1st witnesses testify, 1st FBI tapes played at Blago trial

May 2, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
Prosecutors called former governor Rod Blagojevich's ex-aide to the stand Tuesday as they played secretly-recorded FBI tapes.

On the tapes, John Harris and Blagojevich allegedly discuss plans to sell or trade a U.S. Senate seat.

Harris served as the embattled former governor's chief of staff. Harris was also called by prosecutors in Blagojevich's first corruption trial. In that trial, the former governor was convicted on only one count- lying to the FBI- and the jury was deadlocked on the others.

In this second trial, Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges from attempted extortion of a children's hospital executive to conspiracy to commit bribery in a bid to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat that once belonged to Pres. Barack Obama for campaign cash or an appointment of his own.

Harris and Blagojevich were both arrested on December 8, 2008. Harris' testimony is expected to last several days.

On Tuesday, Harris told the jury Blagojevich "worked out of his home or his campaign office most days" so he could also engage in fundraising activities without the conflict of being in a government office.

Also on Tuesday, the first FBI recorded tape was played in the retrial. In the call from November 3, 2008, Blagojevich asks Harris if he might get a human services cabinet position in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor in the Obama administration, to the U.S. Senate. In one conversation, Blagojevich is heard saying, "Do they think I'll appoint her for nothing just to make them happy?"

In another conversation, Blagojevich talks about wanting an ambassadorship and rips on Bill Daley's position as commerce secretary. He said, "What the f--- were his credentials?" Blagojevich also said he has a bigger resume than Daley. Harris is heard saying Blagojevich probably wouldn't get an appointment because of his connections to political fundraiser Tony Rezko, who was convicted on fraud and bribery charges in 2008. "If I don't get something good. . . I've always got that ace in the hole," Blagojevich said.

In another call, Blagojevich and others are heard talking about getting a job in the private sector, including the possibility of working with the Salvation Army. "Salvation Army... that would be huge, but do I have to wear a uniform? Forget that," Blagojevich said.

Before Harris testified, FBI agent Dan Cain told jurors about the FBI's process for secretly recorded Blagojevich's conversations with wiretaps on phones at the campaign office, Blagojevich home, and several cell phones.

Blagojevich's second trial is shaping up to look much like the first in this first day of witness testimony from the prosecution.

Blagojevich's defense team maintains the former governor was all talk. They asked for a mistrial Tuesday, claiming the prosecution is falling into a prejudicial pattern against the defendant. Judge James Zagel overruled the objection.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty.


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