Blagojevich gives shorter answers on second day

May 26, 2011 (CHICAGO)

If Thursday represented the high drama of "This is Your Life", Friday was more "Joe Friday" - just the facts. Rod Blagojevich, however, would probably have to admit that short answers to direct questions are not his strong suit.

At one point on the stand Friday, Blagojevich left the original question behind to start talking about issues: free rides for seniors and free mammograms. The judge turned to Blagojevich and politely said: "See if you can answer a question with a yes or no."

In court, Blagojevich must deal head-on with the evidence against him, unlike his broad public statements in the past that prosecutors have run amok.

Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges of corruption. He denies any wrongdoing.

On Friday, he began addressing specific charges in the government's case.

The main focus was legislation that was renewed in late 2008 that would share casino profits with the state's horseracing tracks.

Prosecutors say Blagojevich purposely delayed signing it to first squeeze a big campaign contribution from racetrack owner John Johnston.

Defense attorneys' questions focused on Blagojevich's knowledge of campaign contributions in 2008 from Johnston. In the first trial, Johnston testified that when he discussed legislation that would have benefitted the businessman financially with Blagojevich, the governor thanked him for his past donations and hinted he would like another.

In testimony Friday, Blagojevich said strongly he was not pressuring Johnston. When asked by attorney Aaron Goldstein if he was holding up the legislation to get a donation from Johnston, the former governor said, "No, I was intention was to follow the law." He said he believed Johnston would come through with a $100,000 pledge and was just asking about the status of a contribution that was expected.

Blagojevich offered his own explanation of why he did not promptly sign the bill. Reason one, according to Blagojevich, was what he called "Madigan Shenanigans". The ex-governor said he had to be cautious about signing anything for fear that his political enemy - the House speaker - might sneak language into a bill that could weaken the governor's executive authority.

Reason two, says Blagojevich, involves his one-time friend and key fundraiser, the late Chris Kelly. In November 2008, Blagojevich says he believed Kelly was looking for a presidential pardon on his conviction for tax evasion and that Kelly was working through Johnston, who would make contact with the late George Steinbrenner, who would work through Florida governor Jeb Bush, who would talk to then-President of the United States George W. Bush about the pardon.

Kelly's involvement, Blagojevich said, was a "big, bold red flag" that would "contaminate" the legislation, so he "needed to be careful" about signing it.

"If the defense theory is that this is politics as usual then it's obviously very important to the governor's defense. If the jury buys it as: OK, there was a lot of crazy stuff going on, but he was doing was not politics as usual, then he's in trouble."

The defense Friday also played its first tape, in which Blagojevich says of the horse-track bill, "I'm for the bill. I'll do it on my timeline."

This is the beginning of the ex-governor's effort to refute the government's case point by point, and that will take time, particularly the marquee charge dealing with the senate seat, and all the taped evidence.

Blagojevich arrived at court with his wife, Patti, and 14-year-old daughter, Amy. When she came to court to hear closing arguments in her dad's first trial, along with little sister Annie, some in the jury said later they were offended by the spectacle. On Friday, Amy sat next to her mom on the bench behind the defense table.

In a contrast with his rambling answers to defense questions on Thursday, the former governor gave shorter replies on Friday. On Thursday, Blagojevich admitted to a "man crush" on Alexander Hamilton and apologized for foul language evident in tapes played at trial.

It was a short day on the stand Friday, as Court adjourned at noon due to the long holiday weekend. The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

What had been a fast moving trial with less public attention than the first is now reclaiming a familiar dimension. The defendant is back on the front page. The autograph seekers and picture takers are back outside of court. It is a dimension where the ex-governor is usually comfortable.

Blagojevich is likely to be on the stand presenting his defense through most, if not all, of next week.

Presuming the defense rests, the prosecution will follow with what promises to be blistering cross examination, which will be followed by rebuttal witnesses for the prosecution.

The government will not say who they will call, but the list will likely include some of those who have already testified, and possibly some who have not.

It appears reasonable to presume that it will be two, maybe three weeks before the jury gets to deliberate.

The former governor is accused of trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left open by Barack Obama for his own personal gain, among other things.

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.

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