Federal prosecutors are taking their second shot at former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is facing 20 criminal charges, including one count of attempting to “sell” former President Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder.
The first time around, prosecutors short-changed their own case by refusing to call key witnesses to the stand, including former Obama chief of staff (and current Chicago mayor) Rahm “Rahmbo” Emanuel and Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. Blago, for his part, never took the stand. As a result, the jury deadlocked on all but one count–lying to the FBI. This time around, however, all three have been on the stand and under oath.
The prosecution has rested its case and Blago has testified in his defense. He was described as “combative and argumentative” during cross-examination by prosecutors. Now a jury will decide the fate of former Governor Blagojevich.
Judicial Watch’s blogger Irene Garcia has been on the ground in Chicago covering the Blago re-trial. Irene’s experience includes 13 years as a reporter at the Los Angeles Times. So Judicial Watch has a great onsite resource, reporting details that the other media will gloss over during this important Chicago/Illinois/Obama corruption trial. Here are some especially exciting excerpts from her detailed reports. (Click here to read them in their entirety):
Like Isaiah in the Old Testament, Rod Blagojevich wanted to “get the rich to help the poor” when he offered to send Barack Obama’s close friend (Valerie Jarrett) to the U.S. Senate in exchange for a nonprofit set up by wealthy Democratic donors close to the president. The multi-million-dollar charity would promote healthcare for children and “working families” and, of course, Blagojevich and his pals would run it.
…Blagojevich testified that he never promised or connected any deals to the senate appointment. In fact, he testified that he was only “venting” when he blasted Obama on a secret FBI recording because he offered only to be “grateful and appreciative” in exchange for Jarrett’s appointment. “[Expletive] them,” Blagojevich is heard saying on the wire tap. That’s when he devised a plan to get Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to help set up the healthcare nonprofit by hitting up wealthy Democratic donors like leftwing activist George Soros and investor Warren Buffett for money…
Trading a U.S. Senate appointment for a personal benefit is perfectly legal and politicians throughout history have committed similar acts, according to Rod Blagojevich, who took the stand for a fourth day [on June 1, 2011] in his corruption retrial. As a recent example the impeached Illinois governor offered a deal brokered between Barack Obama and his then-rival Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential election. Obama offered to appoint Clinton Secretary of State in exchange for pulling out of the presidential race and gave her $10 million to settle her campaign debt…
Blagojevich’s defense has two parts; he truly didn’t think he committed any wrongdoing because his actions are commonplace in politics and that he was simply following the recommendations of trusted advisers…Keeping with tradition, Blagojevich was determined to get something in return for his power as governor to appoint a senator…”I’m not giving it up for nothing,” he testified, recalling how it all went down in the fall of 2008. “I knew it was a unique opportunity.”
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich offered perhaps the most accurate description of himself just minutes after taking the stand for the first time: “I am an f-ing jerk and I apologize.” The disgraced politician rambled about his youth, Little League baseball, the struggles of his Serbian immigrant family and his childhood job as a shoe shiner. He also mentioned that history inspires him and choked up about the death of his parents, who incidentally he claims have helped him from heaven.
It was an apparent effort to win jurors over, though none showed any signs of compassion and one reporter inside the courtroom observed a juror “extremely annoyed” by all the personal history… “I would prefer to be somewhere else,” Blagojevich told jurors, adding that he was in court to tell the truth after a 2 -year wait. Now he feels “very liberated.”
[Jackson, Jr.], the son of the famed “civil rights” con artist with the same name denied ordering a major political fundraiser to offer $1.5 million in exchange for a U.S. Senate appointment that became available when Barack Obama got elected president. Appearing somewhat nervous, Jackson testified that he has never directed anyone to raise money for another politician other than himself and he did not offer any fund-raising in exchange for the appointment…
…Jackson aggressively pushed for the appointment when it became open in 2008 and even launched a media campaign he hoped would build public support. Prosecutors claim Blagojevich considered awarding the seat to Jackson because the congressman’s emissaries had promised to raise at least $1 million for the former governor’s campaign fund. In fact, Jackson is mentioned as “Senate Candidate 5” in the government’s original 76-page indictment, though he has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of a bribery scheme on his behalf.
Emanuel’s testimony was even shorter [than Jackson, Jr.’s], though his appearance alone created commotion and required heightened security around the courthouse grounds. Earlier in the trial Blagojevich’s top aide testified that, as Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel called to suggest appointing the president’s close friend Valerie Jarrett, who ended up taking a White House job.
In court…Emanuel testified in less than five minutes that he was never asked for anything in exchange for appointing Jarrett to Obama’s vacant senate seat. Prosecutors assert that Blagojevich tried to negotiate a cabinet position or a lucrative “nonprofit” that he could run after leaving office for appointing [Valerie] Jarrett.
Blagojevich’s onetime chief of staff (John Harris) delivered damaging testimony about the inner workings of his boss’s administration, painting the portrait of a crooked politician who abused his power to advance his career…Some of the [FBI’s wiretap] recordings were played for the jury…In the tapes Blagojevich uses profanity with regularity and he flat-out says he wants to leave Illinois. In fact, in one segment he reveals being “depressed” on the eve of his reelection as Illinois governor because that meant he’d be stuck there four more years.
In another segment Blagojevich discusses appointing his wife Patti, a struggling real estate agent, to a state board that pays six figures or a lucrative job with a company that does business with the state. The bottom line is that Blagojevich was strapped for cash and he was determined to use his position to get some. “I want to make money,” he’s heard telling Harris on the tapes. Blagojevich also made clear that he wouldn’t accept a federal job from Obama if it only paid a measly $190,000 a year because he already made $170,000 as governor.
Rod Blagojevich’s onetime chief of staff, John Harris, testified about negotiations between his former boss and President Barack Obama to fill the U.S. Senate seat once held by the commander-in-chief… Shortly upon taking the stand…Harris testified that he and Blagojevich discussed the Senate appointment in October 2008 and Blagojevich asked him “What do you think I can get for this?”
Obama’s top aide, Rahm Emanuel, called Harris in 2008 to suggest the then-governor appoint Obama’s close friend Valerie Jarrett, according to Harris’s testimony…In the first trial Harris testified that Obama sent Blagojevich a list of “acceptable” Senate candidates to fill his old seat. The list included then Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth, Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Obama eventually named Duckworth to a top position at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
As many of you well know, JW has long investigated widespread corruption in the Blagojevich administration. In 2006, Blagojevich refused a JW public records request for subpoenas relating to the federal probe of his office and, in 2007, JW filed an open records lawsuit in Cook County Court to obtain them. In 2009, JW obtained public records that prove Obama and Blagojevich had repeated contact after Obama became president even though the White House has vehemently denied it.
Obama won’t talk about it and Emanuel won’t admit it (even under oath, or perhaps especially not under oath), but it is clear that Obama and his top people were wheeling and dealing with the corrupt and disgraced Blagojevich over this Senate appointment. It will be interesting to see how this all comes out this time around when the jury reaches a verdict.
And as I said, you can track Irene’s Blagojevich trial reports on our blog, Corruption Chronicles.