Former governor Rod Blagojevich took the stand for a third time today in his federal corruption trial. One notable no-show in the courtroom today was a juror who was apparently dismissed on Friday as there were only 17 jurors in attendance today as opposed to the 18 that had been filing the jury seats previously. The missing juror, identified as number 125, is reportedly a white female who works for a junior college as a computer technician.
The former governor started his day of testimony by following up on the discussion from Friday about the allegations of shaking down horse track owner John Johnston for $100,000 in exchange for signing legislation that would benefit the racetrack industry. In reference to a taped conversation in which his former chief of staff Lon Monk, who was working as a lobbyist for the racetrack business at the time and said "Give us the f-ing money because it's $9,000 per day, each day," that the bill wasn't signed, Blagojevich said he believed Monk was "spinning, giving the company line."
In the midst of the morning testimony about the racetrack allegations, Blagojevich garnered some laughs from the courtroom after his binder, filled with transcripts of his secretly-taped conversations, kept turning his mic on and off. When the mic stopped working he said, "it's not my fault." But then had to change his story when it was revealed that he had been accidentally turning the power on and off, saying "I misspoke, evidently it was my fault."
Blagojevich moved on to the allegations that he shook down Gerald Krozel on a tollway construction project shortly thereafter. Blagojevich admits to having had a conversation with Krozel about the $1.8 billion tollway improvement plan the construction executive was pushing for as well as the new ethics law that put restrictions on campaign donations from state contractors, but says he was not holding up the project for fundraising. Instead, Blagojevich argued, he was holding up the project because he was hoping a much larger capital bill would be passed through the General Assembly. The defense also played a taped telephone conversation from Halloween 2008 of Blagojevich discussing the capital bill with his then-chief of staff John Harris in which he used several expletives. The clearly embarrassed ex-governor apologized to the jury for his language. Even though Blagojevich recalls telling Krozel, "The good news for you and the bad news for me is you can't contribute money to me anymore ... This is your last hurrah," he denies having pressured Krozel to donate or fundraise for him, arguing that the construction executive was supportive and "said he'd do the best he can to raise money."
The former governor also testified on allegations that he shook up the head of Children's Memorial Hospital for campaign funds in exchange for a Medicaid reimbursement rate increase for pediatricians. The former governor laid it on thick during this part of his testimony by bringing up the fact that he had a 12-year-old cousin who died at the hospital back in the 1960s at the irritation of Judge James Zagel. Blagojevich also made sure to throw in a celebrity anecdote by mentioning that former Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker contacted him about helping the hospital, adding "whenever a baseball manager calls me ... I call them back." Blagojevich denied having told then-deputy governor Robert Greenlee to hold the rate increase in exchange for a fundraiser held by Children's Memorial CEO Robert Magoon that he hoped would net some $25,000.
Towards the end the day, Blagojevich started to get into the allegations that he tried to sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. The former governor explained reasoning behind his frequent decision to work from home by saying that he was trying to distance himself from special interests and got the idea from President Richard Nixon, which got a chuckle from his wife, Patti. "I was hunkering down to be away from all the men and women and interests who wanted money," said Blagojevich. He went on to call the vacancy of the Senate seat as a chance to show his worth as a politician.
"I felt that the Senate seat was one of my last best opportunities to try to use this opportunity to make the best decision I could, and I wanted to be very careful," Blago explained. The former governor's defense team is also arguing that he had intentions to place Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in President Obama's former Senate seat, even though her father was his political nemesis. He hoped that move would get Michael Madigan to pass select legislation in Springfield. Blago also said he considered putting former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones in the seat as well as Rep. Danny Davis, who he called an African American war hero. Blagojevich also tried to clean up his infamous "f-ing golden" comment by saying that he meant the opportunity could birth "good things for the people of Illinois."
During today's testimony Blagojevich also denied trying to punish state contractors for failing to hire his wife, Patti, and also talked about his shock upon hearing that close friend John Wyma was helping the government in the case the federal case they were building against him. "It was startling and shocking, and there's all kinds of emotions that go through your mind when you think about a friend that might have been doing that, not to mention it's frightening and terrifying," Blagojevich said about Wyma.
Blagojevich's testimony today didn't fail to continue the tradition of long-windedness that has become expected of him since his first day on the witness stand. The prosecution objected more than 40 times today, oftentimes for the length of his answers, and Judge Zagel kept trying to rein the former governor in, saying that although he shared Blagojevich's penchant for telling long stories, the Elvis-loving politician needed to "just answer the questions." Blagojevich's attorneys made their own objection to the behavior of the prosecution, saying they were making faces and taking part in "animated discussion" that was distracting the jurors. Judge Zagel said he hadn't noticed it but added that he'd "watch the government very carefully." The prosecution denied such actions; adding that they'd "be mindful" of their actions. The prosecution hurled the same accusations against Blago during the first trial.
After a full day of testimony today, Blagojevich will be back in the courtroom to offer more testimony at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. For more on Blagjevich's testimony, chcek out our live blogs of day one and day two days of his testimony. To catch up on the entire retrial, check out our daily diary detailing the entire Blagojevich retrial saga.