Blago trial day 2: Friend's 'meddling' caused bill delay

May 27, 2011

The Associated Press

Former IL Governor Rod Blagojevich (AP)

Updated: 11:30 am on 5/27/11

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich talked about his late friend Chris Kelly during his second day of testimony at his corruption retrial.

Blagojevich brought up Kelly on Thursday when he denied trying to shake down a racetrack executive by withholding his signature on a bill that would have benefitted the industry.

Kelly committed suicide in 2009, days before he was to report to prison to begin a term on tax and mail fraud convictions.

Blagojevich says Kelly seemed to be "meddling" behind his back in 2008 to manipulate the racetrack bill in an effort to get a pardon from then-President George W. Bush.

Blagojevich says he withheld his signature because he feared being linked to the alleged bid for a pardon - not to shake down the executive.

Blagojevich also discussed some of the comments he made that were captured on FBI wiretaps as the impeached Illinois governor continues testifying at his retrial. He didn't immediately address his best-known, profanity laden comments.

But his attorney did ask about a conversation in which confident Lon Monk talks about a meeting with a race-track owner about a campaign contribution. They appear to talk about squeezing the executive for a donation.

But Blagojevich told jurors there was nothing untoward about approaching the executive, John Johnston. He says they were just following through on an earlier pledge from Johnston to denote money. Blagojevich added that his fundraiser followed the law and wanted everything above board so "the whole world can see what we are doing."

The presiding judge has said there will only be a half day of testimony on Friday before he lets jurors head home for the Memorial Day holiday. Blagojevich's testimony is likely to spill into next week.

As he stepped onto the witness stand Friday, he still hadn't addressed many of the allegations against him, including the charge that he attempted to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama vacated after winning the 2008 election.

An often animated and emotional Blagojevich spent much of his time on the stand Thursday reciting his life story to jurors. Prosecutors will get their chance to ask Blagojevich questions after his own lawyers finish.