Blago defense to witness, 'You speak English, correct?'

May 12, 2011 3:29:57 PM PDT
A defense attorney for Rod Blagojevich asked a witness if he spoke English during the former governor's corruption trial on Thursday.

Aaron Goldstein asked Robert Greenlee, who served as Blagojevich's former deputy governor, "You speak English, correct?"

Judge James Zagel responded, "Don't do that."

Goldstein was cross-examining Greenlee, who is a witness for the prosecution. The question came just hours after the judge had called the defense and prosecution to his bench. At that time, Judge Zagel coached defense attorney Aaron Goldstein, who has garnered hundreds of objections from prosecutors -- most of which have been sustained -- since the trial began, on how to question witnesses.

"You're inviting stuff that has no relevance to this case," Judge Zagel said to Goldstein when the jury was out of the room.

Thursday was Greenlee's second day on the stand. The defense wants him to answer questions about his cooperation with the FBI. Greenlee was recorded in conversations with the former governor pertaining to the corruption case. Those secret recordings were made by the FBI and play a key role in the government's case against Blagojevich.

Greenlee spent Wednesday on the stand and his testimony moved from the Senate appointment possibilities to alleged shakedowns of a hospital CEO and racetrack executive. On Thursday much of the questioning that led to Judge Zagel's coaching centered around a secretly-recorded conversation from December 4, 2008, in which Greenlee and Blagojevich talk about appointing either Jesse Jackson Jr. or Lisa Madigan.

BLAGOJEVICH: I want them to F---in' see Holy F---, it's gonna be Jesse Jr. if we don't f---in' get this Lisa thing done.

GREENLEE: I got your play, yeah. I like that.

BLAGOJEVICH: And by the way, you know, who knows, it could be. I'm not gonna completely rule it out.

GREENLEE: Look, you never rule anything out, but I see, I see exactly your plan. I think that's (UI).

Greenlee said on the stand he was lying to the governor in the conversation. He also said he thinks Blagojevich was lying to him because of the former governor' intonation.

Prosecutors began objecting when Goldstein asked Greenlee, "Have you ever lied to the governor." Judge Zagel sustained the objection and a few others before calling prosecutors and defense attorneys to his bench.

Top Blagojevich advisor takes the stand

Greenlee was followed by FBI Agent Dan Cain, who spoke about the analysis he did of Blagojevich's campaign funds for 2002 and 2006 elections. He was followed by John Wyma, one of Blagojevich's top advisors.

When asked why he did not wear a wire for the government when asked, he said "I found it distasteful."

Wyma is cooperating with the prosecution in the second corruption trial of Blagojevich, 54. Last year, the former governor was found guilty on just one count. Jurors were hung on the 23 others.

In this second trial, the former governor faces 20 charges, including an allegation he tried to sell or trade a U.S. Senate seat appointment for campaign cash or his own top job. Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty.

Will Blagojevich testify in retrial?

With this second trial moving so much faster than the first, the court is left to wonder if the former governor will take the stand in his own defense this time around. It's a promise Blagojevich made several times in the first trial, but ultimately did not keep.

Blagojevich won't say what his intentions are in this re-trial -- and without that pledge, Blagojevich's lawyers have been limited, they say, unfairly, in their questioning. And the leaner, faster second Blagojevich trial has increasingly become Blagojevich versus the FBI tapes.

Should he take the stand?

"Absolutely. Absolutely. And we'd prepare. We'd have been preparing for months and months," Phil Turner, former prosecutor, said.

Despite the conventional wisdom that defendants are best advised not to take the stand and that Blagojevich might get creamed if he did, attorneys like former prosecutor Phil Turner believe Blagojevich really needs to provide his own explanation of what the jury has heard on the tapes.

"He has to produce an alternative narrative. This case is about an attempt, so it's on the edge. He has got a chance to explain this and explain that there was no attempt to do anything wrong, and he's got an opportunity and he should take it. In fact, in this case he must take it," Turner said.

"They're going to have to give the jurors a coherent story about what happened, why he said and did the things he did. If not through him personally testifying then through other witnesses, but there's got to be a story," Beth Foley, a jury and trial consultant, said.

At the conclusion of testimony each day, Blagojevich provides his own spin on the day's events, but will not answer the question of whether he'll take the stand.


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