A former Illinois government insider testified Thursday that then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich told him two years ago of an alleged deal under which a lawmaker would stop passage of an ethics bill if Blagojevich would appoint him to Barack Obama's Senate seat.
Alonzo Monk, who was Blagojevich's chief of staff for three years, said the governor was eager to stop the bill, which would have sharply limited his ability to raise campaign funds.
Monk testified at Blagojevich's corruption trial that the governor told him in 2008 that state Senate President Emil Jones of Chicago had agreed to block the bill.
"Blagojevich told me that if Emil did not pass the bill and Obama became president, then Rod would name him to the seat," Monk testified.
Asked if he took the matter seriously, Monk said, "Yes."
But Monk, who by the time of the conversation had left the governor's office and become a lobbyist, said his successor as chief of staff, John Harris, later told him that Jones had "gone back on the deal" after Obama called and asked him to allow the Senate to pass the bill.
There was no indication of what — if anything — Obama knew about the alleged deal.
Jones did not immediately respond to a message Thursday at his business. His cell phone was not able to accept a message.
Blagojevich spoke for several minutes after court Thursday about the Stanley Cup victory of the Chicago Blackhawks, but declined to comment on the trial. His attorneys then took him to a waiting car, also declining to comment.
The ousted governor, 53, has pleaded not guilty to charges of scheming to get a payoff by using his power as governor to fill Obama's seat. He has also pleaded not guilty to launching a racketeering scheme in the governor's office, with the proceeds to be divided after he left office.
His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, has pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the Senate seat. He has also pleaded not guilty to illegally pressuring a racetrack owner, John Johnson, for a hefty campaign contribution.
Much of the trial so far has focused on Blagojevich's intense efforts to raise campaign funds.
At the time of the conversation Monk detailed, the Illinois General Assembly had already passed the ethics bill. It barred individuals with state contracts of $50,000 or more from contributing to the campaign funds of state officials who administer the contracts.
But Blagojevich had exercised his amendatory veto power to kill the restriction and the matter before the Senate was whether to override the veto. Jones could have allowed the bill to die by simply not calling it for a vote. When he did call it, the measure passed.
Federal prosecutors said the restrictions in the bill spurred Blagojevich to step up fundraising activity to beat the January 2009 effective date of the law. They say that is one reason why the Blagojevich camp pressured Johnson to hurry up and write a hefty check.
Prosecutors began playing wiretap recordings Thursday afternoon, starting with one that includes a sometimes-agitated, audibly upset Blagojevich talking about fundraising goals with his supporters. They spoke about the need to pull in money before the ethics law kicked in.
Monk also testified that he spoke with millionaire Chicago bond trader Blair Hull, who lost a 2004 Democratic U.S. Senate primary to Obama. He testified that when Obama was running for president, Hull met with Blagojevich and later said that if Obama won and he were named to the seat he would be a strong supporter in Washington of the Illinois governor's agenda.
Monk said that with Blagojevich's encouragement, he planned to ask Hull for a $100,000 campaign contribution.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner asked him why he thought Hull might contribute.
"Because he wanted something," responded Monk. "To be appointed to that Senate seat."
But Monk testified that through a go-between, Hull later refused to contribute.
Monk also said he got a call from a political consultant, Fred Lebed, urging him to get Blagojevich to appoint U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat, to the Senate seat. And he said Blagojevich told him he had also received such calls.
Earlier Thursday, Monk told jurors Blagojevich drew his hand across his throat in a slashing gesture to signal that he didn't want anyone told about alleged moneymaking plans involving his power as governor — what prosecutors describe as a racketeering scheme.
Monk said the governor gave the signal when they were alone in his campaign office — indicating that if anybody asked about the alleged plans he should tell them nothing.
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