Blagojevich brother: 'We drifted' apart

Robert Blagojevich, brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, departs federal court after his arraignment on federal racketeering and fraud charges in Chicago, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
July 21, 2010 7:42:05 AM PDT
The brother of Rod Blagojevich testified that he knew little about the legislative issues with which the ousted governor dealt.

Robert Blagojevich, a codefendant in the case, was called Monday as the defense presented its case to jurors in the corruption trial. He spoke about his military background and his career in the banking industry and real estate. He also said he was not close to the former governor.

Robert testified "we had grown up two different tracks; he was legal and political, I was military and business... We drifted."

Robert Blagojevich is charged in five counts of the indictment. Prosecutors have argued in their cross-examination that his comments on other tapes than those heard Monday suggest that Robert knew what was in play, and that it went beyond the boundaries of political horse trading.

Robert Blagojevich said he worked for the former governor in 2006 for four months in an unpaid position. In August 2008 he began working for the Friends of Blagojevich campaign to get closer to his brother and to honor their late parents' desire that they be there for each other.

His wife, Julie, took the stand earlier Monday morning. She said she encouraged Robert Blagojevich to take the job because it would be "a good chance for them to get to know each other" after their mother died.

Robert Blagojevich testified he thought "it was the right thing to do to come up and help him" about working with his brother.

Robert Blagojevich said Rod Blagojevich set a fundraising goal of $2.5 million. By December 9, 2008, they were at $700,000.

"Most of the time 'no.' We got more no's than yeses," Robert Blagojevich said. When asked why they were short on meeting the fundraising goal, Robert Blagojevich said, "(We) had a general election going on. And Rod's brand, Rod as a politician, was tarnished. It was hard to get people to give money. Plus, Rod's standing in the polls."

Robert Blagojevich said he did not attend meetings concerning governmental affairs at the governor's offices between August 1 and December 8, 2008.

Robert Blagojevich did get some advice from his brother's chief legal counsel, William Quinlan, Jr.

On one occasion, Quinlan told him, on a secret government recording heard at trial, "I can tell you one thing I've learned is you do not let the campaign person do government... I mean, you just don't... You don't let the fundraisers be doing government because it's too open for the pay to play."

Robert Blagojevich is heard in the background of that recording, twice saying, "Right." The recording came after Robert Blagojevich said he'd already gotten lesson 101: never condition any fundraising request on governmental action.

On the stand Monday, Robert Blagojevich said, "I was told never to tie the two together, and I never did."

He worked from the Friends of Blagojevich offices and viewed himself as a scorekeeper. "I would call off the contact list. Follow up with bundlers. Doing research," said Robert Blagojevich.

"I think he made a deliberate point to keep me separate from that. As I was told from the beginning we don't mix fundraising with government," said Robert Blagojevich about his brother.

Robert Blagojevich said he relied on previous donor lists for campaigns and was not aware of legislative issues that were pending for the governor. Mike Ettinger, Robert Blagojevich's attorney, questioned his client about several wiretaps played during the prosecustion's case. One taped conversation between Rod and Robert alludes to a "timing issue" with a tollway CEO's contribution. Robert Blagojevich said he was unaware of the Tollway Bill specifics and did not intend to link a contribution to the word "timing."

He also said he called a hospital CEO because he was asked to by the former governor. He said he did not know the details of pending hospital legislation and was not even aware that the hospital was promised $8 million at the time of the call. He also said the CEO never asked him to stop calling and "seemed in no way reluctant and didn't push me back."

Robert Blagojevich said he quit calling that CEO after three calls were not returned and it became obvious he wasn't interested in donating or holding a fundraiser.

Five tapes were played in court Monday in an effort to back Robert Blagojevich's claims that he never used promises of governmental action to boost fundraising. In the first, Robert Blagojevich is heard saying, "You do not let the campaign guy do political." The second deals with a November 11, 2008, conversation between Robert Blagojevich and Babu Patel, a fundraiser.

Robert Blagojevich: I can tell you this, they are not near Rod. I deal with the Bedis they are not near Rod.

Babu Patel: Don't even do that in public because you can put this guy in trouble. You can put Jesse Jackson in trouble. They both will lose political careers. So... be... really he should not.

Robert Blagojevich: Now let me tell you I've been approached. And, I told them I just want you to know, Rod has made no decision. He will go through a process make a pick that he thinks is best for the state of Illinois. And nothing else matters.

Babu Patel:Nothing else matters.

Robert Blagojevich: Nothing else matters.

Later in the conversation, Robert said that money was not going to be a factor.

A day later, Robert told the governor that he has no real insights on possible Senate appointments.

"But I mean, the only, the only caution, and you know, brotherly advice I'd give you is: make sure it's a tit for tat, man. You get something. I wouldn't give anything away," Robert Blagojevich is heard saying. He says that comment was about political, not personal, benefit.

Leaving court Monday, Rod Blagojevich told reporters, "I love my brother, I'm proud of my brother. My brother's an honest man - he served his country in the military. Lieutenant colonel. I'm very proud of him."

Both brothers have pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama.

The former governor has said he and his wife, Patti, will testify in the trial. The defense is also expected to call Rahm Emanuel, but Valerie Jarrett is not expected to take the stand.

The prosecution rested its case last week. Jurors got a brief break before returning to court Monday.

Judge denies motion for acquittal

U.S. District Judge James Zagel denied a motion from Rod Blagojevich's defense attorneys to acquit the former governor.

Zagel told defense attorneys to go ahead with their defense. He said he based his decision on the prosecution's case and the tone of the testimony from their witnesses.

The motion for an acquittal is common at the close of prosecution, which rested last week in the Blagojevich trial. They are rarely granted.

Robert Blagojevich will complete his testimony Tuesday, and after a couple more witnesses, the former governor will take the stand.

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