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Sources: Blagojevich team to call Rahm Emanuel, Jesse Jackson Jr.

Rahm Emanuel (left) Jesse JacksJr. | Sun-Times file/AP file

Rahm Emanuel (left) and Jesse Jackson Jr. | Sun-Times file/AP file

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Updated: June 26, 2011 12:38AM

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. are expected to be among the first witnesses to take the stand as Rod Blagojevich launches his defense case Wednesday, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

The latest game-plan hatched Tuesday was to have the two sitting politicians on deck Wednesday morning — both of whom were contacted by the defense team late last week about testifying this week, sources said.

Jackson and Emanuel, both Democrats, remained under defense subpoena since the ex-governor’s first trial last summer.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in April, Blagojevich said “in all likelihood” his attorneys would call Emanuel and Jackson to testify.

This week, Jackson’s office had inquired about the logistics of getting in and out the federal courthouse, according to sources. And Jackson had told others the defense asked him to be prepared to testify this week.

As for Emanuel: “I’m ready, if asked, to answer questions, as I was in the first trial. ... In this trial, I’ll answer questions, if asked to,” he told the Sun-Times on Monday.

Blagojevich wants to explore discussions Emanuel had regarding a potential deal to name Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the U.S. Senate seat. vacated by Barack Obama.

He also expects both Jackson and Emanuel would deny there were any illicit discussions involving allegations that Blagojevich tried selling the Senate seat.

The prospect of having a Chicago mayor and an Illinois congressman take the witness stand is sure to electrify a retrial that had so far shown few fireworks. It’s a game change from last summer’s first trial, which ended, after many promises of Blagojevich’s own testimony, with no defense witnesses at all — and a jury that was hung on 23 of 24 counts.

Beyond Jackson and Emanuel, sources said Tuesday that Blagojevich was preparing to take the stand after other witnesses. Lawyers and the judge must still hash out which recordings would be played while the ex-governor was on the stand. Lawyers are expected to discuss that in a Wednesday afternoon court hearing.

Of the potential witnesses, Jackson faces the greatest risk.

Jackson, who has a Congressional ethics probe hanging over him, could have to answer under oath why at least one supporter — Raghu Nayak — has told the FBI that Jackson directed him to ask Blagojevich to appoint Jackson to he Senate in exchange for millions of dollars in campaign cash. Nayak also told authorities he secretly paid for airline trips of a Jackson “social acquaintance.”

While Jackson has apologized about that social acquaintance and acknowledged he wanted the Senate seat, he’s long denied he authorized anyone to talk to the Blagojevich camp about campaign money.

But government witness Rajinder Bedi has testified about an Oct. 28, 2008 meeting with Nayak and Jackson present. Bedi said fund-raising and the Senate seat appointment were both discussed. Hours after that meeting, Bedi said he told the Blagojevich camp if they appointed Jackson, Blagojevich would get $1 million in his campaign fund. In the last trial, a prosecutor said that the $1 million was discussed in Jackson’s presence.

In a radio show last year, Jackson said the two men began speaking “practically in Hindu” (though he likely meant “Hindi”) and said he didn’t participate nor hear the discussion.

Sources said Jackson has told authorities he believed then-governor Blagojevich once tried extorting him, by allegedly requesting a campaign donation in exchange for appointing Jackson’s wife to the Illinois Lottery. Neither the appointment, nor the campaign contribution, happened.

A Jackson spokesman on Tuesday had no comment.

Emanuel, who famously sent along a message to Blagojevich that all he would get is “appreciation” for appointing White House adviser Valerie Jarrett to the seat, could testify why he thought it was important to send the ex-governor that message.

Emanuel, too, could face tough questions, given that he is heard on previously unplayed calls suggesting various candidates to Blagojevich or his staff. The Sun-Times has reported that in one of those calls, the incoming White House chief of staff asks Blagojevich whether he can temporarily name someone to Emanuel’s soon-to-be-vacant Congressional post.

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