Updated at 5:50 p.m.
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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s fourth day of testimony focused mainly on line-by-line explanations of some of the secretly recorded phone calls that the government previously played for the jury.
This included Blagojevich’s attempt to explain perhaps his most infamous line captured on the wiretaps. Referring to his power to appoint a senator, Blagojevich was heard saying, “I’ve got this thing and it’s [F-ing] golden. And I’m just not giving it up for [F-ing] nothing.”
On the stand Wednesday, Blagojevich’s attorney asked him what he meant by that.
“I was saying this opportunity’s f-ing golden,” Blagojevich said, with apparent hesitation. “I was trying to figure out what if anything could be part of a deal for the senate seat…But I knew this was a unique opportunity.”
Blagojevich noted that statement had been “heard 'round the world.”
A whole lot of apologizing
Several times during the day, as he has in previous days, Blagojevich apologized to the jury for the foul language he was caught using on the wiretaps.
“It really looks bad and sounds bad when you hear it and see it,” he said.
The former governor had some explaining to do about one curse-filled rant in particular. He was heard going off about how ungrateful the people of Illinois were, a reaction to a public opinion poll that found he had an approval rating of just 13 percent.
“This is a classic case of unrequited love,” he said. Asked by his attorney if he was frustrated at the time, Blagojevich replied, “More than frustrated. I was afraid.”
Another apology popped from the stand when Blagojevich talked about how he ordered members of his staff, John Harris and Bob Greenlee, to do research into possible foundations he could eventually work for. The former governor apologized “to the taxpayers” for asking his staff to do that work on state time.
The apologies weren’t over. Caught on tape brainstorming possible jobs that President Obama could appoint him to, Blagojevich pretended to be the U.N. ambassador. “You Russian mother[F-ers],” he is heard saying with a laugh.
“Now I owe the Russians an apology,” Blagojevich said Wednesday.
Wrap it up
Judge James Zagel Wednesday complained that Blagojevich’s answers were going on for too long, and some of the testimony was becoming “redundant.”
Before breaking for lunch, he asked Goldstein to work with his client on shortening his answers. He said he hopes they can wrap up direct examination by the end of Wednesday, and said he may allow them another hour on Thursday morning.
But at the end of the day, Goldstein said he believed he would need all of Thursday. With the jury gone for the day, a clearly annoyed Zagel accused Goldstein of wasting time.
“I am not uncertain about my conclusion that you’re running the clock here," Zagel said. "And I think it’s an inappropriate tactic.”
The judge said he would consider the unusual step of allowing the prosecution to begin its cross-examination of Blagojevich before the defense finishes its questions. He acknowledged it can be "awkward," but added, "I've done it before."
An early blow
Before the jury filed in Wednesday morning, Zagel ruled out of order an entire slate of questions the defense planned to ask Rod Blagojevich.
During a run-through of sorts, known as an “offer of proof,” Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein asked Blagojevich if he “honestly believed that the idea of exchanging the Senate seat for" a cabinet position, an ambassadorship or a leadership post at a non-profit was “legal.”
In answer to each question, the ex-Illinois governor replied, “Yes, I did.”
Goldstein then asked Blagojevich to explain the three reasons why he believed that:
- Conversations with advisers: Blagojevich said he engaged in a "brainstorming" process with his aides in hopes that good ideas would survive, and “that I would land in a legal place.”
- Experience in government and the way things work: The former governor said he routinely grew frustrated with political horse-trading while he was in office, but “these are the sorts of things that are expected.”
- Readings of history books: Blagojevich said that President Gerald Ford offered then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan a number of cabinet positions in the run-up to the 1976 election, in hopes of avoiding a primary showdown.
Prosecutors objected to this entire line of questioning, and Zagel ultimately said that it just does not matter whether Blagojevich thought what he was doing was legal. He’s also previously ruled that Blagojevich cannot use the “advice of counsel” defense to the corruption charges.
Further, Zagel said he was puzzled by why Blagojevich wanted to claim, on the stand, that he believed an “exchange” using the Senate seat was legal. Zagel said that would be at-odds with Blagojevich’s statements in secretly recorded phone calls and his testimony on the stand, when he’s claimed he did not believe he was engaging in any “one for the other” exchanges.
Jury files in
Early in the day, Blagojevich repeatedly made the point to the jury that he relied heavily on advisors.
“A lot of brainstorming” took place, Blagojevich testified. “I invited and encouraged a lot of creative thinking” because “the best way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and then throw them out.”
The former governor said he talked to his chief lawyer, Bill Quinlan, “constantly and continuously,” on average three times a day including weekends.
Goldstein showed pictures of Blagojevich’s home “study,” where the defendant said he spent a lot of time on the phone with his staff.
“Rod, have you read all those books?” asked Goldstein.
“I’m under oath, right? No,” the governor said, adding that he’s read a lot of them.
Blagojevich was asked about a phone conversation, secretly taped by the FBI, that he had with his chief of staff John Harris, about the Senate appointment, which the ex-governor is accused of trying to trade for political or personal gain. In that call, Blagojevich said the Senate appointment would be made with an eye toward “good stuff for the people of Illinois, and good stuff for me.”
Blagojevich pointed out in testimony that "the people" came first in that calculation. He said all other ideas were measured against that, and that is why so many of them “went by the wayside.”
It eventually became clear, Blagojevich said, that the best option would be to appoint Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate in exchange for some expected legislative deal with her father, House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Blagojevich also testified that if he didn’t appoint Lisa Madigan to the Senate, he’d face backlash from the speaker. That could include, he said, worse “gridlock” in Springfield, impeachment and other threats from people described as the “Madigoons.”
“We never quite were allowed to finish” the Madigan deal, Blagojevich said, referring to his arrest on December 9, 2008.
At one point in his testimony, Blagojevich referred to “stars” in the transcript of a secretly recorded phone call. Zagel quickly sent the jury out of the room. Prosecutors noted that the jury has already been told that asterisks in the transcripts are a result of court-ordered redactions, and legal rules that don’t allow for the recording of irrelevant conversations.
Zagel, likewise, was not pleased
“What [Blagojevich] is doing is attempting to suggest by the back door that the government has deliberately eliminated favorable evidence,” Zagel said.
“This is not fair,” Zagel told the lawyers. “This is a repeated example of a defendant who wants to say certain things smuggling them in.”
Going further, Zagel accused the defense – both the lawyers and Blagojevich – of “perverting the orderly process of the trial.” He ordered Blagojevich to never again mention the asterisks.
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