The seventh day of ex-governor Rod Blagojevich’s cross-examination
started on Tuesday where they left off Monday, with prosecutor Reid
Schar taking apart Blago’s statements about fundraising in politics and
whether the two should be separated. The morning began with the
allegations of fundraising in regards to the Illinois Tollway, with the
prosecution trying to nail down Blagojevich on trying to shakedown a
tollway executive for fundraising money in connection with passing a
billion-dollar highway plan. Although Blago conceded that yes, he kept
asking for money, and that he got “bupkis, bupkis, bupkis, bupkis, which
is nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing,” he did not try to shake down
the organization for that cash in connection with an expanded tollway
plan attached to a capital bill.
The prosecution then turned to questioning about Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi. Did Blagojevich offer Sandi a job in exchange for cash, and did Jackson offer Blago a huge sum of money to be appointed Senator in place of Barack Obama? Blagojevich testified that no, he never indicated that there would be any consequences for a lack of fundraising. Following that, he then stated unequivocally that in a meeting with Jesse Jackson Jr. and supporter Ragu Nayak, that “yes,” he was offered money to appoint Jackson Jr. as Senator. In further questioning, however, Blagojevich wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “bribe,” per se, only that he knew it was illegal and that they weren’t going to do it.
“They were offering campaign funds for the Senate seat, which my brother properly rejected three separate times,” he testified. But Jackson wasn’t completely ruled out, according to the prosecution. On tape, Blago is presented as telling Fred Yang that even though he hates the idea of it, he is considering Jackson Jr. for Senate because they had “offered stuff” to Blagojevich. The ex-governor contended that he was simply looking at the politics of it, after which the prosecution followed up with a call where Blago described Jackson as someone who “wants it badly and desperately and he's the only one willing to offer stuff.” Blagojevich contends his statement to his brother “some of the promised stuff had to start happening now” meant political support and not fundraising.
It was only after learning from a Chicago Tribune story that he had been caught on tape did he tell his brother to cancel the meeting with Nayak, according to the prosecution. Blagojevich countered that he was just “crushed” that a friend had worn a wire or helped in surveillance efforts. Prosecutors introduced what could be the theme of the whole trial with the simple phrase stated by Blagojevich that, “assume the whole world is listening.” Those are the words that Blago said to his brother in relation to the then-upcoming Nayak meeting, and Blago in court today said “I’m proud of those words.”
Schar concluded the cross-examination after a few more minutes of testimony, but not before Blago could get in the claim that Schar was “twisting his words,” after days of struggle over yes and no answers and the ex-governor talking over the objections of his own counsel. Blago’s lawyers picked up the line of questioning in redirect testimony, with Blagojevich took the opportunity to explain what he meant about political support and how he believed that support of that kind from Washington could help exert pressure on House Speaker Michael Madigan. “Tangible” just means “good stuff for the people,” according to Blago, not fundraising. “Tangible” comes in reference to the “political support” that Jackson Jr. could have offered. Taking one last chance to throw the Congressman under the bus, Blago testified that “I never asked Jesse Jackson Jr. to raise money for me. Everybody knows he doesn't raise money for anybody."
Audio tape involving Mayor Rahm Emanuel could have made its way into the trial at this point, with the defense wanting to introduce audio of Emanuel requesting one of his personal candidate choices be appointed by the governor. The prosecution argues against it, the judge agreed, and Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein moved onto the testimony involving Tony Rezko. Blagojevich simply wanted the judge’s sentence for Rezko to come before the Senate appointment so that he would be free and clear in the eyes of the political class. Rezko’s sentencing would have given Blago the “clean bill of health” he was hoping for, leaving him free to appoint someone without any further problems from that story’s connection to him.
And with that, the testimony of Rod Blagojevich in his own defense was completed. Stepping off the witness stand, Blago (ever the politician) attempted to go over and shake the hand of prosecutor Schar, who wouldn’t even give him the time of day. Schar refused to even turn around and acknowledge the ex-governor, at which point Judge Zagel instructed the jury to disregard the contact between prosecutor and witness. Blagojevich took his seat, and the trial moved on.
Two more defense witnesses are set to be called, then the government has the opportunity to rebut the defense’s case, followed by closing arguments. The jury could have this trial in their hands as soon as late Thursday or Friday, and all indications are that whatever charm Rod Blagojevich tried to exude, it had worn off by the end of testimony Tuesday. We could enter the weekend with the jury deliberating the fate of ex-Governor Blagojevich and whether or not he’ll spend a considerable amount of his future behind bars.