Prosecution begins cross of Rod Blagojevich

June 2, 2011 10:15:47 PM PDT
After five days on the stand, prosecutors got their first shot at former governor Rod Blagojevich in the cross examination, asking, ''Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?''

Blagojevich replied, "Yes."

Last year, in his first corruption trial, Blagojevich was convicted on one of 24 charges -- lying to the FBI. The jury was hung on all other counts.

"I try to be as truthful as possible. Politics is a difficult business," Blagojevich said. He tried to distinguish between a lie and what he called "a misdirection play in politics."

Prosecutors then asked Blagojevich about a conversation the former governor admits never happened... but tried to leak to the media. "It's the quarterback faking a hand off and throwing long. It's part of the business," Blagojevich said.

Prosecutors then played a video from a November 5, 2008, press conference in which Blagojevich said he was not interested in the Senate seat for himself. That goes against testimony where Blagojevich said he was interested in the position.

Throughout the cross by the prosecution, Blagojevich's attorneys objected. Despite those objections by his legal team, Blagojevich continued to answer.

"The big thing that they have to do is he's got to stop talking when his lawyers register an objection," said Lance Northcutt, adjunct law professor at John Marshall Law School.

At one point prosecutor Reid Schar asked about already convicted polittical fixer Tony Rezko and whether Blagojevich was concerned that he was cooperating with the government.

"I was told he was put in solitary confinement to lie about me", the ex-governor fired back. "Today, I thought he demonstrated... he doesn't know how to let his lawyers work for him, but the other hand, he's very persuasive," said Paul Green, a professor at Roosevelt University.

In this second trial, Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. He denies any wrongdoing.

Asked about the pace of the cross-examination, Schar said it could be a couple days, but soon added that at the rate it was going so far -- it could continue until the leaves start turning.

Blagojevich blames 'insecurities,' apologizes to Madigan, Jackson

Blagojevich testified for five days in his own defense. On Thursday, he told jurors that Attorney General Lisa Madigan was the former governor's first choice for the U.S. Senate seat appointment, saying, "She was always on my mind. . . I believe this was the ace in the hole."

His fifth day of testimony has focused on the most explosive charges: allegations that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama in 2008 to the highest bidder. On Thursday, Blagojevich said he intended to name Lisa Madigan to the position if her father, House Speaker Mike Madigan, would lift his political opposition to the governor's agenda. He said a week before his arrest he took calls from influential senators who endorsed the idea and he was going to ask then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to broker the deal. But Blagojevich said he was slow to get around to it.

"I was so in love with the idea," Blagojevich said. "I was afraid to make the ask lest he reject me."

Other candidates included Congressman Jesse Jackson Junior, who lobbied for the position, and Valerie Jarrett, who was Obama's top pick. Throughout the trial, secretly recorded FBI tapes from wiretaps were played in which Blagojevich puts down Congressman Jackson and the Madigan family.

"I'd like to add them to the list of the Russians and the Macedonians and apologize to them."

Blagojevich also considered appointing himself to the position, according to a November 14, 2008, phone call recorded by the FBI. In that conversation he also talked about going to Afghanistan to track down Osama Bin Laden.

Blagojevich blames "insecurities" for recorded words

Also in court Thursday, defense attorney Aaron Goldstein asked Blagojevich about allegations that the former governor wanted a top job or cabinet position from the Obama administration for appointing Jarrett. In a conversation recorded by the FBI, Blagojevich and top aides are heard discussing the possibility of an appointment to the Health and Human Services. Blagojevich said Thursday he saw the appointment as a means to get away from the gridlock of Illinois politics, lead a national health care effort, make some money, and keep a foot in the door for a political comeback one day. Goldstein asked why Blagojevich kept bringing it up when HHS was not a possibility. Blagojevich said it came down to his own insecurities.

"I was embarrassed by the flat out dismissal ... and you sure look bad in front of your staff if you give up that quickly," Blagojevich said. "His (Obama's) star was rising and mine was waning."

On another tape, Blagojevich is heard talking to Doug Scofield about the possibility of appointing Jarrett.

BLAGOJEVICH: On Jarrett and then, ah, Wyma got Harris and predictably, you know, Rahm wanted to pass along a message that the president-elect would be grateful, would like Valerie Jarrett and he would quote/unquote be grateful and appreciative.

SCOFIELD Okay. Well, that's nice. (chuckles)

BLAGOJEVICH Yeah.

SCOFIELD Yeah.

(PAUSE)

SCOFIELD I, you know, look, the president can be helpful. He should be grateful and appreciative and helpful.

BLAGOJEVICH That's right.

SCOFIELD You know. It's...

BLAGOJEVICH How 'bout a 501(c)(4) so I can advocate children's health care. Can't they get like Warren Buffet and some of those guys to put like 10, 12, 15 million dollars in that? Like right away.

SCOFIELD Well, they probably could.

(PAUSE)

BLAGOJEVICH Then I can, I could advocate children's health care. Use that thing as a, you know as an advocacy tool and, ah,...

(PAUSE)

BLAGOJEVICH How do you make a deal like that? I mean it's gotta be legal obviously, but... But it's very common place is it not? Doin' things like this?

SCOFIELD Ah, I mean that kind of 501(c),(c)(4) is not unusual.

...

BLAGOJEVICH: If I get nothing back from Obama then, um, I'm going in another direction, you know what I'm sayin'.

SCOFIELD: I think you should leverage it for whatever's most helpful to you.

BLAGOJEVICH You agree with that don't you?

SCOFIELD I do.

When asked about that conversation, Blagojevich said "I understood him to be saying, we're all of your friends... want you to leverage this for whatever is good for you."

Doug Scofield testified on May 10.

Blagojevich's defense lawyers said they expect to finish Thursday, at which point prosecutors would begin the cross-examination.

On Wednesday, Blagojevich spoke about a secretly recorded conversation in which he called the U.S. Senate seat "f---ing golden." Stumbling over his answer, Blagojevich said what he meant was getting to appoint a senator was a "unique opportunity."

He also apologized to jurors and said "I'm stupid here... I'm just being stupid here," about the tape.


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