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Emanuel responds to ‘missing’ Blagojevich tape

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Two weeks before the city’s mayoral election, Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers say they suspect that there is a 2008 phone call between a former top staffer and Mayoral hopeful Rahm Emanuel that was “mysteriously missing” from evidence turned over to them before the first trial.

They asked in a court filing this week for an evidentiary hearing to determine what happened to possible evidence concerning a Dec. 8, 2008 phone call even as attorneys acknowledged Tuesday that a recording might not exist.

In court papers, Blagojevich lawyers claimed that they believe a conversation between John Harris and onetime White House Chief of Staff Emanuel happened the day before the ex-governor’s arrest – when wiretaps were up and running – and a recording of it would help bolster their contention that the former governor was trying to broker a legitimate deal for the U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich has contended Emanuel would be the go-between on a deal to appoint Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the U.S. Senate in exchange for getting support from her father, the Illinois house speaker, and passing a Blagojevich-backed legislative package. They offered only circumstantial evidence that Emanuel and Harris had such a conversation.

Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein on Tuesday acknowledged that there might not be a recording; a conversation could have happened on a phone line of Harris’ that was not wiretapped by the feds. He said the defense believes otherwise.

“We believe this is a call that is in the realm of being recorded,” he said. “That’s something an evidentiary hearing can resolve.”

A U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman had no comment. At trial, prosecutors called the Madigan deal a red herring. Instead, they said Blagojevich was intent on getting the best deal possible to benefit him personally.

The filing comes as the parties are expected to meet in court Feb. 22.

For his part, Emanuel, whom the defense has said they want to call as a witness at Blagojevich’s April 20 retrial, sloughed off the suggestion that the filing might be politically timed to embarrass him less than two weeks before the mayoral election.

“There was a question -- The governor’s representative said, `What’s in it for us.’ And I responded, `You’ll get thanks and appreciation‚ [but nothing more]. You also know how the [former] governor responded to the word, `appreciation.’ That’s been detailed over two years ago in the report,” Emanuel said, referring to Blagojevich’s expletive-laced rebuffing.

However, testimony at Blagojevich’s trial indicated that it was in fact lobbyist John Wyma who passed on that message to the Blagojevich team in early November 2008 at Emanuel’s request. Wyma at that point had been cooperating with the feds in their probe against the former governor and provided the government with the necessary information to put up wiretaps against Blagojevich. Emanuel through a spokesman, would not answer questions concerning his communications with Wyma.

Emanuel rivals Carol Moseley Braun and Gery Chico both called on Emanuel to give a fuller accounting of his conversations with Blagojevich before the Feb. 22 mayoral election.

Separately on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Zagel, the judge presiding over the former governor’s retrial ruled that jurors’ names will remain anonymous throughout the trial and will not be made public until eight hours after the verdict is delivered. The issue is long a contested one, after an appeals court in the first trial told Zagel he had to hold a hearing before sealing the jurors’ names. In that hearing, Zagel called the trial unusual and noted it drew considerable publicity, allowing the possibility that jurors could be harassed if their identities were known during the trial. In his ruling, Zagel said objectors could file objection by Feb. 17 and he would hold a hearing the last full week of February.

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