to four months, may expose discrepancies in how members of Obama's future administration characterized its contacts with Blagojevich after the November 2008 election.

Blagojevich is accused of trying to trade official acts for kickbacks to his campaign fund, to his friends, to his wife, Patti, and to himself. He is accused of trying to extract favors from, among others, a movie producer, the chief of a local children's hospital, and the Chicago Tribune.

Judge James Zagel of the U.S. District Court ruled out a defense request to have Obama testify. But among those who may take the stand are senior White House staffers Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

"Given the former Governor's previous antics regarding this case, it's no surprise he is casting a wide net -- apparently from the President down to dogcatcher," a statement from Durbin's office said after the Senate Democrat was served.

CRIMES OR HORSE TRADING?

There is also the shadowy figure of a convicted influence peddler, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a former friend to both Obama and Blagojevich who may testify for the prosecution.

Prosecutors are expected to rely heavily on the testimony of former Blagojevich aides, three of whom have pleaded guilty, and audio tapes featuring the often foul-mouthed Blagojevich.

The FBI recorded 500 hours of conversations involving Blagojevich and his cohorts. Prosecutors say they engaged in a turbocharged version of "pay-to-play" politics, and will play some 100 hours of the tapes for the jury.

Early on, Chicago's high-profile U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald released snippets of tape transcripts of the tapes and said he had halted a "political corruption crime spree" that would have made Abraham Lincoln roll over in his grave.

Blagojevich's predecessor, Republican George Ryan, was convicted on corruption charges and is in prison.

Unlike Ryan, Blagojevich is not accused of pocketing any money himself and experts say his task is to depict his talk as typical political horse trading. "Play all the tapes" to show the overall context, Blagojevich has repeated constantly.

In an impromptu news conference last month, Blagojevich called out Fitzgerald to meet him face to face in court -- "I hope you're man enough," he said. The following day, presiding Judge James Zagel told him sternly there would be no "head butting" in his courtroom.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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