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Rod Blagojevich defense plans witnesses 'of some prominence'

Rod Blagojevich center waits for his wife Patti arrive with their car after attending his corruptire-trial Thursday May 19 2011

Rod Blagojevich, center, waits for his wife Patti to arrive with their car after attending his corruption re-trial Thursday, May 19, 2011, at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago. | John J. Kim ~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 22, 2011 7:13PM

Rod Blagojevich’s attorneys announced Thursday that “people of some prominence” would be called as witnesses next week as the ex-governor prepares to mount a defense.

Attorneys were not specific, nor would they promise whether Blagojevich would take the witness stand. “You’ll have to wait and see,” said one of his lawyers, Lauren Kaeseberg.

Sources say Blagojevich has intensified his testimony preparation for the retrial compared to last summer’s trial, when he decided at the last minute not to take the stand. Sources say as of now, Blagojevich was leaning toward testifying next week, but a final decision had not been made.

In court, defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky asked the judge to begin the defense case Wednesday, rather than Monday, saying they may need time to run down witnesses. He expected the defense case to take three days.

“A number of these witnesses are people of some prominence and activities,” Sorosky said without disclosing who they were. Sorosky said the defense had been in contact with the attorneys of different witnesses. “This isn’t just some guy you can pick up the phone and call.”

Judge James Zagel denied the request, saying the case will resume Monday.

Before trial, Blagojevich said in an interview that he intended to call Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Emanuel was asked Thursday if he or his attorney had been contacted by the Blagojevich defense team about testifying. “Not to my knowledge,” Emanuel said.

A Jackson spokesman could not be reached. Jackson as recently as this week denied to the Chicago Sun-Times that he had directed anyone to offer Blagojevich campaign cash in exchange for a Senate seat appointment — one of the key charges against the ex-governor.

Former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer said Emanuel and Jackson were long shots, saying the defense is more likely to recall government witnesses. He said Emanuel and Jackson both “hurt and help” Blagojevich. “Both will say no bribe was paid or even considered,” he said. “But they will also try to distance themselves from Blagojevich.”

Discussion of a defense case came on the heels of the prosecution resting its case after just 11 days of witness testimony. Prosecutors had publicly estimated it would take five weeks.

After hearing from jurors in Blagojevich’s first trial, prosecutors reordered witnesses to bring clarity to the case and cut down their testimony considerably. They also eliminated some witnesses. Trimmed from this trial was testimony from witnesses who talked about trading campaign cash for appointments to boards or committees.

The prosecution’s case ended unremarkably, with FBI Special Agent Daniel Cain on the witness stand.

They ended not with a spectacular, expletive-laced recording, but with a video of Blagojevich taking his oath of office as governor.

Jurors saw Blagojevich on video declaring: “I will fully discharge the duties of the office of governor to the best of my ability.”

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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