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D-Day for Rod Blagojevich could spell doom

Updated: June 26, 2011 12:28AM


According to the source on the phone, a star-studded list of witnesses will testify today in the Rod Blagojevich trial.

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

Mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

And the man himself, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Today is D-Day for Blago.

The “D” can be read a number of ways.

It can stand for “Defense,” because Blagojevich and his lawyers are now up to bat. The prosecution rested last week. The defense, in the last trial, didn’t call witnesses.

The “D” also could stand for “Doomsday,” depending on whether you think it’s a good idea for Blago himself to take the witness stand, which he didn’t do in the previous trial — though he swore he would.

The very idea of Blagojevich on the stand is, according to former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins, “Either a Hail Mary pass or a kamikaze mission.”

Collins is the guy who put another of our governors, George Ryan, behind bars. Ryan didn’t take the stand in his own corruption trial.

“This would be a prosecutor’s dream,” Collins said by phone Tuesday, “because they have the tapes as truth serum.”

Then again, Rod Blagojevich is the only person in U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel’s courtroom who can offer a firsthand explanation of what he meant when he said on a federal wiretap, “I have this thing and it’s f - - - ing golden.”

“This thing” refers, of course, to Blagojevich’s ability to appoint a successor to fill President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. It was a job that Jesse Jackson Jr. wanted with all his heart, though he fiercely denies ever authorizing intermediaries to promise $1 million or more in campaign donations to Blagojevich in exchange for it.

Is putting Jackson on the witness stand a good idea from a defense point of view? If Jackson testifies that he didn’t know of any pay-to-play scheme nor did he authorize one, that could be good for the defense. But it’s certainly no guarantee of a slam-dunk if the jury finds Jackson’s fund-raisers, who made the pay-to-pay claims, more credible.

And what about Rahm Emanuel?

As White House chief of staff, he was facilitating the appointment of one of President Obama’s preferred candidates for U.S. Senate with Blagojevich.

Though Emanuel practically wrote the book on hardball campaign fund-raising, he has said it was made clear to Blagojevich that the most the then-governor would get in return for his help was “thanks” and “appreciation” from the president.

The big question mark in Emanuel’s testimony will be whether the defense is allowed to play tapes that haven’t been heard before.

But the riskiest strategy of all is putting Blagojevich on the stand. Without him, the jury must rely on a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

But with him? His credibility overwhelms absolutely everything else. Is he lying? Or telling the truth?

Does Rod Blagojevich, however well-prepared, have the discipline to stick to a script?

“Everyone knows he likes to go off the reservation when he talks,” observed WMAQ-Channel 5’s Phil Rogers, who has covered both trials.

And what exactly will Blagojevich say about himself? That he, an attorney, former prosecutor, former congressman and twice-elected governor, is just a guy with goofy ideas and an out-of-control mouth?

There is only one thing we know for sure:

That the prosecution cannot wait for court to reconvene.

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