First witnesses in Blagojevich re-trial: FBI agent, gov's top aide

May 3, 2011

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The first witnesses took the stand Tuesday in the retrial of ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. And Judge James Zagel wasted no time in chiding the defense for asking questions he says are inappropriate.

Like in the first trial, FBI agent Daniel Cain was the prosecution's leadoff witness. Cain testified about the long-running investigation into key members of the Blagojevich administration, and about all the wiretaps used in that investigation.

On cross examination, Blagojevich's lawyers tried to raise doubt by asking why some phone conversations are in evidence and others are not. The judge shut this down, and explained to the jury the legal reasons for excluding conversations - such as, if they were about personal things.

Also Tuesday, John Harris began his testimony. Harris was Blagojevich's chief of staff, and was actually arrested on the same day in December 2008 as the governor. He's testifying for the prosecution in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Unlike during the first trial, prosecutors wasted no time introducing the jury to their library of secretly taped phone calls. The first day of testimony featured Harris and Blagojevich on repeated calls coming up with new jobs the governor could land: non-profit leader, ambassador, cabinet secretary. His leverage: the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by then-President elect Barack Obama.

"I'd like to get the (expletive) out of here," Blagojevich is heard saying. "The objective is to get a good gig over there."

The defense has said the tapes show Blagojevich was all talk, and scatterbrained.

Blagojevich faces twenty federal corruption charges in this trial. For everyone but the jurors, this is basically a re-run from last summer with the same plot, but some slight changes to the script. Prosecutors are expected to present a more streamlined case, after the jury in the first trial hung on all but one count against Blagojevich.

Regardless of what happens, Blagojevich faces up to 5 years in prison for the single conviction. Like he did during the first trial, the ex-governor took notes Tuesday during the testimony on a yellow legal pad, and occasionally looked up and laughed when the tapes were played.