Blago's ex-chief of staff testifies

July 21, 2010 8:15:20 AM PDT
Former governor Rod Blagojevich's last chief of staff took the stand Monday to testify against his old boss. John Harris is expected to testify through the week and possibly into the next. Through his testimony, prosecutors will detail most of the charges against Blagojevich, including the alleged sale of the U.S. Senate seat left open by President Barack Obama.

Harris' testimony will also introduce the jury to many of the secretly taped conversations that have not been heard.

On Monday, Harris spoke about Blagojevich's attempts to find his wife, Patti, a job in the financial sector. There were two interviews that did not pan out in 2008. Harris said an angry Blagojevich told him he didn't want Ariel Capitol or Citibank to get any more state business.

"He told me make sure Citibank doesn't get anymore state work. Make sure John Rogers doesn't get anymore state work," said Harris.

John Rogers is the founder of Ariel Captial Management.

When asked by assistant US attorney Carrie Hamilton why the former governor may have made the comment, Harris answered, "because they weren't willing to do more for Ms. Blagojevich."

The defense is expected to argue that Blagojevich was blowing off steam and did not mean what he said. Blagojevich also said, in passing in the courthouse Monday, that Patti will testify. "She's gonna testify. She will testify. Of course she will. We both will absolutely. When you're being lied about like this and you're being squeezed in some of the ways these people are doing these sorts of things, you can't wait to get up there and tell people what the truth is, and back those up with the tapes. But there's some risk though. As long as you're tellin' the truth that you've done things right, and legally, there's no risk at all," said Blagojevich.

Before Harris took the stand, prosecutors called witnesses to talk about allegations that Blagojevich was using a state grant to pressure a lawmaker to get involved in fundraising.

Witness: Blago's grant timing was 'vague'

A witness for the prosecution in the trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich said he was worried about getting a state grant. Prosecutors allege that Blagojevich held up the payout on that grant in exchange for campaign funds.

Donald Feinstein, executive director at Chicago Academy, testified Monday that a $2 million state grant for a sports field was announced in 2005, but was slow in being paid out.

"It was unclear the timing of the money. It was vague... how the grant was being the operated or handled," said Feinstein.

Feinstein said he had to enlist the help of Rahm Emanuel, who was his U.S. congressman at the time, to collect the money. The government accuses Blagojevich of ordering an associate, Bradley Tusk, to pressure Emanuel to get Emanuel's brother, a Hollywood agent, to host a fundraiser for Blagojevich.

"The grant would not be released until a fundraiser was first held," said Tusk when on the stand.

Tusk, Illinois deputy governor from 2003-2007, testified that Blagojevich wanted him to convey the message to Emanuel, but Tusk said he never approached Emanuel with the request because he felt it was unethical and illegal.

Tusk also said he thought the grant unusual because that the "chief of staff would deal specifically, so closely with one grant" and the money was "parceled out rather than given out in one full amount."

Nothing in the indictment suggests Emanuel did anything wrong.

Racetrack owner testifies

Earlier Monday morning, racetrack owner John Johnston testified he felt uncomfortable when Blagojevich's inner circle-- including Lon Monk, who left his position as Blagojevich's chief of staff in 2007 to lobby for Johnston's racetracks-- brought up fundraising.

"I would generally try to deflect it to other subject matter when it was brought up. I would just try to literally change the subject matter," said Johnston.

In 2008, Blagojevich allegedly pressured Johnston to donate money to his campaign. At that same time, a bill for horse track legislation was waiting for Blagojevich's signature. That bill would give racetracks owned by Johnston's family, Balmoral and Maywood Park, $4,500 per day- each. It passed the House and Senate by majority vote and was on Blagojevich's desk for either a signature or veto by November 24, 2008.

"I imagine if I'd made a contribution, they'd sign the check and sign the bill," said Johnston. "I wasn't concerned he was going to veto it?My concern was that they just delay the process."

Johnston said he felt pressured to make a contribution.

"I didn't think the thought was originating from Lon, that it was coming from the governor," said Johnston.

Monk had testified last week that Blagojevich withheld signing the racetrack bill until Johnston agreed to pay a $100,000 campaign contribution. The contribution was never made and Blagojevich was arrested days later.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to several charges, including scheming to sell President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.


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