Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich said Tuesday they disagree about whether the ousted Illinois governor should testify in his own defense — as he has long promised — and whether they should call any defense witnesses at all.
If Blagojevich does not testify, it would bring an unexpectedly swift end to the corruption trial of the politician accused by federal prosecutors of trying to sell or trade an appointment to the Senate seat President Barack Obama left behind after his election to the White House.
Jurors would not hear directly from a defendant who for months after his arrest loudly proclaimed his innocence to anyone who would ask, from reporters to fellow contestants on reality television. Instead, the only instance in which they would hear Blagojevich's voice is on the secret FBI wiretap tapes played by prosecutors and attorneys for his brother, who is also charged in the alleged scheme.
Blagojevich's attorney, Sam Adam Sr., said late Tuesday he feels the former governor should not testify because he does not believe the government has proven its case, and that the real issue is whether to call any defense witnesses at all. His son, Sam Adam Jr., said he thinks Blagojevich should testify because attorneys promised in their opening statement that he would.
But Adam Jr. said the ultimate decision is Blagojevich's, and he acknowledged that there was a risk in putting his client on the stand.
"Do we give credence to the government's case?" Adam Jr. said. "They haven't proven anything."
When asked what specifically in the prosecution prompted them to consider not putting the impeached governor on the stand, Adam Jr. responded, "The entire case."
He said attorneys would discuss the matter Tuesday evening and make an announcement Wednesday morning.
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in a scheme to sell or trade the Senate seat, as well as charges he plotted to launch a racketeering operation in the governor's office.
It is rare and risky for defendants in federal trials to testify in their own defense, and experts have said Blagojevich would need to abandon his usual cockiness, humble himself, and not allow himself to be goaded.
He arrived for court Tuesday in his usual upbeat mood, holding hands with his wife, Patti, and smiled as he waved to a large crowd of people. Someone in the crowd asked Blagojevich: "Are you going on?" Blagojevich didn't answer as he walked by a cordon and entered the courtroom.
His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, a real estate entrepreneur from Nashville, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged Senate seat plot and to a wire fraud charge that he was involved in pressuring two businessmen illegally for campaign funds.
After Robert Blagojevich testified in his own defense, his attorney Michael Ettinger told the judge that he would rest his case if Rod Blagojevich's attorneys did not call any witnesses. The jury had left the courtroom just before Ettinger made his statement. Spectators in the courtroom were abuzz about what it meant, and a federal marshal at one point had to tell people to stay quiet.
The judge and attorneys from both sides huddled in a far corner of the room for a private discussion, during which static was turned on over the courtroom speakers to ensure they could not be heard. Judge James B. Zagel then adjourned court early.
During cross-examination earlier Tuesday, Robert Blagojevich repeatedly denied prosecution allegations that he tried to use his brother's power as governor to pressure people into offering donations. He occasionally hit his folded hands against the jury box table as he responded, "No!"
Robert Blagojevich acknowledged that he sent the resume of a woman to the governor's chief of staff. But he says it wasn't a reward for her uncle's $10,000 campaign contribution.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner asked Robert Blagojevich if he realized that a contributor to his brother's campaign fund was looking for a state contract.
"I knew that ... and so do you," he replied testily. He immediately said he was sorry. "I was out of line," he said. "I shouldn't have said that."
At one point, Robert Blagojevich plainly felt he was being cut off and appealed directly to Zagel. "There's context that's required here, Your Honor," he said. Zagel brushed off his appeal.
"You have a lawyer," Zagel said coolly. "He can ask the questions."
Robert Blagojevich had said Monday that he had no part in alleged plans to trade Obama's former Senate seat for campaign funds or a Cabinet post for his brother. On Tuesday, he suggested that it was Obama who was reaching out for something by indicating his interest early in seeing his friend Valerie Jarrett get the seat.
"Obama was making the big ask and Rod was responding to the ask," Robert Blagojevich said, in denying his brother was out to gain personally. "Two politicians trying to work a political deal. ... That's what politicians do."
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