suntimes
GRACIOUS
Weather Updates

Jesse Jackson Jr. testifies of alleged extortion in Blagojevich retrial

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich as he arrives Federal Building for his ongoing corruptitrial. Wednesday May 25 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich as he arrives at the Federal Building for his ongoing corruption trial. Wednesday, May 25, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

storyidforme: 12729121
tmspicid: 4279820
fileheaderid: 2204294
Blago Blog: Minute-by-minute courtroom updates
Lawyers talking tapes to play -- if Blagojevich takes stand
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: October 16, 2011 12:16AM



Rod Blagojevich has called U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. “repugnant,” a liar, and a “really bad guy.”

Then he called him to the witness stand.

It was a gamble for the former governor to ask his onetime nemesis to testify Wednesday as the first defense witness in his retrial, one that ultimately didn’t seem to pay off.

As he took the stand on an electrified day that also saw the testimony of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Jackson’s remarks initially appeared helpful.

In contrast to what a government witness’ testimony suggested, Jackson said he in no way knew about or authorized anyone to offer Blagojevich money in exchange for the Senate seat.

Jackson’s testimony then devolved as he leveled an allegation against the ex-governor, mocked Blagojevich, and appeared as if he were enjoying it.

Jackson alleged Blagojevich did not appoint his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson, to an Illinois Lottery post because Jackson refused to ante up a $25,000 campaign contribution.

Jackson testified that in 2003, former Congressman Bill Lipinski approached Jackson and asked him to donate that amount to Blagojevich’s gubernatorial campaign.

“No chance,” Jackson said.

Six months later, Jackson described seeing Blagojevich again — after the then-governor appointed someone else to the Illinois Lottery.

“I walked in the room and there was a chill in the air. I could see in his face, he wasn’t going to be able to do anything for Sandi,” Jackson said. “The governor came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry the thing with Sandi didn’t work out.’

Then Jackson dropped the kicker:

“In classic Elvis Presley fashion, he snapped his fingers and said, ‘You should have given me that $25,000,’ “Jackson said.

Jackson later put on his best “thank you very much” Elvis rendition, repeatedly snapping his fingers and looking toward Blagojevich. The courtroom gallery and jurors laughed.

Blagojevich’s lawyer said he was not a big fan of Elvis but Jackson snapped: “your boss is,” winning some groans from the gallery.

Blagojevich sat mouth agape at some points of the testimony. He shifted in his chair, flushed, shook his head and smiled, he would later say, in disappointment.

“With regard to that other thing about Elvis, all I can tell you is that it’s absurd, it’s not true, it didn’t happen,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich is expected to take the witness stand today, his lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, said.

The defense knew about the allegation. The Sun-Times previously reported that Jackson told authorities about it in 2009, but his lawyers hoped to keep it from coming up in court.

The testimony now leaves the defense in the position of having to tell jurors to believe some of what Jackson said, but to disregard the rest.

But it also raises questions for the prosecution, which did not explore with Jackson an Oct. 28, 2008, meeting it previously brought up. Their witness, Rajinder Bedi, who testified under immunity, said he sat at that meeting with Jackson and another contributor where campaign fund-raising and Jackson’s Senate seat were discussed. The sale of the Senate seat, potentially to Jackson, is central to the prosecution’s case.

“Looking at it narrowly from the Blagojevich camp’s perspective, Jackson helped Blagojevich for the allegations in the indictment. The part that was hurtful was not in the indictment,” said former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins. “However, it’s dangerous to parse testimony and ask the jury to believe some of your witness’ testimony and disregard other parts. That’s a difficult line to walk with the jury and one that will likely be exploited by the government if he takes the stand.”

Sorosky asked an apparently hassled and perhaps amused Emanuel if his job title, “Mayor of Chicago,” was recent. “Unless your subscription to the newspapers ended recently, yes,” Emanuel said to laughter.

His brief testimony — Emanuel was on the stand for less than five minutes — was favorable to the defense.

He said no one ever asked him to hold a fund-raiser in exchange for Blagojevich awarding grant funds to a school in his district, nor was he asked to help set up a charitable organization for Blagojevich in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat. Emanuel readily admitted advocating for Jarrett, now an adviser to President Barack Obama, for the seat in November 2008.

Lawyers spent the second half of the day hashing out what tapes they may play in open court to help their defense. They’ll continue that process today. But Judge James Zagel said unless Blagojevich takes the stand, they couldn’t introduce most of them.

“What the jury will have is the real person sitting in the witness chair,” he said. “Someone who is perfectly capable of speaking for himself.”



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.