Judge: Obama won't testify in Blago case

Ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich arrives at his home after pleading not guilty in federal court in Chicago, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. (Paul Beaty)

July 21, 2010 8:50:45 AM PDT
President Obama will not testify at the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, according to a ruling Friday by Judge James Zagel.As it appeared Friday evening, the president would not. The judge said that what the president could testify to is not material to the case against Blagojevich. But having said that, the judge left open the possibility of calling the president at some point when the defense begins its case.

Rod Blagojevich's defense team had wanted to question the president -- whether on the stand, or more likely on videotape -- about his involvement in the selection of his successor in the U.S. Senate. Their suggestion is that the president was more involved in the process than he acknowledged, and if they were able to demonstrate that, it might buttress the defense argument that Blagojevich did nothing wrong, certainly nothing beyond political horse-trading.

Judge James Zagel Friday ruled that he wouldn't compel the president to testify, but he left the door open to that possibility down the road.

Defense lawyers are likely to resurrect their request depending on testimony from political fundraiser Tony Rezko.

"And if Tony Rezko testifies, then perhaps, there will be meaningful revisit of the Obama matter," said Sheldon Sorosky, Blagojevich's attorney.

One of the people who will be testifying at trial is lobbyist Lon Monk, Rod Blagojevich's first chief of staff. Monk entered a guilty plea to a revised criminal charge of bribery conspiracy Friday. His guilty plea calls for a tentative two-year prison term in exchange for testifying against his old friend and former boss.

And in a little more than four weeks, jury selection will begin for what is expected to be a five-to-six month trial of the former governor. Once the jury pool is built to include people who can serve that length of time, lawyers will begin questioning with an extensive - not yet public - juror questionnaire.

"It's comprehensive, 120 questions. So, we're gonna get their feelings, what have they heard, where, when have they read, what's their opinion. We're gonna get all that," said Mike Ettinger, attorney for Robert Blagojevich.

Most people in the jury pool are going to have impressions on the case. It's a question of how deeply held those impressions are that the judge and lawyers will try to determine, as they pick a jury and alternates that will sit for as long as six months.


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