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New defense at Rod Blagojevich trial: Blame his dead friend

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaves Dirksen Federal Building after taking stfor second day Friday.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaves the Dirksen Federal Building after taking the stand for the second day Friday.

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Updated: September 3, 2011 12:31AM



In his second day on the witness stand, Rod Blagojevich on Friday raised a new defense to a shakedown allegation by resurrecting the name of a now-deceased friend.

On the same day, Blagojevich also explained his propensity to spout off on tapes played for the jury. He said he wouldn’t actually follow up on the things he said.

“A lot of my words outpace my ideas and good judgment, or my imperfect judgment.” Blagojevich said. “They came out of me fast, but then I had a chance to think about it.”

With regard to a shakedown allegation involving horseracing legislation, Blagojevich said he believed the late Christopher Kelly was playing him in 2008 and wanted to pressure him to sign a bill that would boost the industry.

Blagojevich said he feared Kelly, already charged with tax fraud at the time, wanted the bill passed because he hoped it could help him win a Presidential pardon.

How?

According to Blagojevich, Kelly had hoped horseracing executive George Steinbrenner, who then lived in Tampa, Fla., would talk to then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who had the ear of his brother, then-President George Bush.

Blagojevich said Kelly called him on Thanksgiving Day in 2008 to tell him he was working on trying to get a pardon through sports great Bernie Kosar. Kosar also had ties to Jeb Bush, according to what Blagojevich said Kelly told him.

The phone call with Kelly was recorded by the FBI, though it was not played in court. Blagojevich’s attorney, Aaron Goldstein, used it to support Blagojevich’s testimony. He did play a recording between Blagojevich and his gubernatorial counsel Bill Quinlan in which the two are heard apparently talking about Kelly asking for an urgent meeting with Blagojevich.

“What Quinlan was telling me was that Chris was pressing him to get me to sign that bill and was angry that it hadn’t been signed yet,” Blagojevich said. “It was a big, bold red flag to be very careful.”

Kelly had been indicted and Blagojevich knew he was under federal scrutiny: “I was very aware that the ladies and gentleman at that table were investigating me,” he said, referring to prosecutors.

Blagojevich said his hesitation in signing the bill went back to Kelly and not the fact that a $100,000 campaign donation from horseracing executive John Johnston hadn’t yet come in. Kelly eventually was indicted in three separate cases, and in 2009, he took his own life.

Blagojevich gave another reason for holding off on signing the racetrack bill: he suspected his political nemesis, House Speaker Mike Madigan, sneaked a provision into the bill that would strengthen Madigan’s hand and weaken Blagojevich’s.

In the process of explaining this, Blagojevich appeared to try to score some points with the jury by talking about how he had “gotten around” Madigan when he used his executive authority to unilaterally fund breast cancer screenings and pap smears for women.

“Objection,” prosecutors said. Too late. Blagojevich had made his point.

The former governor also later managed to sneak in that he had used the same power to get seniors free rides on the CTA — bypassing Madigan and the Legislature.

Though the defense has focused so far on claims Blagojevich was shaking down a racetrack executive, they have yet to really dive into the government’s Senate seat charges, the marquee accusation of the case.

The defense wants to tell jurors about a theory suggesting Blagojevich wanted to legally trade the Senate seat to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan — the speaker’s daughter – in exchange for the passage of certain state legislation. They want to play tapes to corroborate that.

But U.S. District Judge James Zagel said it’s an argument that will be tough to back up.

On Friday, he said Blagojevich was free to testify about it, but the defense will have a hard time introducing tapes in which he discusses it.

That’s because there’s no evidence Blagojevich tried to broker a Madigan deal‚ Zagel said — at least no evidence he’s been presented with.

“He was never beyond the advice and discussion stage with people who were on his side,” Zagel said.



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