Judge approves Blago aide's plea deal

July 9, 2009 4:33:13 AM PDT
The guilty plea of a top aide to former governor Rod Blagojevich has shed more light on the alleged sale of President Barack Obama's Senate seat.Former chief of staff John Harris says Illinois' former governor Rod Blagojevich considered giving the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama to former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones in exchange for campaign cash.

Almost immediately after his arrest last December, Harris began cooperating with federal prosecutors. His plea agreement - approved by a judge Wednesday - provides a window into the most sensational aspect of the United States of America vs. Rod Blagojevich.

As Rod Blagojevich's former chief of Staff, John Harris was with his boss - or at least on the phone with him - every day. Before and after last fall's presidential election, Harris said Blagojevich regularly discussed how to design a U.S. Senate appointment that might bring the former governor money, a new job, or a job for his wife.

Harris - in his plea agreement- said he told Blagojevich on a number of occasions that he couldn't trade a Senate appointment for personal benefit. But his warning apparently wasn't always consistent; the government has a recorded phone conversation in which Harris, Blagojevich and another party discuss how Blagojevich could benefit financially by appointing Obama advisor Valerie Jarret to the Senate.

In court Wednesday, Harris pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud for that November 2008 phone conversation and agreed to testify for the government against his former boss.

"I have never met a finer person than John Harris. And I have never met a person who is going to be a better witness than John Harris is going to be," Terry Ekl, Harris attorney. "He is a smart individual. What he did from the beginning is he accepted responsibility for what he did rather than going through the fiasco the governor has been going through. John came in and accepted responsibility."

According to the plea agreement, Blagojevich considered appointing himself to the Senate to avoid impeachment; finding his wife work as a lobbyist; or putting himself in a better position to raise money for his legal defense.

For the first time, the plea agreement and a source reveal that Blagojevich considered naming former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones to the U.S. Senate if Jones were to first turn over the bulk of his campaign fund - hundreds of thousands of dollars- to Blagojevich. Harris was to deliver that message to Jones.

Now he'll prepare to deliver that message and more as a government witness.

Jones told ABC7 Wednesday afternoon that no one ever offered him a deal for the Senate seat in return for his campaign cash.

"Jon Harris ties a lot of incidents together. He will come across before a jury as absolutely 100% credible and honest, because he is. And I think his testimony will have a significant impact in the government's case against the former governor," said Ekl.

Even though he's cooperating, Harris is still looking at the possibility of nearly three years in prison. That's what the plea agreement calls for - though the judge could ultimately lesson the sentence. Harris hopes that's the case because -as he says - he didn't personally benefit from all this and he is cooperating.

But if he warned the governor even once against cutting a deal for the Senate seat, why did he bend enough to get caught and charged?

"Working for Blagojevich was an extraordinarily difficult thing to do for the most honest of public servants," said Ekl.


Load Comments