CHICAGO — Former U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski testified for Rod Blagojevich's defense Wednesday that he didn't ask fellow congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. for a campaign contribution for the former Illinois governor.
Lipinski's testimony contradicts earlier statements from Jackson, who told jurors that Lipinski approached him about raising $25,000 for Blagojevich's campaign for governor in 2002. Jackson said he declined and that Blagojevich made clear he'd passed Jackson's wife over for a state job because Jackson hadn't given him the money.
On cross-examination, the 73-year-old Lipinski acknowledged that he doesn't remember everyone he approached to support Blagojevich, but he said there's a distinction between seeking political support and money.
"To support the governor, that's one thing, to ask someone for a donation to the governor, in my mind, is another thing," Lipinski said.
Defense attorneys also called a former state budget office employee and a special agent for the FBI on Wednesday. Their testimony came after Blagojevich testified in his own defense for seven days. Other defense witnesses included Jackson and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Blagojevich was on the stand for most of the time, describing his poor childhood, denying all allegations against him and even acknowledging under cross-exam that he's a convicted liar.
The former governor's first trial last year ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one count. He was found guilty of lying to the FBI. He did not testify at that trial, and his defense called no witnesses.
Blagojevich is accused of seeking to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat in exchange for a high-profile job or campaign cash and shaking down business executives for political donations.
In often long-winded answers, Blagojevich insisted that he never sought to sell or trade the Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash, or ever tried to shake down executives.
He argued that his talk captured on FBI wiretaps was merely brainstorming, and that he never took the schemes seriously or decided to carry them out. And though the judge barred such arguments, Blagojevich claimed he'd believed his conversations were legal and part of common political discourse.
Judge James Zagel said prosecutors could also be ready to present their closing arguments Wednesday. And he said he expects the jury to begin deliberating Thursday after the defense presents its closing.
The testimony stage of the retrial has lasted six weeks. The government presented a streamlined, three-week case and called 15 witnesses in trying to portray Blagojevich as a serial liar.
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