FBI Tapes: Blago wants 'freedom, a lot of money'

May 5, 2011 3:01:01 PM PDT
John Harris, who served as chief of staff to Rod Blagojevich, returned to the stand Thursday for his third day of testimony in the former governor's second corruption trial.

Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama, among other things. In his first trial, the former governor was found guilty on one charge- lying to the FBI- and the jury was hung on the others.

In the first trial, 70 secretly recorded FBI tapes were played during seven weeks of testimony. Just three days into the re-trial, jurors have heard 22 tapes and most of them go straight to the heart of the government's case -- and they're accompanied by a narrative by Harris.

In November 2008, despite his public persona, Blagojevich says in the conversations that he is not happy in his job, was deep in personal debt, and worried about talk of impeachment and federal investigation.

Blagojevich: Right, but you understand, it's very important for me to make a lot of money. I need the independence. I, I, I need the freedom. You know, a-, among the things that I, we've dealt with that I've learned, that I knew anyway but I really know and experienced the feel is, that the vulnerability that my family is under because of my public responsibilities that I've made my children and my wife vulnerable.

Harris: Right.

Blagojevich: You follow? I've got the scrutiny going on, l-, lawyers to pay for. How the hell am I gonna send my kid to college. That's the biggest f---ing downside that I, you know, that I'm really dealing with. And it's like, never again am I ever gonna f---ing screw my kids and my family, and put them in a position like this. I gotta fix this.

The fix Blagojevich hoped for, prosecutors said, was the former governor's maneuvering to win a cabinet appointment or high-paying public advocacy job for himself in return for naming President Barack Obama's choice to the U.S. Senate. The early favorite was Valerie Jarrett. But when Jarrett accepts a job in Obama's cabinet, Blagojevich weighs the other possibilities. In another call, he tells Harris he is going to seriously consider Jesse Jackson, Jr. Blagojevich had earlier described Jackson as "repugnant," but now calls him the "uber African American."

Blagojevich: I'm setting it up for Monday.

Harris: Jesse's gonna tell you, you know what, I apologize for some of the things I've done. He'll say it privately, not publically. He'll tell you that, I shouldn't of listened to my father and some of these other advisers... when it came to...

Blagojevich: Well, he's come to me with, through third parties, you know with offers of campaign contributions and help.

Harris: Right.

Blagojevich: You know what I mean? 1.5 million, they've, they're throwin' numbers around.

Harris's testimony continues to paint a picture of a governor willing to trade official action for personal gain. Just days before his arrest, Blagojevich pushes an idea to give the Cubs $15 million in state money to "environmentally modernize" Wrigley Field. He asks Harris his opinion in one of the recorded conversations.

Harris: Well, my opinion is you give 'em nothing. I mean they're a for profit entity. They don't need the subsidy.

Blagojevich: Yeah, I know. Alright.

Harris: (Laughs) But, uh, that's, I was just wondering why or how you arrived at that number but...

Blagojevich: The number is because the White Sox got that.

Harris: Right. Different animal though.

Blagojevich: Well, I understand. Well, we gotta justify. So, in a way, Mr. Harris, that, uh, you know, is a plus. Ya know what I'm sayin'?

Harris: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Outside the courtroom Thursday, Blagojevich, who has maintained his innocence, said the government was trying to criminalize the political process, open talk and the discussion of ideas.

Court wrapped up early -- around 2 p.m. -- with the government finishing its questing of Harris. Blagojevich's defense attorney Aaron Goldstein was sick Thursday, so cross-examination postponed until Monday.


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