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Cross-examination of Blagojevich: ‘You are a convicted liar, correct?’

Rod Blagojevich enters car after attending his corruptiretrial Dirksen Federal Building Chicago Thursday. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Rod Blagojevich enters a car after attending his corruption retrial at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago Thursday. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 29, 2011 12:28AM

“Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?”

So began the cross-examination of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich by federal prosecutors, who had been waiting to get a crack at Illinois’ former governor for the 2½ years since he was arrested.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, hands clasped behind his back, inched toward a stern-faced Blagojevich. “Is it fair to say, within hours of being convicted you went and lied again?” he asked.

That launched an intense, chaotic scene in a federal courtroom Thursday during the retrial of Blagojevich on corruption charges.

Blagojevich worked to wriggle away from the prosecution’s reach, often talking over Schar and demanding more detailed questions, full transcripts of the recorded phone calls at the center of the government’s case and unedited video.

“I object to that!” Blagojevich — a onetime practicing lawyer — said from the witness stand in response to a question. In response to another: “Asked and answered,” Blagojevich said over the courtroom din.

Schar kept at it, demanding a yes or no answer. The judge repeatedly tried to steer Blagojevich back on track so he would answer the questions.

At times, three of Blagojevich’s lawyers all objected at the same time to Schar’s questions.

Their own client ignored them and answered anyway.

“Judge, can we have a ruling?” one of Blagojevich’s lawyers complained when objections were no longer acknowledged.

Judge James Zagel said Blagojevich was essentially acting as “his own lawyer” by plowing through their objections.

After another question, Zagel told a defense lawyer he was too late, wondering: “Are you objecting to his answer?”

Zagel later referred to the situation as “the relatively painful nature of what’s happening in this courtroom.”

In just an hour, Schar worked to quickly undo Blagojevich’s extensive direct testimony by trying to expose the man the jury got to know over the last few days as someone who baldly lied to the public.

Jurors who had been taking studious notes earlier in the day now had their eyes glued on Schar, pens down.

Schar’s initial questions Thursday covered a news conference Blagojevich gave immediately after his first trial when another jury convicted him of lying to the FBI — the only guilty verdict in the 24 counts he had faced. Schar said Blagojevich left the courtroom, marched down to the building’s lobby, then claimed that the FBI had refused to allow a court reporter in his meeting with agents.

“I simply said that I did not lie to the FBI,” Blagojevich answered from the stand. “That I answered every question honestly as I knew them, and I was not allowed a court reporter as I was told by my lawyers.”

Schar asked Blagojevich why he didn’t tell the public that the FBI had actually offered to record the entire thing.

“You were the one who refused” the recording at the time of the FBI interview, Schar told him, jabbing his fingers toward Blagojevich and moving closer to him while the jury stared.

After 10 minutes of arguing, a resolute and stubborn Blagojevich answered: “I don’t remember that.”

Schar needled Blagojevich for not remembering, pointing out that for five days on direct examination he gave hyper-detailed explanations about time, places and dates of certain phone calls or exchanges when they benefitted him.

Schar moved around the courtroom as quickly as he jumped from topic to topic, often mixing up the chronology of events, trying to knock Blagojevich off balance. Through the intense rapid-fire questions, Schar’s voice alternately grew louder, higher and at times unquestionably sarcastic.

Schar asked Blagojevich if he ever revealed to the public that he was trying to get something for himself in exchange for the Senate seat.

“Ever tell the public you had your staff doing research on ambassadorships?”

“No,” Blagojevich said.

Schar pointed to further inconsistencies. In his book, Blagojevich said he was ready on the morning before his arrest to name Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat; he even said he had directed his chief of staff to start doing the deal. But that directive was nowhere to be found in the recording of a call with Chief of Staff John Harris.

After court, Schar was asked how long cross-examination could take. He said initially he thought it would take a little more than one day, but now, he’s not so sure.

“If it continues the way it’s continued,” Schar said, “the leaves will start turning.”

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