Tags: US | Blagojevich | Trial

Defense to Start in Trial of Blagojevich Brothers

Monday, 19 Jul 2010 07:01 AM

Rod Blagojevich's brother, a year older than the ousted Illinois governor, will go first again this week as their separate attorneys start presenting their defenses to charges that the two schemed to sell a U.S. Senate seat.

Robert Blagojevich maintains he did nothing wrong in connection with his brother's alleged scheme to get a high-paying job or Cabinet post in exchange for the appointment to the Senate seat that Barack Obama was leaving after being elected president.

The first defense witness will probably be someone even most of those who have followed the trial have heard little, if anything, about — Julie Blagojevich. Robert Blagojevich's wife is expected to tell the story of their family and how she saw her husband get into trouble with the federal government.

After that, Robert Blagojevich, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, is expected to take the stand and answer questions from his tough, experienced defense attorney, Michael Ettinger.

The former governor also is expected to take the stand as part of his separate defense.

Rod Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade the Senate seat and to plotting to launch a racketeering operation in the governor's office.

Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged Senate seat plan and plotting to pressure businessmen illegally for campaign funds.

His attorneys cross-examined only a few witnesses as the prosecution presented its case. They stressed his low profile working for his brother as Rod Blagojevich's campaign fund manager. One witness confirmed that Robert Blagojevich's campaign office desk was the corner of a conference table facing a sink.

The biggest fireworks are expected later in the week if the impeached governor indeed takes the stand, as he has often said he will. It is rare for defendants in federal trials to testify in their own defense because of the risk that their testimony will play into the hands of a crafty prosecutor.

"He's the star — you know they're going to be gunning for him," says Paul Green, a Roosevelt University political scientist who has been on hand for about a third of the trial.

But Blagojevich is a former Cook County prosecutor himself, as well as a former congressman and governor. Verbal combat is nothing new to him.

Experts say that on the stand, Blagojevich would need to abandon his customary cocky air and make himself the very picture of humility.

"He has to convince people he knows he's a jerk and sometimes didn't work as hard as he should have and had a bad mouth and spent too much money on clothes and insulted the people of the state," says Professor Leonard Cavise of DePaul University law school.

He says that frees Blagojevich to say he's sorry but the government merely caught him at a bad moment and that he didn't really mean to violate the law.

"He has to not fight like the barracuda that we know he is," Cavise says.

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