Blagojevich forced to explain his own words

June 6, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Monday was Blagojevich's first full day of cross-examination, although he's been on the stand for six days total. Blagojevich, 54, is accused of trying to sell or trade a U.S. Senate seat for his own personal gain.

Blagojevich's defense has been that the former governor never intended to trade the seat for a job, but secretly recorded tapes are littered with references to his desire to win a cabinet post in the Obama administration. It's a defense the prosecution spent Monday trying to destroy, walking Blagojevich through a minefield of his taped comments and asking him to explain himself. Most of the questions are yes and no, but Blagojevich continued with his longwinded answers, apparently trying to explain himself.

"I can't answer that with a yes or no. I had no idea what I wanted. That's what these conversations are about," Blagojevich said.

Even the judge weighed in. Judge James Zagel interrupted one of the former governor's rambling answers Monday. He said, "Please stop. . . Can you just answer his questions?"

To set the stage Monday, prosecutor Reid Schar asked Blagojevich about taking the oath of office in 2003 and 2007 when elected governor of Illinois. Blagojevich said he "wouldn't knowingly violate the law."

Prosecuting attorney Reid Schar questioned Blagojevich Monday morning. Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges in this second corruption trial. He denies any wrongdoing.

Monday's cross was more controlled than last Thursday's, which started with the question, "You are a convicted liar, correct?" That led to a flurry of objections and Blagojevich's response of "yes."

Schar's questioning was more methodical. Each time Blagojevich denied a charge, Schar read transcripts of secretly-recorded phone conversations that contradicted. He also asked Blagojevich if the former governor had asked SEIU leader Tom Balanoff if he could get a cabinet spot in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate.

"I didn't say I would do one in exchange for the other," Blagojevich said.

Schar then pointed to a transcript in which Blagojevich talks to his aide Doug Scofield. In the November 2008 tape, Blagojevich said, "(Jarrett) now knows that she can be a U.S. senator if I get Health and Human Services. . . I'm willing to trade the thing I got tightly held, to her for something she doesn't hold quite as tightly."

"You're the one who used the word 'trade,'" Schar said.

After more questioning along the same lines, Blagojevich said, "I see what I said here, but that's not what I mean here, that's the difficulty." His defense is that he had yet to make a decision about the Senate seat when the conversations were recorded.

When asked about a conversation he had with his wife, Patti, where he explains the message from Balanoff, Blagojevich said, "Look man, she can be senator. I want this 501c4 thing."

When asked what he means, Blagojevich said, "I was talking quick and in shorthand."

Asked if what he said to Patti was accurate, Blagojevich responded, "If you look at it literally, it's not accurate."

Before court ended at 4:45 p.m. Monday, Blagojevich thanked Schar for letting him answer questions.

Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by U.S. President Barack Obama for personal gain, among other things.

Cross-examination could last through Tuesday or longer.

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