Blagojevich to testify for second day

May 27, 2011 5:53:09 AM PDT
Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich goes back on the stand Friday morning in his own defense at his corruption retrial.

Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges of corruption. He maintains his innocence.

The former governor is accused of trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left open by Barack Obama for his own person gain, among other things. The former governor took the stand in his own defense Thursday, telling jurors, "I'm Rod Blagojevich. I used to be your governor."

Blagojevich did not take the stand in his first trial despite numerous promises to do so. He was found guilty on one of 24 counts last year. Jurors were hung on all the others.

Making good on his pledge to take the stand in his own defense Thursday, Blagojevich spent hours talking about his childhood and humble beginnings, painting himself as an underdog and a dreamer. He even apologized about using profanity on government wiretaps.

When he talked about his late parents and his wife Patti, the former governor choked up and became teary eyed. During his four hours on the stand, Blagojevich gave long, rambling answers. At times, the judge asked defense attorneys to keep their client focused.

"I think he knows the stakes very well. It is like reading his biography," said Lenny Cannata, trial observer.

"I think they're portraying him as a sympathetic person," said Dan Vanhaften, trial observer.

"It's tiring, it's just tiring," said Jeanette Bartels, also watching the trial.

Blagojevich's testimony did touch upon some of the elements of the case against him. In response to Jesse Jackson's Jr.'s testimony Wednesday that Blagojevich tried to shake him down for a campaign contribution he said, "no, I don't remember anything remotely like that." And he denied accusations that he delayed a grant for a school in then-congressman Rahm Emanuel's district in exchange for a political fundraiser. Blagojevich said, "it was of no great importance to me and it was nowhere on the radar screen."

Once the defense wraps up with Blagojevich, prosecutors will cross-examine him. That is expected to happen sometime next week.

Blagojevich testifies, 'I'm an f-ing jerk,' at trial

"I would prefer to be somewhere else, but I'm happy to be here because I've waited two-and-a-half years to get my story out," Blagojevich said on the stand Thursday. He said he felt "very liberated."

After more than four hours of testimony about Blagojevich's background, defense attorneys got into the allegations. Blagojevich was asked by defense attorney Aaron Goldstein if he ever took cash from businessman Tony Rezko. "No," he said.

He was also asked about allegations that he held up state jobs to squeeze campaign contributions. On the stand, Blagojevich denied holding up the Chicago Academy school grant, which was in then-congressman Rahm Emanuel's district. Blagojevich allegedly wanted Emanuel's brother to throw a fundraising event for his campaign.

Blagojevich also said he never linked a request for a $25,000 campaign contribution from Jesse Jackson Jr. to a job for Jackson's wife. On Wednesday, Jackson said he believes the lack of a contribution led to Sandi Jackson getting passed up for an Illinois Lottery job. Blagojevich said, "I don't remember anything remotely like that."

During an afternoon break in which the jury was out of the courtroom, Judge James Zagel said to Goldstein, "I urge you again, Mr. Goldstein, for the benefit of your client to ask questions quickly." He warned Goldstein that while Blagojevich's long-winded testimony could benefit the former governor, it could also lead the jury to believe he is just running on.

Defense presents Blagojevich, the under dog

Earlier testimony painted a picture of Blagojevich as an underdog for most of his life. Goldstein showed a photograph of Blagojevich at 15 and asked the former governor about his childhood. Blagojevich said he had "big aspirations that I was going to be in the NBA."

"I was the only governor who could spin a basketball on all five fingers on his right hand. At least I had that going for me," Blagojevich said. He also spoke about how he flunked drafting at Lane Tech High School. When talking about his baseball dreams, Blagojevich said, "You have your ups and downs, and some of the things you want to do don't work out."

He also talked about being a shoeshine boy and became choked up when talking about how his father left Chicago to find work as a janitor at the Alaskan Pipeline site. "My mother and father are the reason I went to college and law school," Blagojevich said. He said his mom, who is deceased, "didn't feel like politics was a safe profession."

He then spoke about going on to college at Northwestern University, where he felt other kids had wealthier backgrounds. "I was afraid maybe I wouldn't measure up to the other kids," Blagojevich said.

Before he left his Ravenswood Manor home on the city's Northwest Side, Blagojevich said his daughter, Amy blew him a kiss and said,"Good luck. Watch your language."

Blagojevich was asked about a secretly recorded FBI tape in which he called the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama "f---ing golden," Blagojevich said, "I'm an f-ing jerk and I apologize."

Prosecutors played dozens of those secretly recorded conversations. Blagojevich said hearing some of them "makes you wince."

When asked about where he finds inspiration, Blagojevich said he turns to the history books. "I had a man crush on Alexander Hamilton."

The outgoing Blagojevich seemed to be having a good time during his testimony. Jurors listened intently but showed no emotional reaction as Blagojevich spoke.

Prosecutors objected a few times to Blagojevich's long-winded testimony. At one point Judge James Zagel said, "This is a chance for him to tell his story."

When a juror sneezed Thursday, Blagojevich said from the stand, "God bless you."

Before Blagojevich was called to the stand, his defense team filed a mistrial in regards to testimony given by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. on Wednesday. They also played video of an ad where Blagojevich and Jackson hug at a 2008 Democratic convention. They say that counters any testimony from Jackson, who said Wednesday that the two were not on speaking terms.

Jackson Jr, Emanuel testimony Wednesday

On Wednesday, it was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. on the stand. Emanuel answered only a handful of questions, the main one being: "Did anyone ever say to you that Valerie Jarrett could be named to the U.S. Senate if you or your brother held a fundraiser for Governor Blagojevich?" Emanuel's answer was no.

The congressman testified he never offered campaign money to Blagojevich even though Jackson admits he really wanted the Senate appointment. In cross-examinations, Jackson told prosecutors he declined a request to give Blagojevich a $25,000 campaign contribution.

Later that year, Jackson lobbied to have his wife, Sandi, named as state lottery director but Blagojevich picked someone else. When the two men met later, Jackson said, Blagojevich departed the room and in classic Elvis fashion, snapped his fingers and said, "You should have given me that $25,000." Blagojevich disputes that version of events.

"About the Elvis thing, all I can tell you is it is absurd and not true. That never happened," Blagojevich said outside court.

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