Blagojevich: Alleged $1.5M Senate deal ‘illegal,’ not sure it was ‘bribe’
BY DAVE MCKINNEY, NATASHA KORECKI AND LARK TURNER Chicago Sun-Times June 7, 2011 2:40PM
Rod Blagojevich enters a car after attending his corruption retrial at the Dirksen Federal Building Thursday, June 2, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: August 3, 2011 4:41PM
Rod Blagojevich ended seven punishing days on the witness stand Tuesday, seeing his startling handshake attempt with his chief interrogator rebuffed in open court and learning his federal corruption trial could go to jurors by Thursday.
His dramatic legal gambit now finished, Blagojevich repeatedly attempted to inject humor into his answers or “explain what I meant,” only to be cut off by a stone-faced prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar.
In one of the day’s potentially biggest gains for the prosecution, Blagojevich admitted that a promised $1.5 million donation offered by supporters of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) to name him to the Senate was “absolutely illegal.”
Unable to get Blagojevich to describe the offer as a “bribe,” Schar pushed the impeached ex-governor into acknowledging he had ordered his top fund-raiser to keep that financial possibility alive — despite knowing that a Jackson appointment had been irreparably tainted by the offer from Jackson emissary Raghu Nayak and others in Chicago’s Indian-American community.
After relentlessly grilling the former governor, prosecutors ended the day in the uneasy position of not knowing what impact an unscripted handshake attempt by Blagojevich might have on a case that took years to build and two tries to present.
At the end of his testimony, Blagojevich stepped down from the witness stand, walked over to Schar, handed him a transcript binder and, directly in front of jurors, tried to shake the prosecutor’s hand.
Setting those documents aside, Schar turned away, prompting Blagojevich to tap him on the shoulder, but that gesture also was ignored.
The exchange prompted Judge James Zagel to instruct the jury that lawyers are not permitted to interact with witnesses, an admonition designed to mitigate what appeared in the courtroom to be a case of cold, prosecutorial detachment.
Defense lawyers intend to present two more witnesses, with a rebuttal from prosecutors, before closing arguments take place. Zagel said the five-week trial could go to jurors as early as Thursday with deliberations possibly continuing into Friday.
After reneging on his promise to testify in his first trial, Blagojevich spent his time on direct examination trying to woo jurors with stump speeches detailing his many challenges, including a working-class upbringing, wayward advisers, backstabbing friends and battles with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).
Testimony peppered with apologies and anecdotes seemed to be meant to communicate one thing, that Blagojevich tried to be a good governor with a strict adherence to the law.
“You supported the Constitution and protected the Constitution when you were governor, isn’t that right, Rod?” Blagojevich’s lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, asked his client Tuesday.
Absent the flourish that made him one of Illinois’ more verbose governors, Blagojevich answered in one word: “Yes.”