Rod Blagojevich became bitter when told that he would receive thanks — but nothing else — from Barack Obama in return for naming a friend of the newly elected president to the Senate, according to an FBI tape played Thursday at the former governor's corruption trial.
Blagojevich's trial proceeded after Judge James B. Zagel turned down a defense request for a delay following a new Supreme Court decision in a different case limiting the use of the "honest services" law — the basis for some charges against Blagojevich.
With former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris on the stand, prosecutors played an FBI tape on which Harris is heard telling the governor that the Obama camp sent word that it would be "thankful and appreciative" if Valerie Jarrett were appointed to the Senate seat.
Jarrett, a Chicago businesswoman and former aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley, was a longtime Obama family friend and the president-elect wanted her to have the Senate seat he was leaving.
Blagojevich had allegedly sent word through a labor union official that he would appoint Jarrett if Obama agreed to appoint him as secretary of health and human services.
Blagojevich apparently took the words "thankful and appreciative" as a sign that the Obama camp didn't want such a deal. Jarrett later withdrew her name and is now a White House adviser, and Blagojevich named former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the Senate.
"They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation," Blagojevich is heard on the tape saying glumly, punctuating his remark, "(Expletive) them."
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he schemed to get a large payoff, a high-paying job after he left office or a big campaign contribution in exchange for the Senate seat. He has also pleaded not guilty to conspiring to launch a racketeering scheme using the power of the governor's office.
If convicted, he could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, although he is certain to get much less time under federal guidelines.
His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell or trade the Senate seat and conspiring to put illegal pressure on a potential campaign donor, a racetrack owner who wanted Blagojevich to sign beneficial legislation.
Harris testified that the "thankful" message came from Rahm Emanuel, now the White House chief of staff, through lobbyist John Wyma. Stung, Blagojevich told Harris he could leak word to the media that U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s "star is rising" as a possibility for the seat, Harris testified. Harris said such a leak would be designed to unsettle Obama and his confidants, who Blagojevich believed looked unfavorably on Jackson.
Blagojevich also took the message to perhaps mean that it was Emanuel who wanted to send Jarrett to Capitol Hill for reasons of his own.
"Rahm was pushing Valerie . ... He wants more control over the president" by getting Jarrett out of the White House, Blagojevich said on tape.
On Nov. 12, 2008, with word that Jarrett would become a White House adviser, Blagojevich appears stumped about whom to appoint.
"If not Valerie Jarrett, then who?" Blagojevich asks Harris on one tape, seemingly puzzled.
Harris and Blagojevich are heard discussing such obscure state lawmakers as state Rep. Ken Dunkin and state Sen. Ricky Hendon, both Chicago Democrats, as possible U.S. senators.
Harris said Emanuel contacted him that day to deliver a message from Obama that the president-elect had four candidates he'd consider acceptable for the seat — Jesse Jackson Jr., U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowski, state Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth and Comptroller Dan Hynes.
Harris said Blagojevich noticed that the list was balanced by gender and ethnicity and wondered if it was constructed that way to look diverse in case it ever leaked out.
Earlier Thursday, Zagel had declined the defense request for a delay to give attorneys a chance to read the Supreme Court decision on the honest services law, which underlies about half the charges against Blagojevich. Among other things, it says public officials may not deny taxpayers their honest services.
Zagel has said the trial is about the former governor's conduct — not the technical question of which law he is charged with violating. The judge told the defense he had given the ruling a preliminary reading and "it may not offer a lot of hope for you."
Prosecutors had indicated that if the Supreme Court struck down the law they would be prepared to proceed under the remaining charges. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.
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