Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

June 2010 Archives


Judge James Zagel is no doubt running a tight ship.

But Rod Blagojevich's defense lawyers continue to complain he's not letting them properly question witnesses.

They push back Wednesday by filing three motions for a mistrial.

One: because of remarks Zagel made in front of the jury:
"During an objection made by defense counsel, the judge stated: 'If your goal was to stop
his answer, you are succeeding.' The judge did not rule on the objection and permitted
the witness to continue answering."

Two: because they say Zagel let a witness inappropriately testify to his opinion about what someone else meant. (Although this filing appears to be missing the actual request for the mistrial at its end.)

"This court permitted witness Doug Scofield to testify to his opinion as to what Bill Knapp meant after he had a conversation in which Defendant Rod Blagojevich told him what Bill Knapp said in a conversation in which Doug Scofield was not present."

Three: "The Court repeatedly sustained the Government's nearly continuous objections to the defense's cross-examination of Douglas Scofield to the extent that the defendant Rod
Blagojevich was not permitted to develop evidence which would have affected the
credibility of Douglas Scofield and denied to the defendant his Sixth Amendment
Confrontation guarantee. The Court commented in front of the jury stopping Attorney Aaron Goldstein by saying, "ask something appropriate."

Blagojevich on secret tapes: Here are the tapes

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Funny moment in the trial when Judge James Zagel is trying to guide defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein on how to ask a question.

Zagel tells Goldstein to ask: "Did you expect to accomplish anything?"

Goldstein pauses: "I must confess: could you repeat the question?"

The courtroom gallery laughs.

"Thhhhhaaaat one," Goldstein says to the witness, Doug Scofield.

We are entering a slow zone in the trial, where Goldstein is time again making a point to show where Scofield appears to be agreeing with Rod Blagojevich's ideas -- and openly encourages them on various recordings.

A couple of people in the gallery are actually asleep.

Goldstein appears to be scoring some points, flagging various conversations where Scofield has to admit he's either lying to Blagojevich or placating him.

In 2008, Scofield talked to Blagojevich about 20 times.

They were "more memorable than you can probably imagine," Scofield said.

Goldstein: "Is it fair to say you took action to help out Rod Blagjoevich?"

"I think that's fair to say," Scofield said.

"Mr. Scofield, you didn't do anything wrong, did you?" Goldstein asked.

Zagel cuts him off: "I think I've said before we're not in the interest of legal opinions of witnesses."

On Dec.9, 2008, FBI came to Scofield's home at 6:25 a.m. Scofield answered their questions and cooperated.

"I'm not sure it's a visit anyone would like to have," Scofield said.

Goldstein: "Mr. Scofield, have you ever been charged with any crime in connection with this?"

"No sir, I haven't."

Scofield: I lied to placate Blagojevich

| 5 Comments | No TrackBacks


Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Lobbyist and consultant Doug Scofield admits under defense questioning that he's either lying or placating Rod Blagojevich as he goes over various transcripts of conversations.

"I think there were several instances where I was just placating," said Scofield, a government witness. "If I placated him it wouldn't make it any likelier he'd be a cabinet member."

Defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein repeatedly asked Scofield if he was lying at various portions of transcripts where he appears to be encouraging Blagojevich's desires for a cabinet position.

Scofield at one point in a call with Blagojevich said Valerie Jarrett was not an obvious, top pick for Senate by the union Scofield represented.

"She would not be the type of person to be at the top of the list for a Senate seat," Scofield admits he said of Jarrett at the same time his union client sought her appointment.

In that call, Scofield is heard saying that he's just agreeing with Blagojevich's musings in the call -- even when Scofield says on a recording that in exchange for Jarrett's appointment: "they could step up, step up to the plate."

Goldstein: "This is a little more than agreement, would you agree? ...'But they could step up, step up to the plate?' That's just agreement?"

Scofield is cut off from answering.

Scofield then admits he planted a false item in Michael Sneed's Sun-Times column on Blagojevich's behalf.

The item falsely suggested Jesse Jackson Jr. was a possible Senate pick.

Blagojevich defense takes on "F------ Golden tape."

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks


Defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein takes on the infamous "f------ golden," tape with government witness Doug Scofield, who was on the other end of that call.

Goldstein points out that time and again in the call, Scofield says "yeah" or "right" in response to Rod Blagojevich's talk about what he could get in exchange for the Senate seat appointment.

Goldstein is asking Scofield to explain what Blagojevich means when he says:
"I mean, I've got this thing and it's f----- golden."

Scofield: "This thing was his ability to appoint a senator and by golden he meant it was very valuable.

Goldstein notes Scofield didn't cut off the then-Governor.

Instead, Scofield responds: "right."

Goldstein is trying to get across the message that Scofield continued to talk to Blagojevich about the Senate seat -- on this Nov. 5, 2008 call -- and in other calls.

Goldstein asked if Scofield over the numerous conversations was encouraging Blagojevich's efforts to get something in exchange for the Senate seat.

"He may have certainly taken it as encouragement, I certainly didn't mean it as encouragement," Scofield said.

Scofield said while it appeared he was agreeing with Blagojevich's efforts on the recordings, he didn't mean what he was saying.

Goldstein asks: "You were there ... I guess what you're saying is that you're lying to the governor?"

Scofield: "I was telling him what I thought he wanted to hear."

Goldstein: "Is your testimony that you were placating the governor?"

Scofield agrees.

Goldstein then asks: "So it's your understanding that Rod Blagojevich was trying to trade this job for a job and you said: 'yeah?'"

He's not allowed to answer.

"Were you concerned at all during this time, that you were agreeing with him about this issue?" Goldstein asks.

Scofield is blocked from answering.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Doug Scofield testified that Services Employees International Union paid him as a consultant in 2008 -- $5,000 a month.

Scofield set up the Nov. 3, 2008 meeting with union leader Tom Balanoff and Rod Blagojevich, where the appointment of Valerie Jarrett was discussed.

Scofield reveals under questioning that J.B. Pritzker told Blagojevich that Lisa Madigan was interested in the Senate seat.

"It is accurate to say that's what he told me," Scofield said.

Scofield then recalled the meeting: "I remember Mr. Blagojevich bringing up proactively, this is what I want, to be in the cabinet. If I'm going to be in the cabinet, HHS (Health and Human Services) was the one he was interested in."

Goldstein: "After he said that, what did (governor's counsel Bill) Quinlan say?"

" I don't recall what Bill Quinlan said," Scofield said. He couldn't remember anyone else saying anything.

"Is it fair to say that based on (your recollection) ... there were no objections presented by these lawyers?"

Judge James Zagel doesn't allow Scofield to answer, saying he doesn't see the relevance.

"Did you in any way express that this was wrong?" Goldstein asks.

Again, Scofield's blocked from answering.

"After this meeting, did you call the law enforcement authorities?" Goldstein asked. "In fact, there was a law enforcement authority there in Bill Quinlan?"

Now they're in a sidebar conference discussing that question.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Cross examination of Doug Scofield is underway with defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein asking about a phone call where Scofield is heard discussing the Senate seat.

Goldstein points out that it's Scofield who says on a recording: "the only one worth doing because they give something is Valerie (Jarrett)."

"Your words?" Goldstein said.

Scofield agrees.

Goldstein tries to nail down Scofield's previous testimony that he left his post as deputy governor under Blagojevich because of "the lack of reform generally."
Scofield: "I was basing my concerns on my belief of the commitment to the issue ..."

Goldstein notes that the Legislature is needed to pass reforms.

But then as Goldstein tries to bring up some of Blagojevich's reforms in office, he's knocked off balance by prosecution objections.

"Would you spare us the campaign speech until afterwards?" Judge James Zagel tells Goldstein.

Goldstein tries again: "Without saying how good it was, there was health care reform under Rod Blagojevich?"

Objection sustained.

Goldstein, once more: "Are you aware there was ethics reform under Blagojevich?"

Zagel tells Goldstein to ask the questions a different way, without characterizing the acts.

Goldstein tries yet again and Zagel stops him: "I think you're well beyond the scope."

Also asked...

Goldstein: "Did Lon Monk ever tell you he was taking cash?"
Objection is sustained.

Onetime Rod Blagojevich campaign communications chief Doug Scofield just testified that he relayed a message to John Wyma about the U.S. Senate seat.

Scofield said he told Wyma that Blagojevich was making a request of the Obama camp that was "ridiculous even by our standards."

Scofield and Blagojevich didn't know it, but Wyma had been working with FBI agents at that point, who were in charge of the ongoing probe into Blagojevich.

Wyma's cooperation served as the probable cause basis for the feds to set up a series of wiretaps.

And so, on Nov. 13, 2008, this is the person Blagojevich wants to deliver a message to Rahm Emanuel, who had just been named President-Elect Obama's chief of staff.

Scofield said he called Wyma to deliver the message that Blagojevich wanted a foundation set up for him in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.

"I said John, every now and then we get asked to do something that is ridiculous even by our standards," Scofield testified. "But I've been asked to pass this along, so I'm passing this along."

Blagojevich's defense lawyers objected twice to the "ridiculous" remark.
"If the goal of your objection was to stop his answer, you've succeeded," Judge James Zagel said.

Scofield went on about the conversation: "I said, Rod is really around the bend on this Senate stuff, so here's what he said to me and I'll pass it on to you," Scofield testified.

Prosecutor Reid Schar asked: "Did Mr. Wyma express any concerns about the message?"

"He seemed slightly confused about it," Scofield said. "He wanted to clarify that it was related to the Senate seat ... which I had said within the first five seconds of picking up the phone."

"We (Scofield and Wyma) talked about this idea of funders (for the foundation Blagojevich wanted), which we both found a little implausible," Scofield testified.

Scofield then said he was under the impression that Wyma would not pass it along to Emanuel. He didn't hear from Wyma again.

When Scofield talked to Blagojevich again though, he said he lied and said Wyma would do it -- because that was an easier message to convey to the ex-governor.


This afternoon, prosecutors have played another tape where Rod Blagojevich relays his interest in the 501 (c) (4) set up in exchange for the Valerie Jarrett appointment.

This time, Blagojevich says he wants a message delivered to Rahm Emanuel -- Barack Obama's newly-minted chief of staff.

"He'd like Rahm to have funding for a 501 (c) (4) in his head as soon as possible," prosecution witness Doug Scofield, testified about the recording. "My strategic goal would be for Rahm to have this in his head sooner rather than later, like today or tomorrow."

Blagojevich says in the recording that $15 million shouldn't be difficult for the Warren Buffett types.

Scofield on tape: "We're not talking about this in connection with ... with anything else?"
Blagojevich: "It's unsaid. See what I'm saying? It's unsaid. You know what I'm saying?"

"I understood him to say it connected. It's rather obvious it's connected, that's all we've been talking about. ... but I don't want that communicated to Rahm Emanuel," Scofield testified from the stand.

"Should I just have Wyma do it?" Blagojevich says on the recording.

He wants his longtime friend and lobbyist John Wyma to deliver a message to Emanuel about the foundation. Wyma at that point had been cooperating with authorities for weeks. He had been asked to wear a wire but refused.

Prosecutors play another tape where Blagojevich is asking top aide John Harris that Wyma be tapped to bring a message to the Obama camp.

"Can you call Wyma? Have him call Rahm, I want a 501 (c)(4)," Blagojevich is heard saying.

Harris says Scofield should do it.

"So the mission for Wyma is essentially to put it in Rahm's head that we need him to help to fund it," Blagojevich is heard saying on the recording.


All the hollering the defense has done with regard to the U.S. Supreme Court taking on the honest services law has fallen flat.

Judge James Zagel today ruled that the high court's recent decision to severely limit the use of the law will have almost no effect on the 24 counts facing Rod Blagojevich.

Blagojevich's lawyers had asked that the entire trial be postponed until the high court ruled on the law, which loosely says that public officials or people in private positions of power can not defraud someone his or her "intangible right to honest services."

Though the Supreme Court last week narrowed the use of the law, it kept it intact with regard to kickbacks and bribes.

Zagel said he doesn't think any of Blagojevich's counts will be tossed as a result of the ruling -- with one exception. The charge involving Tribune Co. and Blagojevich's alleged attempts to get the company to fire its newspaper's editorial board in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

Zagel said he would take up that issue later.


Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Jurors are now hearing a Nov. 11, 2008 tape in which the ex-governor complains about a message that John Wyma sent to him through Rahm Emanuel. The message: that Blagojevich could expect "gratitude and appreciation" for a Valerie Jarrett appointment.

"How about a 501(c)(4) so I can advocate child's health care?," Blago complains on a call to Doug Scofield, adding that he'd like that nonprofit set up "right away."

Blagojevich wonders about appointing billionaire J.B. Pritzker to the seat, in exchange for a chunk of Pritzker money in that 501(c)(4).

"If I can get J.B. to do something like that, is it worth giving him the Senate seat?" Blago asks Scofield, who says such a prospect seems difficult.

"If I get nothing back from Obama, then I'm going another direction," Blagojevich says."You agree with that, don't you?"

"I do," Scofield said.

Also in this call: More Blago musings about the benefits of appointing former deputy governor (and potential seat-holder, in case he's impeached) Louanner Peters.

Judge James Zagel has called a lunch break. We'll be back at 1:30.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Rod Blagojevich and his staff have twice today been heard talking about leaking faulty information to the media -- information they believed would give them more leverage in their alleged negotiations over the Senate seat appointment, Doug Scofield said.

First, Scofield testified that Blagojevich asked him one day about an item that had run in Michael Sneed's Sun-Times column that said Lisa Madigan was a strong candidate for the Senate seat.

That item had been "placed" by Blago's camp, Scofield said.

Later, Scofield mentioned another Blago leak to Michael Sneed -- this time, that Jesse Jackson Jr. was a lead contender.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Blagojevich is heard saying he talked to "the Jacksons" over the weekend and wants Scofield to tell Balanoff that Jesse Jackson Jr. is a prospect again.

"I over-promised on Jesse Jr. ... He's in the mix all of a sudden, OK?" Blagojevich says, giggling.

"Joe Stroud was part of it. I'll tell you when I see you," he says. "I'm not ruling him out."

Later on the tape, Blagojevich is amazed Obama's camp won't play ball with him:]. "The arrogance of these f------ people," he says.

Blago is also heard asking about a corporate board placement for his wife, Patti. He mentions that Michelle Obama sat on several such boards.

"Why can't we get Patti on a couple of those?" he asks.

In the courtroom, prosecutor Reid Schar asks Doug Scofield what he thought of these ideas.

"It seemed absurd to me," Scofield said. "The idea of being on the Cabinet seemed entirely unlikely. The idea of a corporate board seemed entirely unlikely."

"He can be difficult," Scofield said, speaking of his working relationship with the ex-governor. If people angered him, they could be "treated poorly, cut off," he testified.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

On the next tape, Rod Blagojevich is on a conference call with his advisers, and they're telling him to appoint Valerie Jarrett for nothing.

"They all leave town and I'm stuck with gridlock ... impeachment ... and a f------ president who's all talk and no give?" Blagojevich is heard saying. "That's what you're recommending to me, Doug?"

Adviser Doug Sosnik: "Yes."

Blago seems to shrug off advice that getting just "good will" from the president may not be such a bad deal.

By Natasha Korecki

Doug Scofield testifies about talk of the cabinet position being discussed by Tom Balanoff and Valerie Jarrett.

Scofield said he was discussing the prospect with union member Jerry Morrison, who was skeptical.

"The president-elect and the people around the president-elect wanted to get away from Chicago politics," Scofied testified.

That set up a call where Blagojevich is heard equating Chicago politics with Tony Rezko, whose relationship with Obama had been an issue in the presidential campaign.

"She's holding hers with two hands ... sort of clinging to it. Me, I've got the whole thing wrapped around my arms," Blagojevich is heard saying about Jarrett and the Senate seat.

The courtroom grows quiet during this portion of the recording -- a snippet that had been revealed previously in government documents.

The prosecution started the day by playing the rest of the "f-ing golden" conversation between Rod Blagojevich and his onetime deputy governor, Doug Scofield.

It's the day after Election Day 2008, and Blago's jealousy over Obama winning the presidency is ringing through loud and clear on the tape.

"There's nothing I could have done about Obama," Blago is heard saying. Scofield explains from the stand that the governor was saying there was nothing he could have done to prevented Obama's success.

Blagojevich is heard saying he needs to try to take this "bad thing" and make it into something good.

"Look, I'm better off with this guy than McCain," he is heard saying. "With my upward mobility it doesn't look so good ... but it's a funny business."

From the stand, Scofield said he and Blagojevich had had "many conversations like this," and that Blago had "a level of jealousy and anger" regarding Obama's win.

Scofield began describing a conference call held later that day to plan a press conference about the Senate seat appointment. On that call, Blago and his advisers discussed floating health care as a priority in choosing a Senate successor -- that way, Scofield said from the stand, Blago could inevitably point to his own health care record and appoint himself.

Judge James Zagel then called a recess to deal with sound issues in the overflow courtroom. Technicians are working, but the proceedings remain inaudible.

Upstairs, on the 25th floor, the courtroom is packed.

Blagojevich trial: Day 17 and recap

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks


Tuesday recap

In testimony Tuesday, union leader Tom Balanoff said Rod Blagojevich tried shaking him down for a job at a foundation in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate, called Alexi Giannoulias a "mother f-----," and wasn't up on appointing U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky: "If she had any ancestors who came over on slave ships she'd be fine." In a recording, he says of veteran Chicago reporter Carol Marin: "I hate her...I hate her."
Jurors also heard for the first time the infamous "f------ golden," recording, where Blagojevich says of the Senate seat appointment: "I've got this thing and it's f------ golden and I'm not giving it up for f------ nothing."

Other than that, just the usual at the Blagojevich trial.

Good for Blagojevich: Judge James Zagel says if the former governor takes the stand, he can admit a recording where Blagojevich is heard saying he wants to appoint Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in exchange for an expansive legislative package that includes no tax increases and more health care.

Up today:
Doug Scofield, onetime campaign communications chief continues his testimony. The full "f------ golden" recording and transcript should be released by day's end.

Blagojevich on secret tapes: Here are the tapes

| 3 Comments | No TrackBacks

Here are the transcripts and audio recordings played in court today, Tuesday, June 29.

transcript_11_12_2008_1034am.pdf

transcript_11_12_2008_1044am.pdf

transcript_11_12_2008_1047am.pdf

transcript_11_12_2008_1050am.pdf

Obama spokesman asked about Blagojevich trial testimony

| 3 Comments | No TrackBacks


From a White House briefing today with Robert Gibbs.


Q Tom Balanoff is a local labor leader in Chicago and in testimony today at the Blagojevich trial he talks about a phone call that he got from Barack Obama on Monday evening before the Tuesday election, at which he quotes Mr. Obama as saying that he thinks Valerie Jarrett should be a United States senator, that she fits the criteria; "I would prefer that she remain working for President Obama, but she does want to be Senator." And Balanoff said he told the soon-to-be President, "I said, 'Thank you, I'm going to reach out to Governor Blagojevich with that.'" Did the President make that phone call?

MR. GIBBS: You're telling me about this testimony. I'm not going to get into commenting on obviously an ongoing trial. And I have had not had an opportunity to see that.

Q But you've said before that the President did not get involved with the suggestions or the conversations with Blagojevich.

MR. GIBBS: Ann, I'm just not going to get into commenting on an ongoing trial.

Dan.

IMG00013-20100629-1705
Today in court, the defense asked to introduce a new recording in which Blago was heard talking about appointing Attorney General Lisa Madigan to Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.

The government objected, and the tape was played for the judge's consideration with the jury out of the room. Zagel eventually ruled that the tape may not be played until Blagojevich himself takes the stand.

Before leaving the courthouse Tuesday, Rod Blagojevich stopped in the courthouse lobby to speak to the press.

"For the past six days" -- he may have meant 16, which is the number of days the trial has been going -- "the government has played tapes that they've chosen to play, and as I've said all along for the past year and a half, those tapes show that i have not committed any crimes," he said.

"When my lawyers attempted to play a tape that will begin the process of actually exonerating me, the government objected," he said. "But thank goodness, the judge saved me and made it clear that when I testify, which I will -- and I can't wait to testify, to set the record straight and clarify some of these conversations, and tell the people of Illinois exactly what was on my mind and what i was trying to do and what I ultimately attempted to do ... he'll allow those tapes to be played."

He left without taking questions.


Since the day of his Dec. 9, 2008 arrest, the most infamous quote from Rod Blagojevich was what he said about the U.S. Senate seat appointment: "It's f------ golden."

Today, jurors heard Blagojevich speak those words on a Nov.5, morning conversation with Doug Scofield, his onetime campaign communications chief.

"UN Ambassador, I'd take that," Blagojevich is heard saying on the call.

Later:
"I mean, I've got this thing and it's f------ golden and I'm not just giving it up for f------nothing," Blagojevich is heard saying.

Prosecutor Reid Schar asks: "What do you understand him to want?"

"He wants an appointment from the president," Scofield answers.

Witness: Ousted governor wanted U.S. Attorney ousted

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


Onetime Rod Blagojevich campaign communications chief Doug Scofield now testifies about a Nov. 3 meeting in which he and union leaders met with the then-governor.

Scofield says Blagojevich took him aside after the meeting and asked if it were possible for Obama to appoint a new U.S. Attorney.

There is no follow-up in the questioning.

Scofield's goes on to support today's testimony of SEIU leader Tom Balanoff about that same meeting.

Scofield says a number of possible candidates come up for the Senate seat appointment -- from Valerie Jarrett to Jan Schakowsky.

"He was very interested in the HHS," Scofield said of Blagojevich's interest in Health and Human Services cabinet appointment.

"If the President-elect had an interest in Valerie Jarrett or a favored candidate, that might be an opportunity for himself, to get something for himself personally," Scofield said of Blagojevich.

Prosecutor Reid Schar asked Scofield if Blagojevich ever followed up with the cabinet position.

"I told him no, I didn't think that was likely at all," Scofield said. "I told him that was very unlikely."

Tom Balanoff then called Scofield and asked him to set up another meeting with Blagojevich after Obama was elected president.

Witness: Blagojevich was jealous of Obama

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


Doug Scofield said despite leaving Rod Blagojevich because he had a different professional philosophy ... he came back.

In 2005, Scofield again took a role in communications with Blagojevich's campaign. Scofield said he had many discussions with Blagojevich regarding campaign fundraising. But prosecutors seem to gloss over this time period.

Fast forward to Spring of 2008, Scofield talked to Blagojevich about the possibility that Obama would win the presidency.

Blagojevich wasn't happy.

"I think he was frustrated by it. He was a fellow Illinois politician and seemed to be on the verge of national success. It was clear to me there was some jealousy ...as to what Sen. Obama was doing."


Doug Scofield, former chief of staff for Luis Gutierrez, dropped his job in Washington to take on a deputy governor job with Rod Blagojevich.

He said he then left Blagojevich after three months.

"I was uncomfortable with some of the professional aspects for me," Scofield said.

"I was particularly concerned about Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly -- two individuals who were involved in the campaign. I found that once we were elected ... the two were significantly involved. Certainly in suggesting candidates for state jobs."

Scofield said he directed his concerns to then-chief of staff Lon Monk.

"I think I missed the memo where Chris and Tony were in charge of the transition team," he said he told Monk. "Lon said ... we'll get through this ... I think it's a manageable situation."

Scofield said though he wanted to leave, and told Monk he was on his way out.

Monk then called him: "We've found somebody, you're free to go."

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


After a break, Prosecutor Reid Schar asked union leader Tom Balanoff, who said his Service Employees International Union supported Rod Blagojevich, whether he would
still support Blagojevich today.

"Would you have endorsed him if you knew what you knew now?" Schar asked.
Balanoff: "No."

Schar, a bit worked up: "Is it fair to say he isn't what you thought he was?"

Objection sustained.

Defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky crosses Tom Balanoff again. Balanoff says he couldn't think of an issue the union wanted that Blagojevich didn't support.

"So the governor clearly had integrity on supporting the issues of the working people, did he not?" Sorosky asked.

That's sustained.

Sorosky finally asks Balanoff if Blagojevich ever explicitly told him that he wanted a 501 (c) 4 organization in exchange for Jarrett's appointment.

"He never said those exact words," Balanoff said.

Sorosky tries pressing him but doesn't seem to get the answer he was hoping for.

Balanoff: "He said that if he could get $10, $15, $20 million in this 501(c)4, that our Senator Valerie Jarrett could go about her job."

With that, Balanoff's testimony concludes. It was a brisk ending for a major prosecution witness.

Now we are between witnesses where we are listening to a new recording where Rod and Patt Blagojevich discuss the four Senate seat candidates President-Elect Obama had endorsed.


Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Rod Blagojevich defense lawyer Shelly Sorosky seizes on union leader Tom Balanoff's testimony to prosecutors that he planned to say the union wouldn't support Blagojevich with fund-raising if the then-governor didn't appoint Valerie Jarrett.

"I wouldn't support him at all," Balanoff clarified.

"Could that be someone's understanding that you were extorting him," for an appointment? Sorosky asked. Balanoff was cut off from answering.

Sorosky again asks Balanoff if Blagojevich explicitly offered an appointment for something in return.

"I think he comes pretty close," Balanoff testified. "Did he explicitly say it? No."

Sorosky then asks Balanoff whether he ever flagged any issues with Blagojevich's requests for a cabinet position or a 501 (c) 4 foundation.

"You never tell the governor he's doing anything wrong?" Sorosky asks.
Balanoff: "That's correct."
Sorosky: "You tell him you're going to accommodate him?" "No."
Sorosky: "You don't tell him: 'Hey you're stepping out of bounds, you're going too far, or I think that's improper,' do you?"
Balanoff: :"No, I do not."

In cross examination, union leader Tom Balanoff goes over some similar testimony with defense lawyer Shelly Sorosky.

Balanoff reiterates his call from President Obama the night before the 2008 Presidential election.

"Valerie Jarrett then told you she was interested in the Senate seat?" Sorosky asked.

Balanoff agrees.

"You then had certain marching orders?" Sorosky asks.

"I would not call them marching orders," Balanoff said.

"You had a job?" Sorosky asks.

"I wouldn't call it a job." Balanoff stands firm.

"You were so disinclined to help Valerie Jarrett that you called up Gov. Blagojevich to set up a meeting?" Sorosky asks, getting a gentle rebuffing from Judge Zagel asking him not to be sarcastic.

Sorosky presses Balanoff on whether Blagojevich explicitly said he'd appoint Jarrett in exchange for a cabinet appointment.

Balanoff begins to say that's his understanding before Sorosky cuts him off.

"Yes or no," Sorosky says.

"No," Balanoff says.

Witness: I arranged job meeting for Patti Blagojevich

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


Reporting with Sarah Ostman
Union leader Tom Balanoff also testified that Rod Blagojevich friend and onetime campaign aide Doug Scofield asked him to meet with the then-governor's wife about a job in the Spring of 2008.

Patti Blagojevich said she wanted to get away from real estate and was looking for work in the financial sector.

Balanoff asked a friend to meet with her.

"I did tell him: 'I don't want you to hire her, but I do want you to meet with her," Balanoff said.

He explained he didn't push for a job because there was an apparent federal investigation underway of the Blagojevich administration and he didn't want to put his friend in that position.

The rapid-fire testimony for the prosecution has now conclude with Balanoff undergoing cross examination by defense lawyer Shelly Sorosky.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Union leader Tom Balanoff testifies to a couple of other spicy political discussions he had with the then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Balanoff testified that Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a friend to then President-Elect Barack Obama, raised himself as a possibility for Blagojevich to appoint.

In a Nov. 24th meeting, Balanoff raises the point to Blagojevich.

Blagojevich bristled, he testified.

"That mother f-----, I wouldn't do s--- for him. Every chance he got he took a shot at me," Blagojevich said, according to Balanoff.

Giannoulias is now the Democratic nominee running for Senate. He was subpoenaed by the defense to testify in this case.

In the same meeting, Balanoff said he brought up the possibility of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky's appointment to the Senate.

Nope.

Blagojevich: "If she had any ancestors who came over on slave ships she'd be fine."

Union leader Tom Balanoff just testified that on Nov. 12, 2008, after Rod Blagojevich heard Valerie Jarrett might be going to the White House, the ex-governor called him.
Blagojevich said he wanted a 501 (c) 4 foundation set up and in exchange he'd appoint Jarrett to the U.S. Senate.

"That somehow if I could get this foundation set up he would be open to appointing Valerie Jarrett."

Balanoff further explains that Blagojevich wanted to head it up himself: "That when he was no longer governor he could run this 501(c)4," Balanoff says, explaining a taped telephone call.

Blagojevich on the tape tells Balanoff that millionaires George Soros, Warren Buffett "could put $15 million $20 million over night."

"And then we can help our new Senator, Valerie Jarrett go out and push that," Blagojevich said.

How did Balanoff understand the conversation:

"That in fact he was making this proposal and in return Valerie Jarrett would be appointed," he testified.

Balanoff in the call said he would run the proposal "up the flagpole."

"Who was the flag pole?" Prosecutor Reid Schar asked.
Balanoff: "I was," Balanoff said he was just trying to get off the phone. "I never had any intention of taking this anywhere."

Balanoff then said he immediately called Jarrett and left her a message saying: "call me, I have a quick question for you."

Schar: "Did you ever hear back from her?"

Balanoff: "No I did not."

Later CNN reports that Jarrett was indeed going to the White House to be an adviser.

Balanoff then called Alexi Giannoulias.

"I heard from Blagojevich, he said Val is not interested," he said he told Giannoulias.

"If the governor called her in the next hour or so if he offered a job would she take it? And he said no. He thought it was a real shame that Blagojevich did not appoint Jarrett."
Then Giannoulias said this: "In passing he said, maybe he'll appoint me," Balanoff said.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Union leader Tom Balanoff just testified that right after the Presidential election, he met with both Valerie Jarrett and Alexi Giannoulias about Jarrett's possible appointment to the Senate by Rod Blagojevich.

Balanoff said he asked Giannoulias to set up the meeting. The three met at the Aon Center on Nov. 7.

Balanoff said at the meeting he told Valerie Jarrett about his meeting the day before with Blagojevich.

"I said: 'He said some goofy stuff ... he could be Secretary of Health and Human Services.'" Balanoff testified. "I told her I told him that wasn't going to happen. We both laughed."

Balanoff said he planned to tell Blagojevich that if he didn't appoint Jarrett then the governor couldn't expect future help from the union, a major Democratic contributor.

"I was going to use our union's influence to make a good decision," Balanoff said.

Balanoff said he tried meeting with Blagojevich that Saturday to have coffee. Blagojevich told him he'd be out of town.

"I really felt that he blew me off," Balanoff testified.

He then called Jarrett, he said.

"I'm really sorry, I thought you'd be a really good Senator for the state of Illinois," Balanoff said he told Jarrett in the phone call.

In the courtroom, Blagojevich adjusts his watch, purses his lips and shifts considerably in his chair during Balanoff's testimony.

Giannoulias revealed on Sunday the defense subpoenaed him in the case.

Also in his testimony, Balanoff revealed Jarrett knew Obama called him the day before the election about her being named senator.

The morning of the election, Balanoff said he had a discussion on the phone with Jarrett in which he talked about her wanting the Senate seat.
"Didn't Barack call you last night?" Jarrett asked, according to Balanoff. "Well, I am interested." He said she told him.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Top union leader Thomas Balanoff said he was at dinner the night before the November Presidential election when he got a call that was blocked.
So he didn't take it.

Later he listened to his messages: "I walked outside, listened to it and it was from President Obama," Balanoff said.

"Tom, this is Barack, give me a call," the soon-to-be President-Elect said on the message.

After Balanoff sent word through an Obama aide to call him back, Obama returned his call later that night.

"Tom, i want to talk to you with regard to the Senate seat," Obama told him.
Balanoff said Obama said he had two criteria: someone who was good for the citizens of Illinois and could be elected in 2010.
Obama said he wasn't publicly coming out in support of anyone but he believed Valerie Jarrett would fit the bill.
"I would much prefer she (remain in the White House) but she does want to be Senator and she does meet those two criteria," Balanoff said Obama told him. "I said: 'thank you, I'm going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich."

Balanoff then described a Nov. 6, 2008 meeting he had with Rod Blagojevich to recommend Valerie Jarrett for Barack Obama's Senate seat.

Blagojevich responded that he was in "active discussions" with the Madigans about appointing Lisa Madigan and was holding out for a legislative package with the House speaker.

"I said that could be months. He said, 'Yeah'. I said Valerie Jarrett, I don't believe she has that kind of time," Balanoff testified.

Blago then turned the conversation to a cabinet position, Balanoff said.

"He said, 'You know, I love being governor, but my real passion is health care,'" and then he asked about the Health and Human Services cabinet post.

"I told him that's not going to happen," Balanoff said. "He said, "Is that because of all the investigations around me?"

Reporting with Natasha Korecki
SEIU leader Thomas Balanoff, a key witness for the government, has just taken the stand.

Balanoff is expected to testify that Barack Obama called him before the election, giving him the green light to ask Blagojevich to appoint his friend Valerie Jarrett to his U.S. Senate seat.

He's also expected to say that Blagojevich told him he wanted a personal benefit in return for appointing Jarrett.

Early in his testimony, Balanoff says national union leader Andy Stern first raised Valerie Jarrett as a potential Senate successor in September 2008. As early as as October 2008, Stern said he talked to Jarrett and she said she was interested.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Sam Adam asked again to introduce jurors to a new Dec. 4, 2008 tape. The judge sent the jury out of the room and is holding a hearing to determine whether it will be played for the jurors.

On the tape, Blago is heard instructing Harris to call Rahm Emanuel and say the governor is still considering appointing Jesse Jackson Jr. He sounds to be arguing that the threat of a Jackson appointment -- which the Obama administration had opposed -- would help Blago pass a legislative package with House Speaker Mike Madigan.

That is, the new tape implies that the Madigan deal is what Blago really wanted; Jackson was the decoy.

The tape was recorded the day after two top Democratic leaders called Blagojevich, urging him against appointing Jesse Jackson Jr. Blagojevich is heard telling Harris to call Rahm Emanuel and give him the impression that Jackson is still a possibility.

"They don't want him," Blagojevich says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Robert Menendez said of Jackson. "They don't want to say it, but they don't want him, you follow me?"

Blagojevich on the tape says he'll "hold my nose" and appoint Lisa Madigan if he gets a legislative package passed.

Ultimately, Judge James Zagel said the only way the tape will get admitted is if and when Blagojevich takes the stand.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

The courtroom quiets as prosecutor Carrie Hamilton fires off a series of questions in her re-direct, her voice rising.

"Did (Blagojevich) ever say he loved the people of Illinois so much -- that's why he considered Valerie Jarrett?" Hamilton asks.
"No," Harris says.

"When he directed you to tell the Chicago Tribune to fire those f-ing people ... did you believe him to be venting or serious?" she asks.
"Serious," Harris says.

Harris says he never tried personally benefiting from anything during the conspiracy with Blagojevich.

"Sir, was it clear to you that defendant Blagojevich was trying to benefit himself?" Hamilton asks.
"Yes," Harris says.

Blagojevich stares right at the witness, not reacting.

As he nears the end of his cross-examination -- "Just a few more questions," he's said more than once -- Sam Adam has begun to question the credibility and intentions of government witness John Harris.

Adam questioned Harris about his plea deal with prosecutors, under which a sentence that might have been 20 year in prison and a $250,000 fine will be reduced due to his cooperation.

And he called into question the witness' ability to testify about what the ex--governor meant when he is heard speaking on government wiretaps.

"Would you agree that the best person to say what the governor was thinking would be the governor himself?" Adam asked him.

"I can't speak to what he was thinking, necessarily, but what I underand based on my years working for him and the amount of contact we had," Harris said calmly.

Adam has wrapped up his cross-examination and prosecutor Carrie Hamilton is re-directing.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki
Despite allegations that Blagojevich elevated Jesse Jackson Jr. as a Senate candidate because of a promise to give him $1.5 million in campaign cash, John Harris just testified that money never came up in their Dec. 8, 2008 meeting.

That meeting, one day before the ex-governor was arrested, happened in the State of Illinois building.

"Did Congressman Jackson say anything about money?" Sam Adam asked.
"No," Harris said.

Prosecutors will raise the point that by that date, Blagojevich was on notice that secret government recordings were a possibility.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

For the first time, jurors see the judge blocking the defense from playing a recording. The prosecution objected and the judge sustained, saying the question had been asked and answered.

Later, Adam questioned Harris on a fund-raising idea regarding billionaire Warren Buffett. Adam's questions focused on what Blago told Harris he wanted to do with his money.

"I don't want his testimony coming in through this witness," Zagel ruled following an

objection. "The rule says it's hearsay and it's been the rule for a few hundred years."

Blagojevich laughed, as did his defense lawyers.

So far today, Patti Blagojevich has not been in the courtroom.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Government witness John Harris, Blagojevich's former chief of staff, is back on the witness stand being cross-examined by Sam Adam Sr.

Adam is questioning Harris on Blagojevich's much-discussed efforts to strike up a deal with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Under that plan, Blago would appoint Madigan's daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, to a U.S. Senate seat in exchange for the speaker's cooperation on a statewide health care bill and a promise to not raise taxes.

These discussions with Madigan did occur, Harris said -- but they were a sham, designed to "demonstrate good will and effort" so that when Madigan did not cooperate, Blago could appoint himself to the Senate seat.

That way, Harris said, Blago could say "the reason for him to appoint himself was his inability to get Madigan's cooperation.

Witnesses were brought into those talks, Harris said, to give them more credibility.

Already this morning, the prosecution is objecting. Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton looks exasperated as she objects, squinting and shaking her head as she's standing up.

Blagojevich trial: Day 16 and recap

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks



In one of the more bizarre recordings played at trial, Rod Blagojevich is heard pumping iron and breathlessly discusses Senate seat appointment possibilities, including that of Oprah Winfrey.

Blagojevich rips on his own former press secretary, calling her "f-----' incompetent," suggests appointing someone from out of state, or pretty much any African American with a reputable background.

The recordings played Monday seemed to rattle a couple of jurors, who either shook their heads or smiled down at transcripts. Blagojevich is heard saying Jesse Jackson Jr. would help his chances with black voters because he's "uber African American." He also tells top aide John Harris he should pick a "black Albert Einstein."

Good for Blagojevich: John Harris undergoes cross examination by Sam Adam Sr. on his fifth day on the stand. Adam falters a bit, referring to labor leader Tom Balanoff as Ted and botching the names of Roland Burris and Gery Chico. Still, Adam had Harris admit he and other aides advised Blagojevich about the possibility of winning a Presidential cabinet position in exchange for the Senate seat appointment. Harris said Blagojevich more the once brought up the possibility of appointing to the Senate seat Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of his nemesis, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, in exchange for an expansive legislative package.

Up today: Harris cross examination continues.
SEIU leader Tom Balanoff will then be the next prosecution witness.

Blagojevich on secret tapes: Here are the links

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Here are the tapes played by prosecutors today, Monday, June 28.

transcript_11_21_2008_1035am.pdf

transcript_12_02_2008_0741am.pdf

transcript_12_04_2008_1123am.pdf

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

On more than one occasion, Rod Blagojevich said he'd be willing to hold his nose and appoint Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat if he could loosen Springfield gridlock.

Former chief of staff John Harris acknowledges he heard Blagojevich talk of a deal where Madigan would get the seat in exchange for having her father, powerful Speaker of the House Michael Madigan passing a Blagojevich legislative bill that would include health care expansion.

"I heard him say that," Harris says.

"You understood the passion of the governor was for health care, didn't you?" Adam asked.

Harris: "I understood he was passionate about that, yes."


Reporting with Sarah Ostman

After spending part of the day building up former chief of staff John Harris as an intelligent, highly-educated aide, defense lawyer Sam Adam Sr. puts in the dagger:

"You never told him, did you, it'd be illegal to ask Obama to appoint him," Adam asks Harris, referring to Rod Blagojevich wanting a cabinet position from President-Elect Obama in exchange for appointing Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.
Blagojevich sought the Health and Human Services cabinet appointment.

"Did you suggest to the Gov. that he or someone like himself, contact David Axelrod as somebody either you or the governor could contact to get in touch with Obama about the idea for HHS?" Adam asked. "That was you?"

Harris: "Yes."

Adam is trying to show that no one thought there was anything wrong with this kind of maneuvering, that's why even his bright gubernatorial staff was in on the suggestions.

Harris revealed that when Blagojevich then met for a second time with Tom Balanoff, an emissary for Jarrett, Balanoff wanted to talk to Blagojevich alone.

After that, Harris said he was given the impression that Balanoff supported the idea of Obama giving Blagojevich the Health and Human Services seat and that he would relay that to the Obama camp.


We are now entering cross examination concerning the Senate seat appointment and Sam Adam Sr. is underscoring that Rod Blagojevich talked about the appointment with his top aide and gubernatorial lead lawyer.

Bill Quinlan was Blagojevich's lead state lawyer in the 2008 time frame.

"During any of the conversations with talk about Senate seat with the governor, was Bill Quinlan present?" Adam asked.

"Yes," said former Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris. "More than once."

The defense will argue that Blagojevich was acting only with the aid of lawyers and intelligent aides. So either there was nothing wrong -- or they were leading the then-Governor to believe that was the case.


A heavy-breathing Rod Blagojevich sounds as if he's lifting weights at home as he's heard on speaker phone suggesting Oprah Winfrey as Illinois' next U.S. Senator.
"That's crazy," his top aide John Harris is heard responding.
"That's where you're wrong," the then-governor says. "She's a king-maker. She made Obama. ... She's up there so high that no one can assail this pick. This would be huge."
Rod Blagojevich is audibly out of breath during the conversation.

Read today's overview story: Click here


Cross examination of former chief of staff John Harris continues, with Sam Adam Sr. questioning him about an ethics bills that would greatly limit then-Gov. Blagojevich's fund-raising prowess.

Adam noted that the 2008 legislation would only limit the governor's fund-raising. It blocked him from accepting larger contributions from firms doing state business.

"The same corporations could continue to give as much as money as they wanted to representatives," Adam asked and Harris agreed.

"This is not fair, this is targeted at me as governor," Adam asked if Blagojevich told him.
Harris was not allowed to respond, the answer was clear anyway.

Through questioning, Adam also had Harris explain gridlock that was going on in Springfield at the time Rod Blagojevich was governor.

Sam Adam suggested powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan worked to block Blagojevich as "The Governor (worked) ... to help expand health care for the citizens of Illinois," Adam said.

By contrast, then-Illinois Senate President Emil Jones was a frequent ally.

The questions have the feel of a disjointed civics lesson, or at the very least, an explanation of Blagojevich's friends and enemies in Springfield.

This is a way that Blagojevich's defense can slip in the former governor's "good works," while he was in office. Blagojevich has long touted health care expansion among his chief achievements.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Judge James Zagel denies a defense request to gain access to the FBI report summarizing then President-Elect Obama's 2008 interview with federal investigators.

Defense lawyers argued in a filing last week that the government minimized Obama's knowledge of the then-Governor's attempts to horsetrade for the Senate seat appointment. They said that testimony by government witness John Harris contradicted that portrayal by federal prosecutors.

Harris testified last week that Blagojevich believed Obama knew about Blagojevich's request for a presidential cabinet appointment in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.

Zagel said there was nothing relevant concerning Harris's testimony that would allow the defense access to Obama's interview.

"There's just nothing there," Zagel said.

In their filing last week, defense lawyers argued that it was the government's own witnesses and evidence who raised the issue of Obama's knowledge of the Senate seat dealings.

"Testimony elicited by the government from John Harris and wiretaps played in court raise the issue of President Obama's direct knowledge and communication with emissaries and others regarding the appointment to his senate seat," lawyers wrote in the filing.


Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was surrounded by highly skilled and intelligent advisers, defense attorney Sam Adam is demonstrating in his cross-examination of John Harris.

Adam started by trying to show that Harris is an intelligent man, former military man, knows law and speaks some Russian. And he's one of the top advisers to Rod Blagojevich.

Now, he's going through other aides to Blagojevich who came up in the prosecution's questioning, including pollster Fred Yang, former Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee, adviser John Wyma.

Adam is running through a list of qualifications for each of these people:

"Did you know that Sen. Dick Durbin was one of (Fred Yang's) clients?"
"Did you know (Bob Greenlee) went to Yale Law School?"
"Did you know that Bill Quinlan was ranked by Super Lawyers magazine as one of the rising stars of Illinois?"

Adam then asked if Harris knew that Quinlan was ranked one of the "Top 40 under 40" lawyers. That's when Judge Zagel cut him off.

"I'd shy away from lawyers rating other lawyers. They're notoriously unreliable," Zagel says to much courtroom laughter.

As the questions wore on, they spark a flurry of objections from the prosecution table -- and the judge sustains -- so Harris rarely answers.

But the gist seems to be that the former governor surrounded himself with good people -- and they're the ones who were advising Blagojevich at the time that the feds say he was committing crimes.

Judge Zagel has called a lunch break. We'll begin again at 1:20 p.m.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Cross-examination of John Harris is under way.

In a 20-minute questioning, defense for Robert Blagojevich showed that he was not part of many discussions involving his brother's quest for a benefit in exchange for the Senate seat appointment.

That's significant because Robert Blagojevich is heard on tape urging his brother to pursue John Harris' idea that the ex-governor head up a union-led agency, Change to Win.

Rob Blagojevich's lawyers will say he had no idea Rod was plotting anything ill-toward with that idea.

Harris also testified in his cross-examination that Robert was "honest and truthful." He is the second major government witness to say so.

Sam Adam Sr. is now crossing Harris on behalf of the ex-governor.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris details a Dec. 8 meeting between the ex-governor and Jesse Jackson Jr. The meeting happened the day before the governor's arrest.

Harris testified that the two, who long had a strained political relationship, discussed the possibility of a political alliance.

The meeting, at the Thompson Center, was not recorded.

Just before ending the meeting, Rod Blagojevich told Jackson:

"I'm glad someone's thinking about me and how they can help me," Blagojevich said, according to Harris.

Harris said Blagojevich was referencing strategy in a future election.

Harris closed his questioning by prosecutors testifying that Blagojevich had made no decision about who to appoint to the Senate post the day before he was elected.

Blagojevich has publicly said he was going to appoint Lisa Madigan but was arrested before he could do it.

Up next: Rob Blagojevich lawyer Michael Ettinger cross examines Harris.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Discussion of the Senate seat appointment continues in the next tape.

On the possibility of former staffer and former U.S. Sen. candidate Cheryle Jackson getting appointed, Rod goes berserk.

"She's so f------ incompetent and a f------ liar," he says. "There's no f------ way"... She bounced a check, forget about it. Don't put her in there."

Cheryle Jackson had bounced a campaign contribution check.

Rod returns to talk of appointing Jesse Jackson Jr., whom he refers to as "uber-African American."

At that, an African American juror laughs quietly and has to put a hand over her mouth to suppress laughter. A juror beside her flashes a knowing smile. It's a rare show of expression from the usually poker-faced jurors.

Judge Zagel has called a 15-minute break.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Rod Blagojevich and John Harris are floating names for the U.S. Senate seat on the next tape. Blago suggests Oprah Winfrey.

"That's crazy," Harris says.
"That's where you're wrong," Blago replies.

Blagojevich is increasingly out of breath while he's talking; the sound of weights clanging is audible in the background. It sounds like he is working out at home while discussing the appointment.

Rod: "She made Obama ... she's a Democrat."
Harris: "You're looking for a celebrity to be your friend?"
Rod: "She's so up there, so high ..."

Later, Rod keeps brainstorming: "Maybe a black Albert Einstein," he suggests. At that, one African American juror gently shakes her head.

Blagojevich is insistent that they "bolster the list" of potential candidates -- even if it means looking outside of Illinois.

"Who outside of Illinois might fit the bill?" he is heard asking Harris. He mentions Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example.

Harris tries to talk him out of it.

"Picking somebody outside of Illinois has a whole host of problems," Harris tells him. "(They'll say), 'There are 13 million residents (in Illinois), Rod hates them all.'"

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Attorneys kicked off Monday morning with discussion of a motion by Robert Blagojevich.

Robert filed a motion recently asking to reserve $350,000 of the campaign fund that's paying for the ex-governor's legal fees.

Prosecutor Reid Schar said he thought the request was "at odds" with Judge James Zagel's previous restraining order, which the judge ordered over the governor's $2.3 million campaign fund after Rod Blagojevich was indicted.

Zagel said he will take up the issue at a later date.

Former Blago Chief of Staff John Harris is back on the stand discussing the 2008 horsetrack subsidy bill.

Blagojevich trial: Day 15 and last week's recap

| No Comments | No TrackBacks



Week recap

Scores of recordings are played in open court, and Rod Blagojevich is heard lusting over landing a high-placed, high-playing job in exchange for appointing President-Elect Obama's friend to the U.S. Senate.

The recordings make clear that Blagojevich wants to make money asks for help choosing a path that's: "not stupid."

"I'm the governor of a $58 billion corporation, why can't I be ambassador to India?" Blagojevich is heard inquiring. He ticks through a list of possible ambassadorships.

On the recordings, Blagojevich turns up his nose at a job that would pay $190,000 a year.

He swears at his wife on one recording as she's Googling salary information about a union-supported group.

He gives his opinion on Obama not playing along with his plan to trade favors.
"They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation -- f--- them," Blagojevich said.

On Jesse Jackson Jr.: Blagojevich calls him "repugnant," and "a bad guy," deeming it "very very very unlikely," he'd ever appoint the congressman to the Senate seat.

Up this week:
Prosecution questioning of former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris concludes this morning.
Defense lawyer Sam Adam Sr. will cross examine Harris.
Next witness: SEIU Union leader Thomas Balanoff.


Illinois Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Sunday he was subpoenaed by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's defense lawyers to testify at his corruption trial, Chicago Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet reports.
Sweet reports: "Giannoulias name surfaced last week during the trial, where prosecutors were focusing on the charges dealing with Blagojevich trying to sell the Senate seat Barack Obama was vacating after winning the presidential election."

Blagojevich on secret tapes: Here are the tapes

| 5 Comments | No TrackBacks

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton said her marathon questioning of John Harris will conclude Monday morning.

Harris has at times appeared weary on the stand (as have courtroom observers) as he answers question after question about what he or Rod Blagojevich meant in a multitude of secretly recorded conversations.

Sam Adam Sr. is slotted to cross examine Harris.

After that, SEIU leader Thomas Balanoff will take the stand.

Balanoff had direct conversations with both Obama and Valerie Jarrett about the Senate seat appointment in addition to having met personally with Blagojevich.

Doug Scofield is a former Blagojevich consultant, campaign spokesman/head who also talked to Blagojevich about Jarrett's appointment.

Blagojevich a Grinch when it comes to Christmas party

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


And...we're back in time.

It seemed the government was building up toward the last days before Blagojevich's Dec. 9th, 2008 arrest.

Apparently prosecutors have more to get out of John Harris first.

Now prosecutor Carrie Hamilton is asking questions about horse-racing legislation and Lon Monk.

In a different phone call, Rod Blagojevich can be heard talking about how he doesn't want the campaign fund to pay for his Christmas party.

John Harris tells him: "If you charge people to come, a lot of people won't come."

Blagojevich: "The government can't pay for that, huh?"

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


We're nearing the day that Rod Blagojevich gets arrested. The recording just played is in early December, just the week before the former governor's arrest.

Blagojevich is heard reacting to a Chicago Tribune article that he read to say that lobbyist and friend John Wyma had been wearing a wire.

Blagojevich asks Harris if he believed Wyma's attorney, who was making public statements saying Wyma had not been wearing a wire.

"Do you believe him?" Blagojevich asked Harris.

Harris said he had no reason not to believe him.

(The Tribune reported that the government was recording Rod Blagojevich based on information by Wyma. Prosecutors later disclosed that Wyma had refused to wear a wire but he provided the probable cause basis for wiretaps in the case.)

Blagojevich then switches topics to the Chicago Tribune editorial board, asking why editorial writer John McCormick hadn't been canned.

"So McCormick stays at the Tribune, huh?" Blagojevich is heard asking.

Harris said he once again fibbed about the situation.

"I was trying to buy more time, telling him more layoffs were coming," Harris said.


Rod Blagojevich is heard telling John Harris to find a way to come up with a Wrigley Field state Science and Technology grant to help boost technology at the ball park.

Blagojevich made this request at the same time he was hoping Tribune Co. executives would fire it's editorial board staff for writing negative pieces about him.

"I didn't think it was good policy to give (the Cubs) a grant," Harris said.

That's because the money is supposed to go toward some kind of state investment, Harris said.

"There was no appropriate state benefit," Harris said he explained to Blagojevich.

"Well, we gotta justify," Blagojevich told him on the recorded call.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

The name of Chicago Tribune Deputy editorial page editor John McCormick comes up in a recorded phone call between then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and chief of staff John Harris.

"I told him that McCormick's in a bad mood," Harris said, referencing recent cuts at the Tribune and a conversation he had with Tribune executive Nils Larsen,

"That's be great," Blagojevich says, thinking McCormick was in line to be fired.

McCormick and the Chicago Tribune's editorial page had written a number of critical editorials about Blagojevich in 2008, seeking his ouster from office.

Harris said he lied to the governor about his conversation with Larsen.

"I told the governor, yes I did single out McCormick as someone to be fired, as someone who was the most biased and unfair," Harris testified.

Was that true? Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked.

"I had singled out McCormick as someone who was biased and unfair," Harris said.

"Had you singled him out to be fired?" Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked.

Harris: "No."

In the call, Blagojevich can again be heard saying he wanted editorial board members fired if the parent company, Tribune Co., wanted state help with the sale of Wrigley Field and the Cubs.


In one mid-November, 2008, Rod Blagojevich sent his top aide, John Harris, to approach then-Illinois Senate President Emil Jones with a deal:

Blagojevich would appoint Jones if he considered turning over his campaign warchest to the governor.

"I told Jones that Emil Jones was the governor's favorite candidate next to himself," Harris said he told Jones.

"I did discuss with Sen. Jones than no one other than Emil had been a friend of the governor," Harris said.

But that's where the talk stopped, Harris said. He never broached the topic of money with Jones, he said.

"I believe the impression I gave the governor was that I talked about Emil's warchest and big bucket of campaign money," in relation to the Senate seat, Harris said.

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked why Harris didn't do as he was told
"If the governor wanted to ask for the money, he would do himself," Harris said he believed.

"I grew to like Emil Jones. We were close, a friend," Harris said. "I was not going to have that conversation with him."

Hamilton pressed Harris on why he didn't tell Blagojevich it was an inappropriate request.

Harris said from the stand: "I knew it would happen anyway, if I simply told him I wasn't going to do it, he would be disappointed. It would be a fight. I didn't want to get into it, I was working on the legislative session."

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


Rod Blagojevich is now heard on tape saying that the next U.S. Senator must satisfy three criteria: "Legal, personal and political."

This is how top aide John Harris testified Blagojevich defined each one.

Legal: "The legal investigation of his administration and his family finances."
Personal: "His personal economic security his need to secure some sort of economic future for himself. Someone who can put pressure on the Department of Justice to back off on the federal investigation."
Political: "His political situation."

Appointing someone close to Blagojevich might help slow a federal probe into Blagojevich's administration, the former governor said on a recorded call.

"It might change the aggressiveness or it might change the level of pursuit by the federal authorities," Harris testified.

In the midst of trial, the judge's monitor falls off his table. Silence in the courtroom.
Long pause.

"I believe this table was provided to me by the lowest bidder," Zagel says and everyone laughs.


Reporting with Sarah Ostman


After Valerie Jarrett publicly pulled out of contention for the U.S. Senate seat appointment, Rahm Emanuel called Rod Blagojevich's top aide.

Emanuel had a list of "acceptable" names and it was from the then-President-Elect, according to testimony in Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial.

Blagojevich calls the list "B.S."

Emanuel, now Obama's chief of staff, relayed four names whom "the president would find acceptable," according to then-chief of staff John Harris, who is on the witness stand.

They were: Tammy Duckworth, State Comptroller Dan Hynes, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky,.

What's curious about the turn of events: Obama's agents -- Tom Balanoff and Andy Stern -- had previously told Blagojevich that Jesse Jackson Jr. should not be a candidate.

Emanuel's call to Harris about calling off Jarrett's appointment, came just days after he made a phone call to John Wyma to send a message from the president about Jarrett. That message was that the President-elect wanted Jarrett but that Blagojevich should expect only his appreciation in return. Wyma had been cooperating with federal investigators for weeks at the time of the phone call.

Emanuel told Harris that no one else from the Obama camp was allowed to talk about the Senate seat besides him, Harris said.

However, Harris qualified that from the stand: "Rahm might have had his own agenda." .S

"It's a B.S." Blagojevich says on a recording.

Harris explains that they believe Obama's list is a political list.

"That in fact if that became public, the President-elect would want the list to represent a diverse group of individuals," Harris explained from the stand.

"When they give you two whites a black and an Asian the only thing they really don't want is Emil," Harris says on tape, referencing former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


In the newest recording played, Rod Blagojevich is heard talking with former Chief of Staff John Harris about forging some kind of political alliance with Valerie Jarrett.

Harris is suggesting that Rod Blagojevich could tell Valerie Jarrett he'd appoint her if she'd "stand up with him," rendering the governor more effective moving his legislative agenda forward.

Harris: "If she commits to that, that's pretty good, too ... The president's best friend and ally ... Emil Jones, standing next to you at some health care event isn't as powerful as Valerie."

Blagojevich isn't having it.

"I agree with everything you're saying, but what does that do for me?" Blagojevich says.

Later: "You understand, it's very important for me to make a lot of money. I need the independence. I need the freedom."
Blagojevich complains about the vulnerability my family is under because of these public responsibilities ... that I've made my children and my wife vulnerable."

He goes on.
"I've got this scrutiny going on and this investigation. How the hell am I going to send my kids to college ... and never again am I going to screw ... my kids and my family."

In the next tape, Blagojevich is heard floating another idea -- to ask the president-elect to ask Warren Buffett or Bill Gates to throw $15 million into a health-care related charity account that Blago could manage and live off. In exchange, of course, he'd appoint Valerie Jarrett to Obama's Senate seat.

Blago had just seen on the news that Obama didn't want Jarrett in the Senate anymore; instead, he was considering her for a cabinet post. But Blago's not convinced, and he floats this new fund-raising idea.

Rod: This is one of those things where you're the president-elect of the United States. His people, they go get the money.
Harris: I think that's a lot easier for them than an appointment, sure...
Rod: You go to these big Democratic multi-billionaires ... and you ask them all to give 2, ... a couple million each ... That's all they got to do for Valerie Jarrett... that's not hard for them.

Harris wasn't so convinced -- the Obama camp "may have higher priorities," he said from the stand. But he didn't fight the idea.

"I was just being agreeable with him," Harris said in court. "Just keeping the conversation moving along. There was other matters i was hoping to get to."

Later on the tape, Blago says he wants Harris to find some other Senate candidates.

"Why don't we start looking for an African-American Tammy Duckworth? We can, can't we?" he is heard asking.

Judge Zagel has called a lunch break. We'll resume at 1:30.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Big brother Robert Blagojevich is trying to dispense a dose of sanity to his younger brother in the next tape.

Rod suggests he appoint Louanner Peters, arguing that she could then step aside before Rod gets impeached.

"Oh Jesus!" Rob Blagojevich can be heard saying.
Rod asks: What's better, "that or being impeached?"
Rob: "Neither one! Neither one! It's so transparent. What is the public going to think? ... I don't like that option at all," he says forcefully.

More talk about what to do with Obama's Senate seat on the tapes.

Blagojevich and Harris are heard discussing another option -- appointing top Blago aide Louanner Peters to the seat as a one-termer.

This could come in handy in case Blago is impeached, he argued, because Peters could step down and he could quickly appoint himself to the seat.

"She's be the only one I would count on to do that," Harris is heard agreeing.

"Right now, Louanner is the front-runner," Blagojevich says.

But they again discuss floating a rumor to Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed that Jesse Jackson Jr. is actually at the top of their list.

It wasn't true, Harris said from the stand. But if the Obama camp thought Blago was going to pick Jackson -- which they didn't want -- they might be more willing to "help the governor in other ways."

Next tape is between brothers Rod and Robert.

Rod Blagojevich and John Harris discuss a call Harris got from John Wyma relaying a message from the Obama camp.

This is significant because it shows that Wyma, a Blagojevich friend and lobbyist, had contact with both the Obama camp and the then-governor at the same time he had been cooperating with federal officials.

Wyma passed along a message from Rahm Emanuel:

"Rahm asked him to deliver the message -- the president-elect would be very pleased if you appointed Valerie and he would be, uh, thankful and appreciative" for a Valerie Jarrett appointment.

"They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation -- f--- them," Blagojevich said.

In the background, a children's TV show is heard playing and a child is heard talking.

Blagojevich on Jesse Jackson Jr.: "He's a bad guy."

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Prosecutors have played more of a taped conversation between Rod Blagojevich, then-Chief of Staff John Harris and Democratic consultant Fred Yang.

They're still mulling over Blago's options -- the job at labor organization Change to Win, a possible Washington lobbying gig for Patti.

Then the conversation turns to Jesse Jackson Jr.

Fred Yang: I think the only option you should not contemplate is Jesse Jackson Jr. for the Senate seat.
Blagojevich: Like, nobody ... you and Obama agree on that one. Tell me why.
Yang: I don't think he deserves to be in the U.S. Senate, for one. And I don't think he could hold a U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich: Not to mention No. 3 -- he's a bad guy.

From the stand, Harris tells the court there was "bad blood" between Blago and Jesse Jr. dating back to the ex-governor's first gubernatorial primary. Jackson promised to endorse Blago, but changed his mind when Roland Burris entered the race.

On the tape, Blago is heard saying a Jesse Jr. appointment is "highly, highly, highly unlikely."

By Natasha Korecki
and Sarah Ostman
Sun-Times Reporters

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on honest services this morning could void out similar charges against Rod Blagojevich, but ultimately will change little in the trial he faces, one expert has said.
That's because prosecutors anticipated the move and in February, returning a new indictment that charged the same underlying conduct under different legal theory.
The legal maneuver helped keep the case on track for a June trial even if the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law.
"It's much ado about nothing," said defense lawyer Richard Kling. "I don't think it'll have any impact on what the jury is asked to deliberate."
This morning, Blagojevich's attorey asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to continue the trial until Monday or Tuesday to digest the ruling.
They argued that witness John Harris' testimony pertains to the honest services charges and they needed to mull over the decision before continuing. Harris is Blagojevich's former chief of staff.
Zagel denied their request, saying that Harris is testifying on facts and his testimony will not be affected one way or another.
"The evidence is going to come in anyway," Zagel said.
This spring, Blagojevich's defense lawyers tried postponing the trial until the high court ruled, but Zagel -- as well as an appeals court --rejected the request.
In its February filing, prosecutors said the new indictment would address any strike down of the law.
"Such dismissal would do little to effect the trial in the instant case as the underlying illegal conduct charged in the Section 1346 counts is alleged in other counts of the Second Superseding Indictment," they wrote.
Blagojevich lawyers did not have immediate comment on the ruling this morning.
The former governor also did not comment.

In a much anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a ruling this morning that limits the use of an "honest services fraud" law, a move that could affect the charges against Rod Blagojevich.

First thing this morning, Blago's legal team reacted, asking Judge James Zagel to put the trial on hold until Monday or Tuesday so they could "digest" the decision. Zagel denied their request.

The charges against Blagojevich include several counts of honest services fraud. The law is based around the idea that citizens have an "intangible" right to the honest services of their politicians and others.

Here's the AP story:

ASSOCIATED PRESS and STAFF REPORTS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has sided with former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling in limiting the use of a federal fraud law that has been a favorite of white-collar crime prosecutors.

The court said Thursday that the "honest services" law could not be used in convicting Skilling for his role in the collapse of Enron. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion that the ruling does not necessarily require Skilling's conviction to be overturned.

Former governor Rod Blagojevich was originally charged under the 'honest services' fraud law but was re-indicted in anticipation of the Supreme Court limiting use of the law.

During arguments on this case last December, several justices seemed inclined to limit prosecutors' use of this law, which critics have said is vague and has been used to make a crime out of mistakes and minor transgressions in the business and political world.

The court, at the same time, rejected Skilling's claim that he did not get a fair trial in Houston because of harshly critical publicity that surrounded the case in Enron's hometown.

The court in this ruling also sided with former newspaper magnate Conrad Black, setting aside a federal appeals court decision that had upheld Black's honest services fraud conviction. But as in Skilling's case, the justices left the ultimate resolution of the case to the appeals court.

Blagojevich trial: Day 14 -- and recap

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks


Wednesday recap

Jurors hear how Rod Blagojevich spends his day as governor. He's at his home, ordering two state-paid workers to research future high-paying jobs for himself.
Blagojevich desperately wants out of his position and plans to ask then-President Elect Obama to help him get a high-paying job in return for appointing Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate seat.

Good for prosecutors: Beyond the constant plotting that goes on in call after call, Blagjoevich can be heard snapping at wife Patti on the phone as she's looking up salary information for him. "You're just wasting f------ time. We're making it up. We're saying this is what I want...this is the deal."


Good for Blagojevich:
Defense files a new request asking that federal prosecutors be forced to turn over FBI reports of its 2008 interview with President-Elect Obama. They say testimony by former chief of staff John Harris contradicts what the prosecution has previously said about Obama's knowledge of deal-making going on with Jarrett.

Up today: Harris testifies for the fourth straight day as a series of lengthy recorded phone calls are played for jurors.


Judge James Zagel has shot down prosecutors' request to put a gag order on Rod Blagojevich, arguing that the ex-governor is doing little damage with his vague and repetitive statements.

"It is reported to me," Zagel said, "that one defendant (brother Robert Blagojevich) says nothing about anything, and the other defendant (Rod Blagojevich) says one of two things: One, I am innocent, or two, all the witnesses against me are lying."

"If this is what he keeps doing, I don't think it's that big a deal," the judge said.

Prosecutors requested the gag order after Blago publicly blasted former friend and government witness Lon Monk after his testimony earlier this month, calling him a liar and saying his parents should be ashamed. The government said today they were worried Blago would do so again with John Harris and others.

Zagel said they would deal with that situation if it arises.

The defense team did agree to not make any public statements questioning the credibility of witnesses. That concession appeared to appease the judge.

SCOOP:Blagojevich lawyers want Obama's FBI interview

| 7 Comments | No TrackBacks


Rod Blagojevich's lawyers say they should be privy to remarks that President-Elect Obama made to FBI agents in December, 2008.

The defense team has filed a motion asking for written reports of Obama's two-hour interview with prosecutors and the FBI, saying that testimony by key government witness John Harris has opened the door to possibly new information concerning Obama.

They say that testimony contradicts the government's previous public statements that Obama knew nothing about deal-making involving the Senate seat appointment.

"Testimony elicited by the government from John Harris and wiretaps played in court raise the issue of President Obama's direct knowledge and communication with emissaries and others regarding the appointment to his senate seat," lawyers wrote in the filing.

The filing goes on:
"The government has elicited testimony that directly contradicts its previous position. The government asked its cooperating witness, John Harris, questions referencing "President Obama's preferences", what President Obama knew, and what President Obama directed others to do and say, etc."

That includes testimony from Harris that SEIU union leader Tom Balanoff was delivering a message to Blagojevich from Obama as well as testimony that Blagojevich was told Obama knew the then-governor wanted a cabinet position in exchange for appointing Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the open Senate seat post.

Obama,as well as others close to him, were interviewed by federal investigators following the arrest of the then-sitting governor Rod Blagojevich.

Judge James Zagel has blocked a defense request to subpoena President Obama, saying what they were seeking was irrelevant to the case. Zagel did say he might reconsider the issue as the trial was underway.

To read the filing:

Click here

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


Another segment of a lengthy Nov. 7, 2008 phone call is played and Democratic consultant Fred Yang discusses jobs that President-Elect Obama could deliver that wouldn't involve a cabinet appointment.

Yang, chief of staff John Harris and Rod Blagojevich are all on the phone call discussing other positions that wouldn't need the approval of the U.S. Senate.

Yang tells Blagojevich: "You could want this because A) it's something that the president could do for you that would pay a lot of money..."

Blago: "Like how much money?"

Yang: "You should have someone in your office..."

Harris (breaking in) "The highest would be about $190,000."

Blago: "I make $170, what do I make now, John...if they didn't reject that pay raise it would have been $190-something. So Fred, that has no appeal to me."

"I want to make money ... you know. I might as well go out and find a way to make money," Blagojevich said.

Prosecutors offer this call to make Blagojevich appear greedy. But defense lawyers will spin it a different way. They'll say that clearly there was nothing illegal going on since a high-paid consultant and a whip-smart top aide were on the phone and in on the discussion.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


Recordings continue to be played in the Rod Blagojevich trial.

We've just heard Rod Blagojevich on a call with Democratic consultant Fred Yang as well as his chief of staff John Harris.

In the call, Blagojevich is relaying his recent meeting with Tom Balanoff, an SEIU union leader, who was an emissary for Barack Obama friend Valerie Jarrett. Blagojevich told him he wanted a presidential cabinet post at the same time he discussed Jarrett's appointment.

Blagojevich said it's become clear to him that Balanoff and Jarrett had met personally to discuss the matter.

"So she knows now she can be a senator if I get Health and Human Services," presidential appointment, Blagojevich says on the recording. "So how bad does she want to be a U.S. Senator?"

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

In another phone call, this one on Nov. 7, 2008, Rod Blagojevich is debriefing John Harris about a conversation he had with Doug Scofield.

Scofield, a onetime Blagojevich campaign spokesman/consultant and Blagojevich discussed how the Obama camp responded to Rod Blagojevich after he met with union leader Tom Balanoff about the Senate seat appointment. In that meeting, Blagojevich made it clear he wanted a presidential cabinet position.

"Didn't know quite what to make of my request. Barack really wants to get away from Illinois politics," Blagojevich said.

Harris testifies that Blagojevich told him he believed then-President-Elect Obama knew Blagojevich wanted a cabinet post in exchange for appointing Obama friend Valerie Jarrett.

"(Blagojevich) feels very confident that the president understands that the governor would be willing to make the appointment of Valerie Jarrett as long as he gets what he's asked for," Harris, Blagojevich's former chief of staff, testified, as he explained the recording, continuing: "The governor gets the cabinet appointment he's asked for."

Obama's internal report about his staff's contacts with Blagojevich at the time, indicates that Balanoff relayed to Jarrett that Blagojevich was interested in a Health and Human Services cabinet post. The report says Jarrett did not in her mind link the cabinet post request to her appointment to the Senate seat.

In the same call, Harris is overheard talking about getting a message from Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

"So Alexi called me. He wanted to have a discussion about the Senate seat," John Harris is heard telling Blagojevich. "I imagine he'll tell me ... Barack wants Valerie."

Blagojevich: "Listen to me, don't see him today. Just ... let's run the clock now."

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


Jurors hear an irate Rod Blagojevich snap at his wife on a secretly recorded phone call.

"You're just wasting f------ time!" he yells at Patti Blagojevich as she tries looking up salary information regarding his latest idea to benefit from the U.S. Senate seat appointment.

The two had discussed the pros and cons of Change to Win -- an organization supported by organized labor. Rod Blagojevich planned to ask for a high-ranking position there in exchange for appointing Barack Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.

Patti Blagojevich is Googling salary information and tells him she can't find any salaries on their Web site. Rod Blagojevich tells her not to worry about salaries "we'll negotiate that."

He goes on to say that he'll ask for a four-year contract for $1 million a year "or whatever...$750...something good."

She keeps looking and that's when he snaps.

"You're just wasting f------ time. We're making it up. We're saying this is what I want...this is the deal."

The then-Illinois governor gets really ticked at his wife and tells her she's "talking weird."

By the call's end he admits: "I gotta stop swearing."

Further into the tape, we're hearing more plotting about how to use Barack Obama's Senate seat appointment to land Rod Blagojevich a job.

Now, Blagojevich and Harris are talking about a position with a foundation supported by organized labor -- the Change to Win Federation. Harris is heard explaining to Blago that it would give him a good salary and could provide potential to go back into politics later, if he wanted.

Furthermore, Tom Balanoff and Andy Stern, the union leaders advocating for Barack Obama's pick for the Senate, could hook him up with the job, he said.

Harris said the job would probably have to wait until the end of his governor's term, though. He was worried about Blagojevich stepping down to take a job in the private sector.

Blago proposed a solution -- Patti could run the Illinois branch of Change to Win, and after his term is over, he could take over the national branch.

"Would that be too stupid?" Blago asks.

Judge Zagel has called a break for lunch. Court will resume at 1:50 p.m.

Blagojevich, Harris prep for job bargaining with Tom Balanoff

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

The Nov, 6, 2008 call continues and the conversation turns to more plotting before Blagojevich's big meeting with union leader Tom Balanoff, which was scheduled for that afternoon.

Blagojevich is practicing a conversation in which he'd up others -- Emil Jones, Lisa Madigan -- to up the value of the appointment, showing Balanoff there was competition for the seat.

On the stand, John Harris explains that he didn't think Madigan or Jones were truly in consideration, though.

Blago says he heard on the news that the Obama camp was considering Valerie Jarrett, who they had been pushing for the Senate appointment, for a cabinet post.

"So they're willing to give her a cabinet spot," Blago is heard saying. "So if that's the case, give me the cabinet spot and we'll give her the Senate seat. What do you think of that? I thought that was a good sign."

At one point in the conversation, Blagojevich is referring to the Health and Human Service cabinet post he's after -- but he keeps referring to it as "DHS" -- Department of Homeland Security -- not "HHS." Harris keeps correcting him.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

The Nov, 6, 2008 call continues and the conversation turns to more plotting before Blagojevich's big meeting with union leader Tom Balanoff, which was scheduled for that afternoon.

Blagojevich is practicing a conversation in which he'd up others -- Emil Jones, Lisa Madigan -- to up the value of the appointment, showing Balanoff there was competition for the seat.

On the stand, John Harris explains that he didn't think Madigan or Jones were truly in consideration, though.

Blago says he heard on the news that the Obama camp was considering Valerie Jarrett, who they had been pushing for the Senate appointment, for a cabinet post.

"So they're willing to give her a cabinet spot," Blago is heard saying. "So if that's the case, give me the cabinet spot and we'll give her the Senate seat. What do you think of that? I thought that was a good sign."

At one point in the conversation, Blagojevich is referring to the Health and Human Service cabinet post he's after -- but he keeps referring to it as "DHS," not "HHS." Harris keeps correcting him.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Harris is testifying about a recording in which Rod Blagojevich demands that the Chicago Tribune's editorial board get hacked if the Tribune Co. wants state help with its sale of Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

"Did you see that Tribune editorial today?" Blagojevich begins on the Nov. 6, 2008 tape.

Blagojevich asks Harris about the results of a meeting he had with an associate of Sam Zell's, the owner of the Tribune, the day before -- the "mission he had sent me on earlier," Harris said from the stand.

Harris had been sent to tell the Tribune the governor wanted its editorial board fired and replaced, or he would not go forward with providing state assistance on the Wrigley and Cubs transaction, Harris testified.

But Harris ignored the directive, he testified, suggesting only that "continued negative (editorial) coverage could cause the General Assembly or others to try to derail the transaction," he testified.

On the tape, the governor coaches Harris to try to line up some positive editorials in the future.

"The other point you want to make is we, we sure would like to get some editorial support from your paper, OK?" Blagojevich is heard saying.

The two are also heard discussing how much the state's help on the sale is worth to the Tribune.

"What's it worth to them, $500 million?" Blagojevich is heard asking.

Harris responds that it's closer to $100 million.

"That's all? How do you figure?" Blago asks.

Back in the courtroom, an agitated-looking Blagojevich is digging into his notebook with his pen as he listens to Harris.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Just minutes into the day, and prosecutors have already played jurors two more tapes.

The first is another Nov. 5, 2008 conversation between Rod Blagojevich and his former chief of staff, John Harris, who is beginning his third day on the stand.

With ideas already floating about for an ambassadorship or a cabinet position, Rod on the tape is wondering about a job with a foundation.

Harris asks if he's looking for a position like Elizabeth Dole's, who headed the Red Cross.

"That's exactly right," Rod is heard saying.

In the second, Blagojevich has two top staffers -- then-Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee and John Harris -- on a conference call, ticking off the names of charities so he can pick one and ask Obama's camp for help landing a top position in one.

Only Blago's not familiar with the charity groups, so his staff has to do research on them.

Rod:"United Way. What is the United Way?" ...
Rod: "What does it pay?"
Bob Greenlee: "It's very good pay, in the 2-3s (hundreds of thousands)."
Rod:"Oh, that's all?"

Later...

Rod: "Salvation Army. That would be huge. Have to wear a uniform, forget that."

Laughter in the courtroom over the last comment, including from Rod and Patti.

Meanwhile, there's a technical issue in the courthouse overflow room -- no sound at all. A group of reporters are waiting for a IT worker to show up; about a dozen members of the public who showed up to listen to the proceedings have taken off.

Blagojevich trial: Day 13 -- and recap

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


Tuesday Recap

Prosecutors play a series of recordings where Rod Blagojevich can be heard asking how he can personally benefit from his power to appoint Barack Obama's replacement.
"Let's go down the pecking order... What else is good? Ambassador to the UN?" Blagojevich is heard saying in a secretly recorded call with his top aide, John Harris.
Harris: "No way."
Blagojevich: "Right, keep going ... "How about India? How about South Africa?"

Good for Blagojevich: The defense asks for a mistrial, saying Judge James Zagel unfairly shut down their questioning of witnesses and made inappropriate remarks in front of jurors. Zagel says they can submit a list of questions they should have been allowed to ask and he'd consider.

Up today:

Day three on the stand for John Harris. He'll pick up today talking about Blagojevich's on-tape statements about wanting to be named ambassador to India.

Blagojevich on secret tapes: Here are the tapes

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Rod Blagojevich. Ambassador to India.

| 1 Comment | 1 TrackBack

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

John Harris' testimony continues and prosecutors play another recording where jurors can hear Rod Blagojevich negotiating ways he can benefit from appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.

On the call, Blagojevich also explores appointing himself, describing it as the "ace in the hole." Harris says regular people won't be offended by the move.

Rod Blagojevich at one point wonders what a Jarrett appointment is worth to Obama. He again brings up the secretary of Health and Human Services position.

"If I were him, a top cabinet post. I wouldn't consider it. I wouldn't do it if I were him," Harris says on the tape.

Blagojevich and Harris talk strategy for the governor's planned phone call to union leader Tom Balanoff, who he believes is acting as a go-between for the Obama camp. Blagojevich is trying to figure out the best way to ask for a job.

Harris likens the potential conversation to bidding for a house, urging Blagojevich not to shoot too high to start. Instead, he suggested, let the Obama camp make the first move.

"Let them feel like they're helping you," Harris says. "Let them come to you first."

"Let's go down the pecking order. What else is good?" Blagojevich asks.

Harris said he thinks Obama would "do an ambassadorship."

Blagojevich: "OK. I'm interested. How about India? South Africa? ... That's realistic? No s---."

Harris explained his reasoning from the stand, saying, "An ambassadorship in some small country somewhere would pretty much sideline (Blagojevich) for the rest of his political life" and therefore may be appealing to Obama.

On the tape, Blagojevich is clearly taken with the India idea.

"I'm the governor of a $58 billion corporation, why can't I be ambassador to India?" he asks.

Adding: "What's more important, commerce secretary or ambassador to India?"

He argues that he has "a bigger resume" than Bill Daley did when he was appointed commerce secretary.

"What do you think?" he asks Harris, referring to the commerce post. "Unreachable? Or, you know, not necessarily unreachable but hard to get?"

Back to the ambassadorships. "Canada? France?" Blagojevich asks.

"All those are easier than India," Harris says.

But, Harris says, Blagojevich may face an uphill battle.

"It's the Rezko issue," Harris is heard saying. "I think your qualifications are there. It's not about your qualifications."

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


Prosecutors are playing another phone call between onetime chief of staff John Harris and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Harris is heard coaching Blagojevich on what to say in an upcoming meeting with union leader and Democratic fund-raiser Tom Balanoff.

Balanoff had told Blagojevich he wanted to meet again to discuss Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat. Jarrett, now a top White House adviser, was a close friend of then President-Elect Obama.

Blagojevich tells Harris that Balanoff told him: "I talked to Barack about the Senate seat, can I come and see you."

Blagojevich continues: "OK, he'll be explicit."

Harris says to tell Balanoff: "How do we take care of the president-elect's issues as well as the people of Illinois."

Blagojevich: "As well as me. Do I say that?"

Harris says that Blagojevich needs to convey that he needs to make sure he "stays strong" in the governorship.

Blagojevich: "But I don't want that."

Blagojevich: "Do I say me?" The objective is to get a good gig over there," Blagojevich says about his negotiation with Balanoff.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman


Prosecutors are playing another phone call between onetime chief of staff John Harris and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Harris is heard coaching Blagojevich on what to say in an upcoming meeting with union leader and Democratic fund-raiser Tom Balanoff.

Balanoff had told Blagojevich he wanted to meet again to discuss Valerie Jarrett for the Senate seat. Jarrett, now a top White House adviser, was a close friend of then President-Elect Obama.

Blagojevich tells Harris that Balanoff told him: "I talked to Barack about the Senate seat, can I come and see you."

Blagojevich continues: "OK, he'll be explicit."

Harris says to tell Balanoff: "How do we take care of the president-elect's issues as well as the people of Illinois."

Blagojevich: "As well as me. Do I say that?"

Harris says that Blagojevich needs to convey that he needs to make sure he "stays strong" in the governorship.

Blagojevich: "But I don't want that."

Blagojevich: "Do I say me?" The objective is to get a good gig over there," Blagojevich says about his negotiation with Balanoff.


On the historic night that Barack Obama was elected president, Rod Blagojevich walked along a path in Grant Park to Obama's victory rally.

He ran into union leader Tom Balanoff who had a message from the new leader of the free world.

"Obama wanted Valerie Jarrett and he wanted to come see the governor and talk in more detail," John Harris testified that Blagojevich told him. Harris accompanied Blagojevich the night of Obama's rally.

The exchange happened after Blagojevich had met with Balanoff and Andy Stern the week before, Harris testified.

The government is now playing more recordings in which Blagojevich continues to talk about how to capitalize on this proposal.


Reporting with Sarah Ostman


A barely audible Judge James Zagel is explaining his repeated upholding of prosecution's objections after Rod Blagojevich's defense team asked for a mistrial today.

"I don't know if I've ever seen a motion for a mistrial based on objections," Zagel says.

The defense filing says Zagel so often cut off defense lawyers who were trying to cross examine witnesses, that they can't properly defend their client. They also complained he chided defense lawyers in front of jurors.

Zagel said he believes lawyers are asking the questions the wrong way -- beginning the questions in such a manner that the witness would have to guess what someone was thinking. Zagel noted the defense hasn't objected much (indeed, today, just one even though the government's most significant witness has been on the stand all day).

But the bottom line: Zagel said the defense can hand him a list of questions they think he should have allowed and he'd consider them.

Zagel said he saved Sam Adam Jr. and his client a level of resentment from the jury because he kept him from asking of the same questions time and again.

"I'd do it again, because I believe it is in the interest of justice to do so," Zagel said.


A barely audible Judge James Zagel is explaining his repeated upholding of prosecution's objections after Rod Blagojevich's defense team asked for a mistrial today.

"I don't know if I've ever seen a motion for a mistrial based on objections," Zagel says.

The defense filing says Zagel so often cut off defense lawyers who were trying to cross examine witnesses, that they can't properly defend their client. They also complained he chided defense lawyers in front of jurors.

Zagel said he believes lawyers are asking the questions the wrong way -- beginning the questions in such a manner that the witness would have to guess what someone was thinking. Zagel noted the defense hasn't objected much (indeed, today, just one even though the government's most significant witness has been on the stand all day).

But the bottom line: Zagel said the defense can hand him a list of questions they think he should have allowed and he'd consider them.

Zagel said he saved Sam Adam Jr. and his client a level of resentment from the jury because he kept him from asking of the same questions time and again.

"I'd do it again, because I believe it is in the interest of justice to do so," Zagel said.


Allegations involving Rod Blagojevich and the Tribune Company are now coming up as prosecutors play secretly recorded call where Blagojevich is heard telling John Harris the bad editorials in the Chicago Tribune better stop.

"I understood him to say ... let them know that we would not be going forward with involvement with the sale of Cubs and Wrigley Field and we would not be providing our assistance if they continued to beat up the governor on its editorial page," Harris testified Blagojevich told him on a call.

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked Harris what message Blagojevich wanted sent to the Tribune.

"Stop or else," Harris said. "Stop with the bad editorials, or else we won't go forward with this."

"What is it that he wanted?" Carrie Hamilton asked Harris of Blagojevich.

Harris: "A new editorial board."

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Prosecutors play yet another tape, this one happened the morning of the presidential election -- Nov. 4, 2008.

The senate seat is discussed at length and Rod Blagojevich can be heard talking about making a "tactical play," involving Lisa Madigan. The play at one point involved pretending he would appoint the Illinois Attorney General to the Senate seat, but really, he'd appoint himself.

The discussion was a strategy session. Blagojevich and Harris were trying to navigate talks with the Obama camp over the senate seat appointment. But they believed Rahm Emanuel and others were acting "cryptic." They discussed floating other options as real possibilities to force Obama's camp to talk straight, according to Harris.

Blagojevich on tape: "We need to think about a tactical play...we gotta figure out a Madigan play."
Blagojevich said they had Illinois Senate President Emil Jones as a "fallback" for an appointment, but "the best he can do for me is raise money."

Blagojevich also is heard telling Harris maybe they should work the Madigan angle and then: "I end up using my ace in the hole and I send myself."

At one point, Harris and Blagojevich are heard rehearsing what Blagojevich would say publicly about the Senate seat selection.

"Right, not the most good for Barack, not the most good for you, first and foremost the most good for the people of Illinois," Harris is heard telling Blagojevich.

"He was rehearsing what his talking point would be and how he'd always refer to this, his selection process and his criteria," Harris testified


John Harris relays a meeting on Nov. 3, 2008 with himself, two union leaders -- Andy Stern and Tom Balanoff -- and the governor.

In a previous call played to jurors, Harris testified he and Blagojevich understood the two were approaching him on behalf of Obama's camp.

The meeting happened one day before the presidential election and the talk was about the senate seat vacancy the major campaign donors expected would happen the next day.

"They began discussing several names and their interest in the names," Harris testified, talking about Balanoff and Stern. "Tom and Andy urged the governor not to consider Jesse Jackson Jr. They urged the governor to support no particular candidate at that point, but if (the governor appointed) Valerie Jarrett, they had no objection."

The Chicago Sun-Times in 2008 reported that powerful Democratic leaders urged Blagojevich against Jackson because they didn't think he was electable in 2010.


Rod Blagojevich's defense lawyers filed a bidfor a mistrial, saying that Judge James Zagel's repeated rulings against them have kept them from telling their side of the story.

"Defense counsel has been systematically prevented from engaging in meaningful cross-examination by unwarranted sustaining of objections," Blagojevich's lawyers wrote in the filing. "The result is the deprivation of a fair trial and a mistrial is warranted."

They also complained about Zagel's comments in front of jurors, citing one remark from Zagel: "Don't do that, now we‟re getting into the mind-reading of the prosecution."

"Moreover, by ruling on these "mind reading" objections orally in front of the jury, it sends an inappropriate message to the jury (when only the defense is sustained on these questions)."

Zagel has indeed run a tight ship, upholding objection after objection by the prosecution.
For its part, the defense has not objected often -- so far today just once as a top witness, John Harris, testifies.
mistrial.pdf

Reporting with Nataska Korecki

On another tape just played by prosecutors, Rod Blagojevich is heard talking to John Harris over the phone on Nov. 3, 2008 -- the day before the election.

They are discussing how Barack Obama is sending two representatives -- union leaders Tom Balanoff and Andy Stern -- to visit to talk about Valerie Jarrett.

"Do they think I would just appoint Valerie Jarrett for nothing?" Blagojevich is heard saying of the Obama camp. "Just to make it happen?"

Judge Zagel has called a one-hour break for lunch. Court will reconvene at 1:30 p.m.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Prosecutors play their first secret recording of the day and it's John Harris relaying what Rahm Emanuel told him in a call the day before. He's talking to Rod Blagojevich about Emanuel conveying Barack Obama's interest in having Valerie Jarrett appointed to the senate seat.

"Should I have Barack call Rod?" Harris said Rahm asked him.

Harris said it would help, and he's heard laughing.

Harris: "You may get a call from him or Dave."

Blagojevich: "Dave who?"

Harris: "Axelrod."

Harris says he believes Obama to be serious about the appointment.

"(Obama) wouldn't leave it to osmosis or the media. He very much cares about this. It's his definite desire for Valerie," Harris says.

Blagojevich sounds almost gleeful at the thought.

At another point in the recording, Rod and Harris are heard questioning who it was that Obama wanted to see appointed -- because Emanuel did not specify in his call, they wondered if it might be a recent political favorite in Illinois, Tammy Duckworth.

Harris said it was clear Obama wanted Valerie Jarrett and not Duckworth. Rod's ears seemed to perk up.

Rod: "We should get something for that, could I? What about Health and Human Services, can I get that?"

Harris testifies that's a reference to a cabinet appointment.

Rod: "What could I honestly think I might get a shot at getting?"

Harris: "Well, besides good thing for Illinois, good thing for Illinois?"

In court, Harris said what's made clear in that conversation: "that he was seeking something for himself as well.

Back on the tape, Rod wonders what other positions may be available to him:

"I mean, what other cabinet position would be not stupid?" Rod is heard asking. "UN Ambassador?"

"Yeah, I don't think that's realistic or serious," Harris replies.

"S---, that would be cool, huh?" Blago says, laughing.

In court, Patti smiles as she listens.

The pair are also heard discussing other alternatives for the seat -- including Bill Daley, former U.S. commerce secretary and brother of Mayor Richard Daley, and Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan.

However, Harris testified, those were basically decoys, not serious alternatives.

Harris and Rod are heard discussing leaking a potential Lisa Madigan appointment to Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed.

John Harris explains from the stand: "Michael Sneed is a woman who writes a political gossip column for a local paper -- a page that a lot of politicians read before the sports."

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked, then, if Harris and Rod were talking about leaking "false information" to Sneed.

"Yes," Harris testified.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Two days before the 2008 presidential election, Rahm Emanuel called John Harris to pass on the soon-to-be president-elect's request that Valerie Jarrett be appointed to his senate seat, Harris has testified.

Harris was shopping with his kids at a Payless shoe store on Nov. 2, 2008 when he got Emanuel's call.

Emanuel told Harris that then-Sen. Barack Obama was interested in seeing a "close friend" of his appointed to his seat, Harris testified.

Harris said he understood that friend to be Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Chicago public official and close friend and fund-raiser for Obama.

"(Emanuel) asked whether it would be helpful if Sen. Obama called the governor to advocate for this individual," Harris testified. "I said sure."

"He said, 'I'll let you know," Harris testified, but for the moment, "He wanted to say that the senator had a preference."

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

In an Oct. 6, 2008 conversation in a car, John Harris said Blagojevich brought up the senate seat for the first time since the Jones debacle.

"So what do you think I can get for the senate seat?" Harris said the governor asked

"What do you mean, for you?" Harris asked. "You can get a new ally or reward an ally, that's what you can get."

Blagojevich then looked away and was quiet, Harris testified.

But that wasn't the last of it, Harris said, describing two more conversations with the governor about what he could get for the appointment.

At one point, the conversation turned to cash. Blagojevich wondered how much he could get for the seat from several interested parties, including Blair Hull.

"I told him, 'You can't get money for the senate seat. You shouldn't even consider that as an option.' And we moved on," Harris testified.

And in mid-October, Blagojevich, Harris and the governor's attorney, Bill Quinlan, were again discussing senate seat possibilities.

Blagojevich brought up how he might profit off the appointment, perhaps by putting "money into a 501 C (3)."

Harris said Quinlan became stern with Blagojevich.

"You can't ever joke like that. You can't talk like that," Harris said Quinlan told him. "You know, whether you're serious or not, don't say things like that."

About an hour into today's testimony and there has not been a single objection from the defense.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Former Blago chief of staff John Harris has just given testimony that backs up what Lon Monk told the court earlier this month -- that in 2008, Blagojevich was in cahoots with then-state senate Pres. Emil Jones to kill an ethics bill that would have seriously hindered the governor's fund-raising efforts.

Harris testified that he was "in the room" for discussions with Blagojevich's campaign staff when they were discussing the ethics bill, which would have prohibited politicians from accepting campaign cash from donors who do state business.

"It would have a significant effect on his ability to raise funds, is what I understood from him," Harris testified.

The bill had passed both houses of the legislature but, using his veto powers, Blagojevich had rewritten portions of it. Jones was being pressured to call the bill for an override vote, Harris testified, which would have passed the bill in its original form.

"I expressed my concern that I didn't think Emil would hold, that he wouldn't withstand the pressure not to hold the bill," Harris testified.

Blagojevich wasn't so concerned, though, Harris said.

"He thought Emil would hold because he knew something we didn't," Harris testified. "He told us that Emil Jones wanted (Barack Obama's) senate seat" and wouldn't go back on his "pledge."

Jones, though, did succumb to political and public pressure and called the bill.

"No way he's getting the seat now," Harris said Blagojevich told him.

Patti's sitting in the front row, wearing a black and white wrap-dress, her legs crossed, her black high-heeled shoes occasionally tapping.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Back in 2007, Rod Blagojevich's legal bills were mounting. He had already paid $1 million to the law firm Winston & Strawn -- money that came out of his campaign fund -- for legal fees related to his federal investigation. And he was about to get hit with another $700,000 bill.

"The governor was very upset," testified John Harris, Blagojevich's then-chief of staff.

That's because he had to disclose on campaign records that he was swimming in legal bills -- which meant the feds were indeed breathing down his neck, despite his contradicting public comments, Harris said.

"That would send the message that he was in more trouble than he let on," Harris said.

The dent in his fund because of legal bills also meant his power was diminishing, Harris said.

Harris is now talking about the ex-governor's alleged efforts to stall an ethics bill.

To start off the morning in a bizarre way: a group of six people stood in the hallway just outside the courtroom and clapped and cheered for Rod as he walked out from the
elevators.

"Free Blago!" one yelled.

Rod and Patti walked up to them, Rod shaking their hands: "I didn't let you down, and this is the process to show it," he said, pointing to the courtroom.

Blagojevich trial: Day 12 -- tapes today -- and recap

| 4 Comments | No TrackBacks

Rodandpatti

On Monday: the prosecution lodged an attack on Rod Blagojevich through three different witnesses as it plows through its case at a rapid clip.

1. Bradley Tusk: testified while he was deputy governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich told him to deliver a message to then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel: He'd only get a $2 million grant for a school in his district if his Hollywood agent brother Ari Emanuel (the inspiration for Ari Gold on "Entourage") held a fund-raiser. Tusk testified that Gov. Blagojevich wasn't "engaged" and tough to find.
He said he had to hunt him down at his tailor and his daughter's salon to sign bills.
Otherwise, Tusk, today 36, was often tasked with signing bills.
Good for Blagojevich: Tusk said he thought the Emanuel request was illegal, but didn't quit his job and never reported it to law enforcement.

2. John Johnston: racetrack executive says as he awaited the governor's signature on a bill, he was shaken down for a campaign contribution by Lon Monk, Johnston's "conduit" to Rod Blagojevich.
Good for Blagojevich: Johnston says Blagojevich never asked him for cash and admits that Monk could be lying.

3. John Harris: says Blagojevich told him to cut off two brokerage firms from state business after each failed to hire his wife, Patti.
Good for Blagojevich: Harris never carried out his alleged order.

A congratulations to Sam Adam, who joins four other defense team members in receiving a thumping by U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

Up today: Former chief of staff John Harris is back on the stand where he'll likely remain until next week. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton says she'll bring in a series of secretly recorded conversations through Harris.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

John Harris

Rod Blagojevich told his top aide to cut off two firms, including CitiBank, from state business as retaliation for not giving his wife a job, former chief of staff John Harris has testified.

Patti had just gotten her Series 7 securities license; Rod was anxious to find her work, Harris testified, and asked the chief of staff to meet with some business contacts on her behalf.

Harris did, reaching out to two acquaintances, including one at CitiBank, he said. But the networking attempts failed -- and the governor was not pleased, he testified.

"He told me to make sure CitiBank doesn't get any more state work, and to make sure that John Rogers doesn't get any more state work," Harris testified. "He didn't feel they had done enough to help Patti."

Harris told an "agitated" and "angry" Blagojevich that cutting the firms off would be impossible, that he didn't have control over their bond work.

When Harris later learned CitiBank was in line to win a major state deal, he said he purposely kept Blagojevich in the dark.

"I knew he would be upset," Harris testified.

In the fall of 2006, then-gubernatorial chief of staff John Harris started getting phone calls from both Bradley Tusk and then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel's office about a school grant that was turning out to be a big headache, Harris has testified.

Emanuel wanted to know where the money was; Tusk told Harris that the governor would not approve the release of funds. So, Harris testified, he spoke to the governor.

"He seemed to be familiar with it and told me not to approve the release of funds, that he had not approved the release of funds," Harris said.

The prosecution's charges allege that Blagojevich was withholding the payments in an effort to strong-arm Rahm Emanuel, the school's congressman, into convincing his wealthy brother to hold a fund-raiser for the governor.

Harris learned that, with its new play fields already being built, the school was sitting on a pile of construction invoices they couldn't pay, Harris testified. He said he urged Blagojevich to release the funds.

The governor agreed -- but only to release the grant money bit by bit, Harris testified.

"His instruction to me was to release only the money to pay the invoices that the school had in hand," Harris said.

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton asked if this was the way grant money was usually doled out.

"No, the process was not typical and quite involved," Harris said. "I didn't experience that process again."

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Rod Blagojevich's former chief of staff, John Harris, has just taken the stand.

Harris, 48, served as the governor's chief from 2005 to his arrest -- alongside Blagojevich -- in December 2008. Harris has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a bribe, part of a plea deal that will get him no more than 35 months in prison.

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton is questioning Harris about his rise to the governor's office. Today he works nights as an apprentice lineman and electrician.

Harris has testified that it's not a state of Illinois representative who offered him a chief of staff position -- but a fund-raiser of the ex-governor at the time, Chris Kelly.

Harris said he met with Kelly for coffee, where Kelly offered him the job.

"They had a team not too familiar with government ... not much government or administration experience," Harris said. "They thought I would be a valuable asset and addition to the team."

Harris is the third significant witness of the day and the second former staffer who is testifying about direct conduct they allegedly witnessed while working with Blagojevich.

By Natasha Korecki

Bradley Tusk

After court, Bradley Tusk said that after Rod Blagojevich told him to ask Emanuel for a fund-raiser, he called to raise the issue with the then-governor's attorney.

"I meant, I was disturbed by what I heard," Tusk said.

A gaggle of reporters and camera crews followed Tusk out of the courthouse, bumping into one another in an obstacle course of cement benches behind the Dirksen Building.

One tattooed passerby shouted: "Rod Blagojevich, man! I hear he charged with 24 counts!"

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Prosecutor Reid Schar is emphatic as he asks follow-up questions about Blagojevich, speaking with his hands waving in the air, looking a tad red in the face. He's asking former Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk if Rod Blagojevich was easy to reach as governor.

The answer was no.

"He was not always engaged in the process," Tusk responded.

Schar asked if Blagojevich often ranted and raved as governor.

Yes -- but about having to attend meetings to talk about state business, Tusk said.

Schar mentioned one occasion when, Tusk has testified, Blagojevich asked about Emanuel's fund-raiser on the phone. Was he just ranting and raving then, Schar asked?

"No," Tusk said.

Schar: "Did you take him very seriously?"

Tusk: "I did."

Sorosky countered that the governor was known as a person who would make off-the-cuff remarks at times.

"He just said it once to you in a telephone conversation," Sorosky said. "You don't know if he was frustrated about whatever at the time."

Tusk's testimony has ended and Judge Zagel has called a 15-minute break.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Former Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk has testified that he didn't quit or notify any law enforcement agency after hearing of Blagojevich's alleged attempted shakedown of Rahm Emanuel.

Earlier in his cross-examination, Sorosky went down a line of questioning asking Tusk if the state was "bombarded" by requests like the Chicago Academy's -- seemingly to prove that the delay was a regular backlog, not the cause of any wrongdoing. Prosecutor Reid Schar objected.

Zagel sustained, telling Sorosky that he was confusing a delay in grant requests for a delay in paying out grants that had already been approved.

"If you want to ask him about refusals for grants that had already been granted, then that would have some relevance," Zagel said, assuming his coaching role.

It's getting to the point where Schar doesn't even speak to object -- he just stands up.

"Objection sustained," Judge Zagel continues, time after time.

As his lawyer cross examines Tusk, Rod at one point looks away and takes a deep breath.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Bradley Tusk, a onetime aide to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is testifying about an alleged shakedown scheme contained in the government's indictment.

Tusk said while he was deputy governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich told him he wanted a message delivered to then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel: A $2 million grant for the Chicago Academy, a school in Emanuel's district, was on hold unless his brother, Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, held a fund-raiser.

Ari is the inspiration for the "Entourage" characte, Ari Gold.

Tusk said he didn't deliver the message but called Blagojevich's lawyer to tell him: "You need to get your client under control."

Tusk also testified that when he came to Illinois from New York to interview for the deputy governor job, he first met with John Wyma and Chris Kelly -- a fund-raiser and a roofer.

When it came to finding Gov. Blagojevich -- that wasn't always easy.

He said he had to hunt him down at his tailor and his daughter's salon to sign bills.

Otherwise, Tusk, now 36, was often tasked with signing or vetoing bills.

Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky is cross-examining. Tusk tells Sorosky his hire was free of clout -- that Blagojevich hired a bright young man based on merits.

"I'd like to think so," Tusk says, to some chuckles. Rod, though, is not smiling.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Rod Blagojevich addressed a small crowd outside the courtroom during the lunch break. The first topic -- his wife's new haircut.

"It's beautiful. I say that to her every day -- and I'm not just saying that because she's testifying," he said, laughing. He confirmed that he got a trim, too.

Blagojevich also spoke about a possible gag order and said his lawyers are on the side of the First Amendment.

"One of the things we're fighting for is the First Amendment. That's worth fighting for and that's worth dying for, and that's what we're trying to do," he said.

Then Blagojevich came back to reporters to finish his sentence and make sure everyone got this: "The right of free speech, one of the cornerstones of America."

He was eventually warned by a deputy marshal to stop speaking.

from the Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- President Barack Obama's chief of staff, then a congressman in Illinois, apparently attempted to trade favors with embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich while he was in office, according to newly disclosed e-mails obtained by The Associated Press.

Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, agreed to sign a letter to the Chicago Tribune supporting Blagojevich in the face of a scathing editorial by the newspaper that ridiculed the governor for self-promotion. Within hours, Emanuel's own staff asked for a favor of its own: The release of a delayed $2 million grant to a school in his district.

The 2006 discussion with Blagojevich's top aide, Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk, doesn't appear to cross legal lines, and Emanuel couldn't speed up the distribution of the funds.

But it offers a peek at ties between two high-profile Illinois politicians -- one now the president's right-hand man, the other facing years in prison if convicted of political corruption.

Discussion of the exchange could come up at Blagojevich's corruption trial, currently under way in Chicago. Blagojevich, who is accused of plotting to profit by selling an appointment to Obama's former Senate seat, also tried later that year to use the school grant in an extortion attempt against Emanuel, according to federal prosecutors.

Authorities say he ordered Tusk, who told the AP he is scheduled to testify in the case Monday and couldn't comment, to get Emanuel to compel his Hollywood agent brother to host a political fundraiser before the grant was paid.

White House spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.

The favor unfolded in January 2006, according to e-mail exchanges released under the Freedom of Information Act. Blagojevich was 10 weeks away from a Democratic primary challenge in his quest for a second term and a federal investigation into his administration's hiring practices was well known.

The Tribune ripped him for claiming he was too busy governing to campaign for the primary, while plastering his name on taxpayer-financed projects such as the new automatic-pay toll highway system and a health care plan for children.

"Why be a chump on the stump when you can make taxpayers campaign for you?" the newspaper chafed.

Tusk, currently a consultant to the Republican candidate for New York state attorney general, tapped Emanuel, who had remained friendly after winning Blagojevich's former seat in the U.S. House in 2002.

Tusk wanted someone defending the governor for merely publicizing his own good programs, according to the e-mail exchange. A proposed 180-word letter to the editor followed.

"Would you be willing to send something like this to the Trib in response to today's editorial?" Tusk wrote Emanuel on Jan. 11, 2006.

Emanuel agreed. Later that day, the congressman's chief of staff suggested that someone contact the state employee overseeing the grant that Emanuel wanted released to the Chicago Academy, a teacher-preparatory school in Emanuel's district which wanted to build athletic fields. The grant, promised months earlier, still hadn't been paid.

On Jan. 16, 2006, a modified letter appeared in the Tribune over Emanuel's name. Despite the "packaging" of Blagojevich's programs, it said, "It's wrong to suggest it's the triumph of form over content. Look inside those packages, and you'll find real and lasting progress for the people of Illinois."

The money, however, didn't follow as quickly, and Emanuel appeared agitated.

"What the hell is holding up the school funding? This is a real problem for me now," Emanuel wrote on Aug. 28 when a contractor on the school project stopped work. "I am getting killed."

When Tusk repeatedly promised to call, Emanuel responded, "Just e-mail and tell me first will this happen in my lifetime. Second if yes then when. Real simple."

Phone records show Emanuel called Blagojevich on four successive days in late summer 2006. One message indicated the subject was the school. Repeated phone calls between Emanuel's and Blagojevich's staff followed the next week.

Shortly thereafter, the money started flowing, and the $2 million was paid by December. There was never a fundraiser.

Johnston

By Natasha Korecki

After court, racetrack owner John Johnston says he hopes his dad doesn't see his testimony where he called him an "ornery S.O.B."

"I'm glad Father's Day isn't this weekend," he said, smiling.

Johnston then told reporters he thought his testimony was "straightforward and forthcoming" and it would be up to jurors to decide anything more.

As for coming back to testify for the defense, Johnston's lawyer said his client was on notice by the defense to be ready.

Donald Feinstein, executive director of the Academy for Urban School Leadership, has taken the stand.

Feinstein is expected to testify about accusations that Rod Blagojevich held up payments of state grant to the school. The governor was allegedly trying to leverage fund-raising help from former Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who represented the school.

The school, which trains future teachers, hoped to turn a parking lot near its 3400 N. Austin location into an athletic field for its students, Feinstein testified.

School leaders were told they had received a $2 million state grant from then-Gov. Blagojevich and announced the project in September 2005. Construction started in spring 2006, he said.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Adam is working to distance Johnston from Blagojevich.

The attorney refers back to a 2008 conversation that Johnston testified about earlier, in which Lon Monk told Johnston that Blagojevich feared that if he passed the racetrack bill, Johnston wouldn't make a contribution.

In what has become a repeated argument of the defense, Adam asks Johnston if he ever heard those words come out of Blagojevich's mouth.

"The governor never said that to you, did he?" Adam asks. "And you don't know whether Monk was telling you the truth or if he was lying to you."

Johnston agrees.

Adam later argues that Johnston only felt pressure from the man he paid $300,000 over two years -- Lon Monk.

"Your lobbyist," Sam Sr. says.

"My lobbyist," Johnston says, smiling ironically.

Judge Zagel has called a 15-minute break.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Sam Adam Sr. is cross-examining racetrack owner John Johnston. At one point, Johnston says not to tell his father he called him an "ornery S.O.B."

Judge Zagel cracks a rare smile. Adam looks across the room to his son, saying, "Some of us have been called worse by our sons."

Sam Adam Jr. puts his hand to his face and shakes his head, smiling, as does Rod.

Sam Sr. is falling right in line with every other defense lawyer who has been counseled by Zagel as to how to appropriately question witnesses.

When Adam began questioning Johnston about material that wasn't brought up by the prosecution, Zagel told him he was "outside the scope."

But -- like son, like father -- Adam persisted.

"I don't think you got my point," Zagel told him sternly, adding that if he wanted, he could call Johnston back as a witness for the defense. "If you want to try to bring this stuff out, you're going to have to do it in your case, not theirs."

Adam is standing at the lectern to question, appearing to reference to notes before each query.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Johnston is testifying about a Dec. 3, 2008 meeting with his lobbyist, Lon Monk, at the Maywood racetrack office.

Monk came over after a meeting with Blagojevich at the then-governor's campaign office.

Johnston said he purposely planted his father -- "an ornery "S.O.B." -- in the meeting just so Monk wouldn't bring up the contribution.

It didn't work -- Monk brought it up anyway, on his way out, in the vestibule, Johnston testified.

Monk said he had spoken to the governor, who was concerned that if he signed the racetrack bill, Johnston would not make a contribution, Johnston testified.

"I said, I thought that's what the governor might be thinking. Your suggestion of a contribution at this time is inappropriate," Johnston testified that he told Monk.

"(Monk) turned to me and kind of rubbed his hands together and said, 'OK, different subject matter. I really need you to get a contribution in by the end of the year,'" Johnston testified.

Johnston again tried to dodge the subject, he said, but he felt pressured to give money and was uncomfortable.

"The fate of the legislation somewhat lay in the governor's hands," Johnston testified. "It concerned me."

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked Johnston if he believed that the contribution and the legislation were linked. Johnston said he thought it was.

"Just because (Monk) puts his hands together and says it's a different subject matter, doesn't make it so," he said.

During Johnston's testimony, Rod Blagojevich sat sideways in his chair, at times with his hand to his face, at times writing furiously.

Sam Adam Sr. is now cross-examining -- his first witness in this trial.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

A mild-mannered Johnston is testifying with his hands folded before him.

He just told jurors the 2008 racetrack bill -- which would extend a 2006 law that funneled subsidies from riverboat casinos to the struggling horse racing industry -- would bring $9,000 a day to his two racetracks -- once it went into effect.

Every day counted when it came to getting the bill signed.

Prosecutors show jurors a chart showing that in 2006, it took Blagojevich just one day to sign a similar bill.

Earlier, Johnston testified about a series of conversations he had with Lon Monk during which Monk asked him for campaign contributions.

Johnston did not commit to giving money and generally dodged the issue, he said.

I would generally try to deflect the conversation to another subject matter," he testified.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

John Johnston, the horse racing businessman and alleged extortion victim, has taken the stand. He is the second witness testifying with a grant of immunity.

His entrance into the courtroom was ... unconventional. Instead of waiting for a court security officer to remove the rope that cordons off the spectators from the main floor, Johnston just ducked right under it.

Johnston, wearing a pink and blue striped tie, is expected to testify that he was the victim of a shakedown scheme by the ex-governor related to a 2008 state bill that would have provided millions in subsidies to the horse racing industry.

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner just showed a chart detailing $320,000 in campaign contributions from Johnston's business or related ones. They're showing jurors that the donations were consistent -- but they came during fund-raisers.

That will not be the scenario when Johnston describes the then-governor's alleged shakedown in 2008.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

After Thursday's theatrics, the courtroom is atwitter this morning, wondering if Blagojevich's defense team is going to play by Judge Zagel's rules. There is also some buzz over Rod and Patti's new haircuts -- Rod just got a trim, but Patti is now sporting a far more conservative bob.

So far, things have been fairly quiet. Blago attorney Sam Adam Jr. quickly finished his cross-examination of Ali Ata and the witness was dismissed.

Prosecutors then put on the stand Michael Horst, an accountant who was the other name Blagojevich's administration nominated to head the Illinois Finance Authority when Ali Ata was given the job.

Prosecutors will later argue that Horst's name was put in for cover, when really the appointment all along was going to Ata -- the man who had given Blagojevich $50,000 in campaign checks and whom Tony Rezko believed he could control.

Horst testified that he had never met then-Gov. Blagojevich.

"Did you ask Blagojevich to nominate you?" prosecutors asked Horst.

"No," Horst said.

"Do you have any idea why he did?"

"No," Horst said.

Horst said he vaguely knew Chris Kelly, another buddy to the former governor. Kelly's roofing company rented space in the same building as one of Horst's clients, he said.

Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky cross-examined. He argued that the state could have found Horst a qualified candidate based on another state job Horst applied for.

But that resume was submitted in late 2004, prosecutors noted -- after Horst was nominated for the IFA job.

Blagojevich trial: Day 11 and last week's recap

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks


Let's see, last week started with a dismissed juror disclosing that people in the jury pool were reading and listening to news about the case.
Then Rod Blagojevich starts gabbing on the news, taking shots at his old friend's testimony. ("I couldn't help but think the shame that his father probably feels," Blagojevich said about Lon Monk).
That was it for prosecutors: they asked the judge to gag the former governor.

Judge James Zagel issued a warning to Blagojevich. But it didn't stop there. Over the four days of trial, Zagel either tutored or delivered a tongue-lashing to each of the four defense lawyers who questioned witnesses. As they pushed the limits in questioning, they tested Zagel's patience.

At one point, he ordered jurors out of the room so he could privately dress down Sam Adam Jr. Worse, Zagel needled him in open court: "Why do you do this?" Zagel asked Adam at one point.

Tapes were released that showed Blagojevich called his longtime donor Blair Hull "an idiot." Then there was the matter of federal witness Joseph Cari taking a dive outside the courthouse after he was knocked by cameras and the debacle in the cafeteria where a sandwich called "The Innocent (Blago)" was on display. Then pulled.

And ... so we're back today.

Here's what's on deck:

Witnesses up this week:
1. Ali Ata finishes his testimony.
2. John Johnston, horse-racing businessman/alleged extortion victim
3. Bradley Tusk, former deputy governor.
4. Michael Horst
5. Donald Feinstein
6. Dwayne Brusnighan


Blagojevich trial: Yesterday's and today's exhibits

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Judge Zagel to Sam Jr.: "Why do you do this?"

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Judge James Zagel's courtroom took on an air of a dysfunctional family gathering this afternoon, as Sam Adam Jr.'s cross-examination of government witness Ali Ata devolved into a series of scoldings and apologies.

The conflict came to a head early. Just a few minutes in, Adam turned his questioning to a comment that Ata had made earlier that FBI agents had questioned him following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Adam seemed to be making the argument that Ata -- a "valued member of the Arab-American community" who "loves his country" -- had been wronged by the government before.

Prosecutor Carrie Hamilton objected and the judge sustained. But Adam persisted, tweaking the wording of the questions to try to get them past the prosecution's radar.

Finally, an animated Adam asked the witness, "You had nothing to do with 9/11, did you?"

Zagel abruptly halted questioning and sent the jury out of the room.

With spectators sitting on the edge of their seats, Zagel gave Adam a tongue-lashing for the judicial equivalent of running his mouth off.

"It would be nice if you stopped at the second reiteration," Zagel said flatly.

With the jury back in their seats, Adam brought the questioning around to two $25,000 contributions Ata made to the ex-governor. He asked the witness to define a "quid pro quo" -- repeatedly, despite objections that it's not the witness' place to make legal interpretations. Hamilton, clearly exasperated, leapt out of her seat again and again.

"Why do you do this?" Zagel eventually asked him. Adam looked surprised. "Ask him what he did. Don't ask him his opinion."

Adam bounced back and began asking if Ata had ever heard from Blagojevich's mouth that he would have to pay up if he wanted a state job. Again an argumentative Adam prompted more objections from Hamilton.

Zagel finally cut in.

"If the point you're trying to make is that your client never personally (spoke to the witness about fund-raising), and you think this jury does not understand this point by now, you should just give up all hope," Zagel said, prompting laughter in the room and among the jurors.

"The objection," he paused, "is sustained."

After several exchanges between Blagojevich defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. and Judge James Zagel, court has been adjourned for the day.

Zagel was sustaining so many objections made by the prosecution that, at one point, Adam apparently looked at Zagel incredulously.

"I know you look shocked," Zagel said. "But I don't think you are shocked. The objection is sustained."

Adam will resume questioning Ata on Monday. After that, witnesses are expected to include horse track owner John Johnston, who allegedly was shaken down by Lon Monk for campaign contributions to Blagojevich; and Bradley Tusk, a former deputy governor under Blagojevich.

Blagojevich defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. has begun questioning Ata. Things got off to a rocky start when Adam began asking him about how the FBI interviewed Ata after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ata detailed that story in his 2008 testimony in the Rezko trial, saying the FBI found nothing wrong with him.

It was unclear why Adam was bringing it up now, and Judge James Zagel briefly sent the jurors out of the room to discuss it with Adam.

"The questioning is very repetitive," Zagel said. "He's told you what he thought. He's told the government what he thought

"I'm barring this line of questioning. Usually, if I sustain an objection, that means you don't repeat the question."

The prosecution just wrapped up its questioning of Ali Ata.

Ata repeated a charge he leveled in 2008 - that Rezko had told him that a prominent Republican - then-President Bush's top adviser Karl Rove - was working to replace Patrick Fitzgerald as U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois.

Rove has repeatedly denied this, but Ata believed what Rezko had to say.

Ata said the possibility that Fitzgerald might be replaced contributed to his willingness to lie to the FBI in 2005. Obviously, Fitzgerald was not replaced.

Tony Rezko, convicted of public corruption in 2008, believed his telephones were being tapped as early as spring 2004, according to Ali Ata. He said Rezko showed him "bug-detecting" devices in Rezko's offices that Rezko had installed and told him that the two should not speak over the phone.

It was unclear by Ata's testimony whether the FBI actually had tapped Rezko's phones at that time.

Then, in November 2005, Ata was approached by the FBI. Almost immediately thereafter, Michael Rumman, a Rezko associate and former director of the state's Central Management Services Department, left him a voicemail and, in cryptic terms, encouraged Ata not to cooperate with the federal government.

"I understand you have a function coming up," Ata recalled Rumman saying.

Ata also said he could hear Rezko in the background.

"Delay it as much as you can and we'll reach out to you when we get back," Rumman also said, according to Ata.

Ali Ata has explained to jurors in Rod Blagojevich's criminal trial how he came to be hired in Rod Blagojevich's administration. It's a slightly more detailed version of testimony that Ata gave at Tony Rezko's criminal trial in 2008.

Ata testified he went to Rezko's real estate office on Aug. 30, 2002 -- shortly before Blagojevich was elected in November 2002 -- to drop off a $25,000 campaign contribution to Blagojevich.

Rezko brought Ata back to a conference room where Ata met with Rezko, fellow Blagojevich fund-raiser Chris Kelly, future gubernatorial chief of staff Lon Monk and state Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville).

At that point, Rezko told the group how Ata had been a "team player" and should be considered for a position within Blagojevich's future administration.

After the election, Rezko told Ata he'd be named executive director of the state Capital Development Board. But Ata later learned that Rezko had been "shouted at" by Hoffman because that job was supposed to go to a downstater.

Then, Rezko discussed making Ata part of a deal in which state leases would be analyzed by an outside firm. That deal fell through, too.

Then, in July 2003, Rezko raised the possibility of Ata becoming director of the Illinois Finance Authority, a new agency. Rezko then asked for a $50,000 contribution from Ata.

"I told him I can do 25," meaning $25,000, Ata testified. He made that second contribution at a Navy Pier fund-raiser for Blagojevich that same month.

At that fund-raiser, Ata said he had a conversation with Blagojevich in which Blagojevich thanked him for his support. Blagojevich also said he was aware Ata was up for a job in Blagojevich's administration.

"It better be a job where you'd make some money," Ata said Blagojevich told him.

Ata said he found the statement strange but didn't react to it at the time.

Eventually, he got the Illinois Finance Authority post in January 2004.

Ali Ata, who was director of the Illinois Finance Authority under then-Gov. Blagojevich, is now on the witness stand.

He just detailed how he pulled off an income-tax scam regarding a commercial property he sold with his onetime friend Tony Rezko at Addison and Kimball in Chicago. He's also beginning to discuss his relationship with Blagojevich, saying he began raising money for Blagojevich's gubernatorial race in 2002.

"Mr. Blagojevich called and asked for my support," Ata said. "I held two fund-raisers and contributed money on my own."

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Daniel Libit, a Chicago News Cooperative reporter covering Rod Blagojevich's trial, snapped a couple of lunchtime pictures from the federal courthouse cafeteria showing that the cafeteria staff apparently has a sense of humor.

One new lunchtime offering was a sandwich called "The 'Innocent' aka Blago." And, yes, there also was a new "Patty Melt."

This, of course, appears to be all in good fun. But jurors often dine in the courthouse cafeteria, so it's no surprise that the "specials" were removed within moments of Libit posting his photos online.

UPDATE: This just in from the Clerk of Court: "Yes, it is inappropriate for cafeteria personnel to make comments about pending cases in the courthouse."

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Jill Hayden, the former director of the Governor's Office of Boards & Commissions under Rod Blagojevich, is testifying how Blagojevich fund-raisers Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly controlled the bulk of appointees to the board of the Illinois Finance Authority, a public-financing agency that Blagojevich created in 2003.

She's setting the stage for testimony by Ali Ata, who was Blagojevich's pick to become the agency's executive director. Ata was a friend of Rezko's and a major Blagojevich campaign contributor.

All of this testimony was discussed in Rezko's 2008 trial, too.

Jill Hayden, the former director of the Governor's Office of Boards & Commissions under Rod Blagojevich, has taken the stand.

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner questioned her about the process by which Blagojevich appointed people to the state's 300 boards and commissions. The governor was tasked with filling 1,500 positions; only a few of those were paid, Hayden said.

Hayden, who reported to then-gubernatorial chief of staff Lon Monk, handled applications for the appointees and oversaw the vetting process. She testified that she frequently saw people recommended for board spots by Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly, and "generally those candidates were taken more seriously."

Judge Zagel has called a one-hour break for lunch. Court will reconvene at 1:30 p.m.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

After Blagojevich lawyer Michael Gillespie finished questioning Joe Cari, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner followed up by asking Cari about a key point that Gillespie was making -- that Cari initially lied to FBI agents when questioned about some of Cari's admitted illegal conduct.

Cari replied that he didn't know exactly how far the investigation would go and that he feared retribution from Blagojevich.

"If it was found that I had cooperated (with prosecutors), the ramifications from the governor and his people would be pretty severe," Cari said.

Blagojevich defense attorney Michael Gillespie's questioning of Joe Cari drew a stiff rebuke from Judge James Zagel, who called one of Gillespie's questions "improper."

Gillespie phrased a question "You expect the jury to believe . . ." when Zagel stopped him.

"Do not ask a witness whether he expects the jury to believe something," Zagel said. "Let the jury decide."

Zagel got frustrated again with Gillespie toward the end of his questioning of Cari.

"Your lawyer, according to the plea you have, has the ability to ask for probation," Gillespie told Cari.

"Yes," Cari replied.

"You would lie to stay out of jail wouldn't you," Gillespie then said.

Cari emphatically replied "no" before Zagel stopped the questioning.

"You're arguing with the witness, you're not questioning him," Zagel told Gillespie.

Yesterday, Joe Cari testified about a conversation he had with then-Gov. Blagojevich on a plane trip tied to Blagojevich's New York fund-raiser in 2003. During that conversation, Blagojevich allegedly told Cari that he wanted to follow former President Clinton's political fund-raising model back when Clinton was Arkansas governor.

Blagojevich wanted Cari -- a national Democratic fund-raiser for Al Gore and others -- to help him do the same thing, according to Cari. A key to that would be to solicit campaign contributions from contractors who get state business.

The prosecution's line of questioning appeared designed to show that Blagojevich was obsessed with political fund-raising and once lied to FBI agents about that.

Some background: Blagojevich had maintained in a March 2005 interview with the FBI that there was a "firewall" between political fund-raising efforts and government decisions. One of the 24 criminal counts Blagojevich is facing is lying to FBI agents about the role Blagojevich himself played in soliciting campaign contributions.

Clearly understanding the potential importance of the Blagojevich-Cari conversation on the plane, Blagojevich attorney Michael Gillespie tried to cast it in a way that attempts to show Blagojevich did nothing illegal by talking to Cari about fund-raising.

He pointed out to Cari that Blagojevich was discussing fund-raising in the context of President Clinton, and that Blagojevich never explicitly stated during the conversation with Cari that state actions would be traded for political cash.

Eventually, Cari agreed with Gillespie that Blagojevich never directly tied the two together.

However, when prosecutors did their re-examination of Cari later on, Cari testfieid that he understood Blagojevich to mean that there would be a "quid pro quo" between state contracts and contributions.

Blagojevich defense attorney Michael Gillespie is now trying to undercut Cari's testimony that Blagojevich was aware of attempts by Stuart Levine, Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko to trade state pension-investment business for kickbacks and campaign contributions to Blagojevich's gubernatorial fund.

Cari came out swinging early in response to one of Gillespie's questions, asserting, "If you did not play ball the way they [Levine, Kelly and Rezko] wanted, there was repercussions."

Gillespie, however, then asked Cari if Blagojevich ever directly threatened to withhold state business from himself, his HealthPoint Capital investment firm or any of his law clients.

"No," Cari replied.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Former Democratic national fund-raiser Joseph Cari -- who once was presidential candidate Al Gore's top fund-raiser -- is back on the witness stand this morning. He's discussing a New York fund-raising trip he helped arrange for then-Gov.-Blagojevich in 2003, as well as the alleged shakedown of an East Coast investment-banking firm, JER Partners, in 2004.

Prosecutors are using Cari's testimony to try to show jurors how Blagojevich and his top fund-raisers were trying to control consulting fees tied to state teacher-pension investments in exchange for campaign contributions and kickbacks.

In 2003 and 2004, Cari, a Chicago lawyer, was a principal in another investment company, called HealthPoint Capital, that had gotten Illinois pension investment business and had been vying to get more. HealthPoint was based in New York -- hence the New York fund-raising swing that the firm helped set up for Blagojevich.

Cari also had become an intermediary between former Teachers' Retirement System of Illinois board member Stuart Levine and JER. (Levine has pleaded guilty to various crimes involving Blagojevich's administration but has not been sentenced.)

Levine had made it clear to Cari that JER would need to hire a specific consultant in order to get an $80 million deal to invest state teacher-pension money. Cari testified that Levine wanted that consultant hired based on orders from the now-jailed Tony Rezko and the late Chris Kelly, then top fund-raisers for Blagojevich.

Cari engaged in several conversations with JER officials regarding that consultant, whom he did not know. That consultant was to be paid a "finder's fee" from the deal, even though the consultant would do no work, according to prosecutors.

Cari told jurors this morning that in 2004 he implored a top JER employee to hire the consultant, saying something to the effect of, "In Illinois, the governor and the top people around him -- I'm talking specifically about Gov. Blagojevich, not Illinois historically -- that they pick the investment bankers, the law firms. And that's the way it's done in Illinois.

The JER employee "took it in," Cari then testified. "She said she understands the info. and said she would get back to me."

The consultant was never hired because the FBI confronted Levine about the deal before it could go through. The shakedown is one of the many reasons Levine cut a plea deal with prosecutors, as did Cari.

Besides testifying about the JER shakedown, Cari told jurors that Kelly seemed to be obsessed with controlling the money that was raised from a Blagojevich fund-raiser at the Harvard Club in Manhattan.

After dinner at a restaurant nearby, "Mr. Kelly was adamant that he wanted to take all the checks from the fund-raiser back with him that night to Chicago."

Cari wouldn't let him. He said they needed to make copies of the checks and "leave a paper trail."

Kelly was "upset" about that.

Blagojevich trial: Day 10 Witness list, recap

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks


The Blagojevich trial

Wednesday recap: Rod Blagojevich can't keep out of the limelight but Judge James Zagel warns he's pushing it as prosecutors ask that the former governor be gagged. Zagel holds off, saying that's a last resort.
Blagojevich after court still speaks, but briefly. He can't resist the public, posing for pictures, smiling with them and joking: "I'm here Monday through Thursday."

Witnesses today:

1. Joseph Cari continues his testimony, which is expected to include details of a scheme to extort a firm that sought state business.
2. Jill Hayden, who formerly headed Blagojevich's boards and commissions.
3. Ali Ata, another Tony Rezko associate who has testified that he handed Rod Blagojevich a campaign contribution check just as he learned he'd be appointed to head a state agency.

Blagojevich trial: Yesterday's exhibits

| 3 Comments | No TrackBacks

Judge doesn't gag blabby Blagojevich -- yet

| 6 Comments | No TrackBacks

With Sarah Ostman


Judge James Zagel hasn't slapped a gag order on Rod Blagojevich for his daily blurts outside of court -- yet.

Responding to a prosecution's request to bar Blagojevich from talking, Zagel said an outright ban is a last resort but he already has "significant concerns" about Blagojevich's out of court remarks.

Zagel reviewed a prosecution filing which contained the text of Blagojevich's news conference after court yesterday as well as his lawyer's. Zagel said he was concerned with the remarks, which accused witness Lon Monk of lying.

"It is an appeal to sympathy, which is something you are not permitted to do with the jury," Zagel said. "I do have significant concerns."

Zagel told both sides to "sit down with each other and see if we can have some kind of an agreement as to what somebody might say."

The lawyers in the case are supposed to come up with some kind of proposal on Monday.

"I am pleased that the issue has been raised early. I don't think anything anybody has said now is going to have much of an effect of any kind," Zagel said. "I would be concerned about things that would be said in the last three to four weeks of the trial."

After court Blagojevich said he would refrain from commenting on proceedings.

He did then proceed to take pictures with several people. Included in them: Derrick Moseley, a convicted extortionist. His case was handled in the same building.

Moseley has been attending the trial.


Taking the stand now in Rod Blagojevich's trial, is Joseph Cari, former Democratic National Committee Finance Chairman in the 2000 presidential campaign.

Cari, also an attorney, pleaded guilty in 2005 to attempted extortion in a scheme involving a state board, the Teachers Retirement System.

Cari, who has not been sentenced, also testified in the 2008 criminal case of Tony Rezko.

Cari is telling jurors that he once worked with a firm Health Point, which won $35 million investments from TRS in 2003 -- through the help of then-TRS board member Stuart Levine. Levine has pleaded guilty to substantial wrongdoing tied to the state.

PROSECUTORS TO JUDGE: MUZZLE ROD BLAGOJEVICH

| 9 Comments | 1 TrackBack

blagocrush


For the first time since Rod Blagojevich began his mega-media blitz in 2009, federal prosecutors have asked the trial's presiding judge to slap a muzzle on the former governor.

The final straw for prosecutors apparently came yesterday, when the former governor spoke to the media about the testimony of government witness Lon Monk.

Blagojevich said Monk's parents would be ashamed of his lies from the witness stand.

"Rod Blagojevich's efforts to manipulate media coverage to gain favorable attention and thereby to, directly or indirectly, influence the jury, has reached a level that requires court intervention," prosecutors wrote in a filing.

They're asking Judge James Zagel to force Blagojevich and his lawyers to stop offering their opinions about what happened in court.

"This case has attracted extensive media attention, to say the least. In the weeks
immediately preceding the trial, defendant Rod Blagojevich and his counsel, with the
help of a retained public relations firm, have appeared on radio and television shows,
and were quoted in numerous news articles, making statements that ventured into
areas the Court has precluded from being addressed before the jury," prosecutors wrote in a filing.

To read the filing: Click here.>

Zagel said he would take up the issue later.

with Sarah Ostman

Rod Blagojevich's jury is looking at financial charts that appear to buttress the testimony of onetime top Blagojevich aide Lon Monk.

One chart shows a series of wire transfers from various accounts belonging to Tony Rezko. Finally, one of the accounts is drawn down the day after a $200,000 check is written to another Blagojevich associate, Christopher Kelly.

Shari Schindler a 23-year revenue agent with the IRS testified that one check for $12,000 traced back to Patti Blagojevich's account at her business, River Realty in October 3, 2003, the same day that Rezko associate Joseph Aramanda was moving money out of his account.

Schindler is tapped in all the top criminal cases here in federal court. She's known as the expert who untangles the financial mess associated with complicated cases.

Schindler said she scrutinized all of Monk's bank accounts, including his wife's. Between Sept. 2004 and 2007: "There's virtually no cash withdrawn from the banks."

"In that time could you find any deposits for Mr. Monk or his wife?" Prosecutor Reid Schar asked.

"I looked for them and I couldn't find any," Schindler said.

That supports Monk's testimony that he was taking cash payments from Rezko, up to $90,000.

Blagojevich attorney Aaron Goldstein tried offering a reason for the cash payments.
"Someone was giving him potentially hush-money," attorney Goldstein tried asking.

It apparently was such an obvious objection, there was laughter in the gallery.

Judge James Zagel slapped down some of Goldstein's attempted questions, repeatedly telling him he was going outside the scope.

He's now giving the defense yet another tutorial on what kinds of questions they're allowed to ask and what they're not allowed to ask. In general, don't start questions: "is it possible," he said.

He made comparisons to the World Cup, saying it's "possible" that England or Brazil might win. But anyone who says it's possible that Australia wins doesn't know what he's talking about.

(Personally, I'm offended Zagel didn't use Argentina as an example of a "possible" winner.)

"Before you utter the word "possible" think about that," Zagel told them.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

Prosecution witness Joseph Aramanda just testified that Tony Rezko asked him to write a $10,000 campaign contribution check to Barack Obama.

"Isn't it true that Mr. Rezko asked you to make a check for $10,000 out to Friends of Obama?" Rod Blagojevich attorney Michael Gillespie asked.

Aramanda acknowledged the check. He gave $10,000 in campaign cash to Obama's U.S. Senate campaign on March 5, 2004, according to records.

In Rezko's criminal trial, prosecutors said Aramanda got an illegal $250,000 "finder's fee" tied to a state teacher-pension investment deal. Prosecutors also said that Aramanda did no work for the money, and that some of it was used to pay a Rezko debt.

According to prosecutors, it was a portion of that $250,000 that was routed back to Obama's campaign when he was running for U.S. Senate.

Aramanda said Rezko asked him to make the donation for him; it is a violation of campaign finance laws to make straw donations.

Obama -- who's said he had no idea at the time the Aramanda contribution was tainted in any way -- later gave the Aramanda money to charity, as well as tens of thousands of dollars more from Rezko, who was part of Obama's senatorial finance committee.

Aramanda said he remains friends with Rezko, who in 2008 was convicted of corruption under Blagojevich. Aramanda visited Rezko in jail on Jan. 4, 2009 and in February of 2009.

Gillespie is pressing Aramanda on the timing of his statements about the former governor to prosecutors. He said Aramanda's allegation about Blagojevich's involvement with Rezko in siphoning fees from TRS didn't come until after he met with Rezko in jail and after Rezko began talking to prosecutors.

"What could be more substantive than a sitting governor taking payments?" Gillespie asked, noting Aramanda hadn't specified this in one of his debriefings with the prosecution. Aramanda did not answer because the judge upheld an objection.

Gillespie asked if Aramanda heard that Rezko was cooperating back in 2009.

"I can tell you what I heard, it's not that I heard he was cooperating," Aramanda said. "Obviously if he's meeting with (prosecutors) he was talking with them. I don't know that he was cooperating with them."

"Soon after, was the first time you said to anyone this alleged statement that the governor was taking money, correct?" Gillespie asked.

Again, Aramanda couldn't respond because of an objection.

Aramanda didn't testify he knew Blagojevich took money, only that Rezko spoke of an agreement where Rezko, Blagojevich and two others would split proceeds from state deals.

Here's one other small connection between Rezko, Aramanda and Obama: Obama's Senate office hired Aramanda's son as an intern in 2005, at Rezko's urging.
Obama's camp, however, has said that Obama did not know Aramanda personally.


One of Rod Blagojevich's defense lawyers just took great pains to make sure witness Joseph Aramanda explained who else was at Tony Rezko's mansion the day he met Rod Blagojevich.

The other person: Barack Obama.

Aramanda said it was a fund-raiser for both Obama and Blagojevich.

The defense is trying to draw links here. They're trying to show that Aramanda was bamboozled by Tony Rezko -- just like Blagojevich and, they will argue, just like Obama.

Obama and Rezko were friends when Obama was an aspiring U.S. Senator. Rezko did some fund-raising for Obama and bought property next door to the Obama's Hyde Park home.

Defense lawyer Michael Gillespie said Rezko used Aramanda to funnel kickbacks.

"He made no mention he was using you as a front man to get his money," Gillespie asked.

Aramanda had testified that Rezko arranged for Aramanda to get "business loans"
through Rezko's friends. Rezko then tapped Aramanda to use portions of those "loans" to repay Rezko's debt.

Rezko also directed Aramanda to make payments on his behalf, he testified. Aramanda testified that Rezko gave him a list of names and told him the amounts he was to wire to various Rezko associates.

Not included in that list: Rod Blagojevich.

"He never gave you a wire transfer for an account in Aruba and said, this is the governor's, send it to him," Gillespie asked.
"No," Aramanda responded.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

rezobama
Tony Rezko

A second witness -- who is on the stand under a letter of immunity -- testified that Tony Rezko told him Rod Blagojevich, while he was governor, was involved in a deal with Rezko where fees would be split between himself and his "inner circle."

Rezko proposed that Aramanda would act as an intermediary with the Teachers Retirement Systems and receive fees from TRS investments with different firms, according to court records.

Joseph Aramanda testified that Rezko invited him to be part of that business venture where his annual yearly salary would be $250,000. Aramanda said he thought that was shockingly low, given that the transactions could rake in $1 million or more per deal and there would likely be multiple deals each year.

Aramanda asked Rezko what was going to happen to the rest of the money, he testified.

The answer was that it would be split among other partners.

The big reveal: Aramanda backed up what government witness Lon Monk claimed earlier in his testimony -- that sharing in the proceeds from that proposed deal would be Rod Blagojevich, Lon Monk and Chris Kelly.

"I was uncomfortable with the situation," Aramanda said of the proposed venture. "I thought it was wrong."

Aramanda said he refused to take part in it.

Still, his testimony supports Monk, who the defense called a liar. Monk testified that Blagojevich, himself, Rezko and Kelly met secretly to map out how they would make money off of state deals with the then-governor taking action to benefit his friends.

Aramanda is a friend and former business associate of Rezko, the convicted fund-raiser. He is testifying about a 2004 deal to accept a finder's fee from Glencoe Capital, which won a $50 million investment from the state's Teachers' Retirement System.

Aramanda hadn't done any work for his fees, he testified. So when he asked Glencoe Capital's Sheldon Pekin to make the second payment in April 2004, Pekin shot back with, "What do you think, Christmas comes early?" according to Aramanda.

Prosecutors played a recording of a conversation between onetime TRS and health board member Stuart Levine and Sheldon Pekin that confirmed the Christmas comment and the tape made reference to the "other guy," getting upset about Pekin's comment. The "other guy," is a reference to Tony Rezko, according to testimony at Rezko's 2008 trial.

Pekin's comment insinuated that Aramanda was pocketing "gift" money, Aramanda testified, and he was offended by the remark.

According to Aramanda, it was Rezko who hooked up Aramanda to do work for Pekin. Of Aramanda's first $150,000 payment from Pekin, $50,000 went to Rezko, Aramanda testified.

Rezko approached Aramanda to smooth things over after the Christmas remark, and he told Aramanda he wanted him in on another investment-finding deal -- one he said "could be a really big business opportunity and could relate to multiple transactions over a number of years," Aramanda testified.

Defense attorney Michael Gillespie is now cross-examining.

Attorneys for Rod Blogojevich filed a motion this morning asking Judge James Zagel to keep tapes and transcripts of the government's recordings out of the public eye until after a witness has been cross-examined.

It was the next step in a back-and-forth that had been discussed for days. Zagel ordered yesterday that the tapes could be released at the end of the day that they were played.

But after the judge made that ruling, the defense decided they wanted the tapes kept secret until after their cross-examination.

They argued that if the transcripts were on the Internet, witnesses could read them and better prepare for their cross-examination.

Zagel disagreed.

'I don't think whatever is added by the availability on the Internet of transcripts is any menace at all," he said.

The questioning of Tony Rezko associate Joseph Aramanda is under way.

Blagojevich trial: Day 9 Witness list

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks


One of the government's chief witnesses, Lon Monk, concluded his testimony Tuesday.

Good for prosecutors: Monk dished considerably against his old boss, alleging Rod Blagojevich went so far as to agree to appoint someone to a senate seat in exchange for killing an ethics bill.

Good for defense: By the time Monk went back to his home in Decatur, his old friend Blagojevich said Monk's parents were likely ashamed of him and defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. accused him of being a liar.

Witnesses up today:
1. Joseph Aramanda continues his testimony. Aramanda, an associate of political fund-raiser Tony Rezko, testified
2. A financial analyst who's likely to keep talking about a $10 billion pension bond deal.
3. A "brief witness related to an insurance company." Lon Monk testified that Rezko had attempted to make money personally off the state involving an insurance company.
4. Joseph Cari, a onetime heavyweight Democratic political fund-raiser who has pleaded guilty for his role in a criminal scheme involving the Teachers' Retirement System of Illinois.

Blagojevich trial: Yesterday's exhibits

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Here are the exhibits for yesterday, Monday, June 14. Today's exhibits will be posted when they are released.

2008 Racetrack Legislative History.pdf

Monk Travel Records Group (redacted).pdf

2006 Legislative History.pdf

Blagojevich.jpg

Rod Blagojevich addressed the press moments ago on his way out of the courthouse. It was the first time he had spoken publicly since his old friend and former chief of staff, Lon Monk, took the stand last Thursday to testify against him.

"Today was, in many ways, from a personal standpoint, a very sad day," Blagojevich began with Patti by his side.

"It was very sad to see my old friend on the stand, testifying to statements that he made, acknowledging that those statements were not true," he said.

The ex-governor was referring to several points from Monk's testimony that defense attorney Sam Adams Jr. cast as lies in his cross-examination today.

"As my old friend was testifying and saying things that he knew weren't true, I couldn't help but think about times that we spent together," Blagojevich continued. "I couldn't help but think about his mother and his father, especially his father, and the shame that his father probably feels.

"And, of course, I felt a real sadness for him, knowing that he made statements and said things that were not true and is now going to spend time in jail for something he didn't do.

"So it's a very, very sad day from a personal standpoint, but from the standpoint of getting the truth out, I think we made real strides in establishing what the truth is," he said.

Blagojevich trial wraps up for the day

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks


Reporting with Chris Fusco

Prosecutors have told Judge James Zagel they expect to keep Aramanda on the witness stand another half hour or so.

Tomorrow's witnesses are expected to be a "financial analyst," a "brief witness related to an insurance company" and Joseph Cari, a onetime heavyweight Democratic political fund-raiser who has pleaded guilty for his role in a criminal scheme involving the Teachers' Retirement System of Illinois.

Rezko2.jpg

By Chris Fusco

The complicated "follow the money" chain referenced in our earlier "Who is Joe Aramanda" blog post has begun.

Aramanda is detailing how a $600,000 loan he got from Springfield lobbyist Robert Kjellander in late summer 2003 didn't go as planned.

Aramanda got the loan with help from former Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko, who is now behind bars. Prosecutors have suggested the source of funds was a fee that Kjellander got from a $10 billion state government borrowing deal.

Aramanda thought he would use the money to rebuild a pizza business which he'd bought from Rezko.

Instead, Rezko apparently forced Aramanda to use the money to settle a $475,000 debt Aramanda still owed Rezko from Aramanda's pizza franchise purchase.

Aramanda ended up paying $461,000 to people to whom Rezko owed money. He used the rest of the money to try to help his pizza restaurants stay afloat.

Then, in April, Kjellander called Aramanda wanting the one-year loan repaid early.

It was that at time, Aramanda testified, that Rezko arranged for another loan to Aramanda -- from Jay Wilton, a California developer who'd recently been awarded a deal to operate oases for the Illinois Tollway. Wilton also was a major Blagojevich campaign contributor.

Aramanda used the Wilton loan to repay Kjellander the $600,000, plus another $24,000, presumably interest.

Aramanda is now answering questions about the Teachers' Retirement System and "finder's fees" that consultants were paid in exchange for being middle men who paired up investment companies with the TRS board.

Rezko told Aramanda that he could help Aramanda get into the finder's fee business.

In Rezko's trial, it was alleged that Rezko directed a $250,000 "finder's fee" from a TRS investment to Rezko.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner seems to continue to be laying out the complicated money trail for jurors.


A $600,000 loan that businessman Joseph Aramanda got from Springfield lobbyist Robert Kjellander was supposed to be used to help Aramanda rebuild a struggling pizza-restaurant he'd bought from Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko.

But shortly after Rezko helped Aramanda get the loan, Rezko changed Aramanda's plans.

Rezko pointed out that Aramanda owed him money from when Aramanda bought the pizza restaurants from Rezko. As a result, Rezko told Aramanda he'd have to pay him back by paying several Rezko debts.

Ultimately, Aramanda testified he used $475,000 of the $600,000 from Kjellander to pay Rezko debts.

Businessman Joseph Aramanda was just called to the witness stand in Rod Blagojevich's trial. He's testifying under immunity, which means he won't be charged with any crimes even if he testifies to being part of criminal wrongdoing.

Here's some background on him:

Aramanda has been in and out of the news since shortly before Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko's indictment in 2006. Aramanda, however, didn't testify during Rezko's 2008 trial, in which Rezko was found guilty.

Now, he's cooperating with the prosecution, and he's expected to walk jurors through a complicated "follow the money" scenario that shows how a $10 billion state pension borrowing deal was designed to put money in Rezko's pocket -- money that Rezko allegedly had planned to share with Blagojevich and others.

In summer 2003, the state of Illinois sold $10 billion in bonds on one day to help prop up its financially struggling retirement systems. Bear Stearns, a now-defunct investment banking firm, was the lead underwriter.

After the bonds were sold, Rezko told Blagojevich's then-chief of staff Alonzo "Lon" Monk that Aramanda -- a longtime friend and associate of Rezko's in his restaurant businesses -- "was putting money in a separate account that would later be turned over to Rezko," according to a prosecution court filing.

The money, Rezko indicated, was to come from a consulting fee that Bear Stearns was pay to Springfield lobbyist Robert Kjellander. Kjellander "was going to give Rezko $500,000, which Monk understood was for the help that Rezko had provided to Bear Stearns and Kjellander" on the bond deal.

On Sept. 24, 2003, Kjellander got an $809,000 fee from Bear Stearns, according to prosecutors. According to prosecutors, Rezko then arranged for "a $600,000 transfer of funds to Joseph Aramanda," on Oct. 2, 2003, "pursuant to a loan agreement between [Kjellander] and Aramanda that Rezko had arranged to draw up."

"At Rezko's direction, Aramanda then transferred approximately $450,00 of the $600,000 he received from [Kjellander] to various individuals and entities chosen by Rezko," according to prosecutors. Aramanda then "ultimately paid [Kjellander] back in June 2004, shortly after Rezko arranged for Aramanda to receive another loan of approximately $600,000 from another associate of Rezko's who did business with the State of Illinois."

Who got the $450,000 in transfers has never been publicly disclosed. Neither has the identity of the other Rezko associate who gave Aramanda the other $600,000 loan.

Kjellander -- who never has been charged with any crimes -- repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing. He's said he simply gave Aramanda a loan.

Besides Aramanda's presence in Blagojevich's criminal case, Aramanda also factored heavily in Rezko's.

In Rezko's criminal trial, prosecutors said Aramanda got an illegal $250,000 "finder's fee" tied to a state teacher-pension investment deal. Prosecutors also said that Aramanda did no work for the money, and that some of it was used to pay a Rezko debt.

Some of that $250,000 also was routed to Barack Obama's campaign back when Obama was running for U.S. Senate, according to prosecutors in Rezko's case. Aramanda gave $10,000 in campaign cash to Obama's Senate campaign on March 5, 2004 -- money that Rezko apparently had directed Aramanda to give.

Obama -- who's said he had no idea at the time the Armanda contribution was tainted in any way -- later gave the Aramanda money to charity, as well as tens of thousands of dollars more from Rezko, who was part of Obama's senatorial finance committee.

Here's one other small connection between Rezko, Aramanda and Obama: Obama's Senate office hired Aramanda's son as an intern in 2005, at Rezko's urging.
Obama's camp, however, has said that Obama did not know Aramanda personally.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton has begun questioning Vincent A. Mazzaro, an accountant who was controller of the municipal bond department for Bear Stearns, the now-defunct investment banking firm that handled the state's $10 billion pension-borrowing deal in 2003.

Prosecutors allege the deal became part of a scheme that eventually would route cash to Blagojevich. Mazzaro is now answering questions about how Bear Stearns was to pay a "success fee" to Springfield Consulting Group, a lobbying firm headed by Robert Kjellander in exchange for his help with the deal.

Kjellander has denied any wrongdoing.

Blagojevich tapes and transcripts. Here's the links.

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

The audio recordings and transcripts that were admitted into evidence during Alonzo Monk's testimony on June 10 and 14 are now available online at the U.S. Attorney's Office web site: www.usdoj.gov/usao/iln or at the following link: http://www.justice.gov/usao/iln/hot/us_v_blagojevich.html

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

One of Rod Blagojevich's lawyers, Sheldon Sorosky, with his dark glasses, slow talk and over-annunciation, might be the perfect fit to cross examine David Abel, the numbers guy who just testified for the government.

Sorosky starts asking Abel about tax increases, apparently attempting to get him to say that Blagojevich could have dug the state out of $5 billion budget hole by making Illinois residents pay more money, but he chose not to.

The government is up and down objecting, as Sorosky tries to ask the same question five or six different ways.

At one point during an objection by the government, Judge James Zagel starts to explain why he's upholding it, he says he can choose a variety of reasons.

Sorosky starts telling Zagel what he thinks about the question.

"But you're not actually supposed to tell me what you think," Zagel says, to laughter in the room.

Zagel seems to play the role of a tutor, explaining to Sorosky at different points why he shouldn't ask some questions and nudging him toward the better way to do it.

The unfazed Sorosky goes on and on, he's asking about all kinds of things that didn't come up during the government's brief questioning.

"I want you to confine your questions to the things that are actually charged," Zagel tells him.

Zagel, who has upheld about a dozen government objections at this point, has his eyes shut as he rests his head in his hands.

Abel acknowledged that Blagojevich once said at a meeting that the great thing about being governor was that a "C" student got to listen to what an "A" student has to say.

"You were the A student and he was the C student," Sorosky asked.

"I did not acknowledge that at the time," he said, laughing with others in the courtroom.

"Would you acknowledge that now?" Sorosky pressed.

"Probably not a good idea," Abel said.

On a break, with jurors gone, Zagel told the lawyers in the room they shouldn't have laughed when he was addressing Sorosky.

"The question I asked was not meant to be funny," Zagel said, referring to a point when he asked Sorosky if he really wanted something on the record.

"I did not expect to hear audible laughter from either counsel table," Zagel dryly explained to the courtroom.

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

We begin again after the lunch break with a new witness, David Abel, 49, who lives on Chicago's North Side.

Blond, glasses, Abel sits very still on the witness stand. He looks every bit of the part of the number-crunching expert he was employed to be with the state.

He gives such details as "I knocked lightly on the door," when asked what he did first when he joined a ongoing meeting in the governor's office at the Thompson Center, downtown.

Abel talked about the $10 billion pension bond deal the state took part in under Rod Blagojevich.

Former Blagojevich chief of staff Lon Monk, a government witness, testified that Blagojevich, Monk, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly plotted to split a kickback off that deal.
Monk testified that Kelly pushed Blagojevich to issue all $10 billion in bonds in one day so that the chosen firm Bear Stearns, would get all the business. Monk testified that Rezko struck a deal with Stearns, in which he'd get $500,000 off the deal. Monk testified that money was to be split four ways -- to Blagojevich, Monk, Kelly, and Rezko.

Abel testified that Kelly was in attendance in the meeting.

"Clearly it's the largest that the state has ever done. At that time it was the largest ... done by any municipality in the United States," Abel said.

"I think we have order support for the $10 billion, we have other alternatives if we're not comfortable with the full $10 billion and we could go either way," he said he advised Blagojevich and others in the meeting.

That's different than what we heard from Monk, who said he believed people in the budget office were pushing to sell all $10 billion. That gives the prosecution room to later argue that it was Kelly's alleged corrupt role that made the sale go forward, rather than professionals advocating the move.

John Filan, who headed the office of budget management, later told Abel they'd be issuing all $10 billion in bonds.

Blagojevich trial: Judge will release tapes earlier

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Judge James Zagel has agreed to release the tapes and transcripts of government wiretaps at the end of the day they are played in court, instead of waiting until after the defense has cross-examined a witness about them.

That's good news for members of the press, who will not have to wait days to make the information public.

Zagel has called a one-hour lunch break. Court will resume at 1:15 p.m.

Monk and Adam.jpg

with Natasha Korecki

After three-and-a-half days of testimony, Lon Monk -- a star prosecution witness and Rod Blagojevich's former close friend -- is off the witness stand.

The prosecution didn't take long on its follow-up questions to Monk, and Sam Adam Jr. had only one follow-up after that.

Adam's final line of inquiry, however, clearly was designed to leave jurors with the impression that Monk can't be trusted and simply was saying what the government wanted so he could shorten his future time in prison.

Monk -- under prosecution questioning -- had just asserted that seats on state boards and commissions were being traded for $25,000 campaign contributions to Blagojevich's campaign fund.

Adam then approached Monk and asked Monk whether he'd said the opposite of that in a Feb. 17, 2009, interview with a federal prosecutor and the FBI.

"You want your [plea-bargain] deal again, don't you Mr. Monk?" Adam said.

Monk indicated he couldn't recall what he said during that interview. So Adam showed Monk a transcript and asked him again.

"You did not recall that there was ever a specific contribution amount" for a board and commission seat, Adam said. "Isn't that what you told them."

"Yes," Monk replied.

With that, Monk's testimony was over.

Moments after getting off the witness stand, Monk waited for an elevator on the 25th floor.
He rubbed his face, paced around and stared at the floor. He then held his hand to his face and sighed deeply.

In the courthouse lobby, he declined to comment.

Blagojevich trial: Adam has no further questions

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

with Natasha Korecki

Sam Adam Jr. has continued to challenge Lon Monk's credibility, questioning his accounts of conversations involving former Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee and lobbyist John Wyma.

Adam is beyond animated as he concludes questioning, accusing Monk of lying, reaching across the room to point at the ex-governor then pointing right at Monk again.

"You want your deal don't you, Mr. Monk?" Adam asked. "You want your deal with the government to go through."

Pause.

"Yes," Monk answered.

"And you have to come in here and say what their version of the truth is," Adam said, spurring an objection from the government.

Then Adam falls flat.

"You're making this up ... So you can put this on his back, so you can get your deal, aren't you, Mr. Greenlee?"

Monk, pauses, staring back and saying nothing because he knows he doesn't have to.

"I'm sorry -- Mr. Monk," Adam corrects himself.

Adam consults with his father, both standing, in the middle of the courtroom. He returns with no further questions -- at 11:50 a.m. -- after he said yesterday he'd take the whole day.

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner is now questioning Monk further.

Blagojevich lawyer Sam Adam Jr. is trying to make a point to jurors that Blagojevich instructed Lon Monk not to return a telephone call from U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) around the time Blagojevich had the sole authority to fill President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.

In a secretly recorded call in 2008, Monk told Blagojevich, "Yeah, you know, Jesse Jr.'s starting to call me now, and I'm not returning his call."

Monk, in a different conversation, brings up the subject again. Blagojevich tells Monk to "by no means" return the call.

"Yeah, he's gonna, he'll offer fund-raising and all kinds of stuff," Blagojevich is later heard saying.

Adam today seized on that statement.

"On this phone call, he [Blagojevich] doesn't tell you, 'Lon this is a chance for you to make a score,'" Adam said. "He doesn't tell you, "Maybe we can put some in our pocket like the old days.'

"He tells you not to do it," Adam concluded.

"Correct," Monk replies.

Expect this to be something prosecutors tackle on re-direct. They've introduced evidence that suggests that Blagojevich rebuffed Jackson's initial inquiries about the Senate seat because Jackson didn't endorse Blagojevich for governor in 2003.

Jackson has maintained he did nothing inappropriate regarding the Senate seat and is prepared to testify to that in court.

Blagojevich trial: "Smoke signal? Anything at all?"

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

with Natasha Korecki

Cross-examination of Lon Monk is back after a short break. Sam Adam Jr. picked up where he left off, with the Illinois Tollway project and alleged shakedown of contractor Jerry Krozel.

Adam is asking Monk why, if Krozel felt extorted by the governor's requests, the contractor didn't complain but instead asked to schedule an in-person meeting with the governor in his office.

Did Krozel do anything to tell you he was feeling extorted, Adam asks?

Did he send you a letter, he asks? Call you on the phone?

"No," is Monk's answer each time.

"Smoke signal?!" Adam finally yells. "Anything? Anything at all?"

Even Lon cracks a smile at the "smoke signal" question.

As animated as ever, Adam has turned his questioning to Rod's alleged attempt to appoint Emil Jones, then-president of the state senate, to Barack Obama's vacant U.S. senate seat in exchange for Jones not calling a state ethics bill for a vote.

Adam noted that the alleged deal was discussed in September 2008, before Obama won the presidential election.

"President Obama hadn't won yet. He couldn't make a deal to do something until he had the ability to do it, could he?" Adam asked.

Adam then turned to allegations that Blagojevich tried to shake down contractors for $500,000 in contributions in exchange for announcing a highway construction project.

He noted that Monk told Blagojevich that he wasn't going to get the $500,000 he hoped for -- and the governor announced the $1.8 billion version of the plan anyway.

"Did Rod tell you, 'Eff" them, he won't get the $5 billion?'" Adam asked.

"No," Monk said.

"Did Rod tell you, 'Eff them, they won't get the $1.8 billion?'" Adam asked.

"He had already made the announcement," Monk said.

Zagel has called a 15-minute break. Before he did, he called Adam over for a conference. The judge urged Adam to avoid starting his questions with "you said" -- a wording that "generally speaking, doesn't get you anywhere."

It's a phrasing that Adam has taken a particular liking to, it seems.

"I say this because it probably could reduce the length of the cross-examination by 10 percent," Zagel told the attorney.


Up to this point, jurors have been hearing a lot of testimony about Blagojevich fund-raiser and friend Christopher G. Kelly. In jury selection, many of those jurors said they had not closely followed news media coverage of the former governor's case.

Now they've heard from Lon Monk's lips what's been widely reported in the media: that Kelly is dead.

The disclosure to jurors came during Blagojevich lawyer Sam Adam Jr.'s cross-examination of Monk. Adam was asking Monk whether Blagojevich could have possibly been aware of any wrongdoing regarding a $10 billion state borrowing deal in 2003. Prosecutors have alleged that the deal was crooked, and that Blagojevich, Kelly and Monk -- along with since-convicted businessman Tony Rezko -- were positioned to someday profit from it.

Adam, through his questioning of Monk, was trying to undercut Monk's earlier testimony that Kelly -- a roofer who wasn't a government employee -- had had a private conversation with Blagojevich on the day bonds were sold.

"You're the co-conspirator. You didn't jump up and run with him?" to the meeting, Adam asked Monk.

Monk indicated he did not do so.

"Did you go to the governor and ask him what Chris Kelly said to him?" Adam asked.

"No," Monk replied.

"Where's Chris now?" Adam asked a few moments later.

"He's passed away," Monk said matter of factly.

Adam then used the testimony to point out to jurors that Kelly isn't around to corroborate what Monk claims Kelly had told him after the bonds had been sold.

In his testimony last week, Monk told jurors that Kelly had told him that he pushed Blagojevich to approve the bond sale. "It was either really going to help fund-raising or we were going to make money . . . the four of us," Monk said Kelly explained.

Eventually, Rezko was funneled a six-figure portion of a fee from that bond deal -- a fee Monk claims could have someday been shared with Blagojevich.

Blagojevich has claimed he had no idea any of this was going on.

While jurors now know Kelly is dead, they don't know how he died. Zagel has blocked any mention to jurors that Kelly committed suicide last year.

Blagojevich trial: Judge cautions Adam

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Adam has turned his questioning to a $10 billion state bond deal.

Judge James Zagel tries to calm down Adam's questioning on the topic, telling him to stay on track.

"My concern is there is a discrete set of charges. Some of your questions seem to be directed toward things that are not charged and irrelevant. And that's my concern," Zagel said.

At this, Rod purses his lips together.

Blagojevich trial: Near collision in the courtroom

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Sam Adam Jr. is pacing about in front of the lectern and starts asking another question that's been objected to already.

He just begins two words of his question and the prosecutor, a tall Christopher Niewoehner, already stands up to object. Because of Adam's constant movement the two are suddenly almost eye to eye -- two steps closer and they could have collided.

Adam's eyes bug out and he bobbles his head a bit.

"I withdraw," he smiles as courtroom erupts in laughter.

with Natasha Korecki

Adam is now vigorously attacking Monk's credibility as a witness, arguing that he is telling jurors the prosecutors' version of the truth in exchange for a sentence one-tenth as long as the one he might have faced.

Sam Adam Jr. gets animated asking Monk if he remembers any details from the meetings where the four -- Monk, Blagojevich, Rezko and Kelly -- agreed to split up money off of state deals.

"I don't remember," Monk says repeatedly.

Adam is nearing him, then paces away. He points to the ex-governor and points in the air.

Adam notes it's the first time in Monk's adult life he was going to commit a felony and he can't recall "one!" detail about what Tony Rezko wrote on the board.

Rod is sitting sideways with one arm lazily lying on the courtroom table, looking as if he's enjoying this.

"I don't know if we gave that much thought where the money was going to go," Monk says. Rod starts quietly laughing to himself, then puts his hand over his mouth suppressing a smile.

"The truth is the way they see it!"" Adam says.

Monk pauses and appears to try to collect himself.

"I'm supposed to tell the truth," he said, his forehead wrinkling deeply as he answers.

Adam has seized on the fact that Monk called $90,000 in cash he accepted from Rezko an "advance payment" for a future job he might take with Rezko. In advance interviews with prosecutors, it appears Monk called the money a "gift."

"You told us it was an advance payment on the insurance deal, didn't you?" Adam asked.

"Yeah. Or some other endeavor I might be working with Tony on," Monk said.

"That's not true either is it, Mr. Monk? You're lying about that, aren't you?" Adam asked.

Adam is continuing to pile up the objections.

with Natasha Korecki

Sam Adam Jr. has begun questioning former Blagojevich chief of staff Lon Monk about the early years of his involvement in Blagojevich's political career - the transition to the governor's seat in 2003.

He is first tackling the issue of the board and commission appointments that Blagojevich made - allegedly in exchange for campaign cash.

Adam argued that with some 1,500 board and commission seats that needed filling, there were thousands of applicants, and Blagojevich could not have reviewed them all.

"While you say it's the governor's ultimate responsibility, the governor didn't sit down and interview, 3, 4,000 people for these jobs, did he?" Adam asked him.

Sam Adam Jr. is now asking Monk about "philosophies" under Blagojevich's gubernatorial administration. Adam is animated, pacing, speaking very loudly in response to Monk's calm, measured words.

Adam is prompting repeated objections from the government, and all of them so far have been upheld by the judge. Government prosecutors have perhaps already objected more in the first 15 minutes of the day than Sam Adam Jr. objected for the entirety of the government's three days of questioning Monk.

"It might be better if you use less loaded words," Judge Zagel told Adam. Zagel has also cautioned him on the relevance of his questioning.

Blagojevich trial: Day 8 begins

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Rod and Patti Blagojevich arrived at the courthouse around 9:20 this morning. His attorneys arrived separately.

Blagojevich is now chumming with the spectators in the courtroom, making them laugh. Lon Monk is in witness chair, awaiting the arrival of Judge James Zagel.

Today Blagojevich is wearing an olive-colored suit, lighter than the darker suits he's usually wearing. Monk is wearing the same gray-colored suit.

Sam Adam Jr. is wearing a gray three-piece suit and a pink tie.

A big roar of laughter comes from defense table; they're all sharing a joke.

The cross-examination of Monk is now under way.

Blagojevich trial: Day 8

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


Rod Blagojevich's friend and former chief of staff Lon Monk will spend his fourth day on the stand today.

This time though, he'll be answering questions for defense lawyers.
Blagojevich's lead lawyer, Sam Adam Jr. said he plans to spend all day today cross examining Monk.

Day 7 recap: Monk testifies he took part in shakedown schemes with Rod Blagojevich involving extracting $100,000 campaign donation from horse-racing businessman John Johnston while the man was awaiting Blagojevich's signature on legislation that would benefit his industry.

Good for prosecutors: Monk gave specifics about numerous conversations in which Blagojevich time and again asked about the status of Johnston's donation. Monk says Blagojevich kept delaying signing the legislation because he knew it hurt them financially. The more it hurt, the more Blagojevich hoped it would mean Johnston would pull the trigger on a contribution, Monk testified.

Good for Blagojevich: Monk admits he wasn't the good guy here.
He was getting paid $150,000 a year by Johnston to lobby on his behalf. At the same time, Rod Blagojevich was pressuring Monk to pressure Johnston for campaign cash.
Robert Blagojevich's lawyer, Michael Ettinger gets Monk to admit he lied repeatedly to both Blagojevich's in order to benefit himself.


The matter of whether the names of Rod Blagojeich's jurors should become public is before an appeals court.

On Monday, federal prosecutors filed a 61-page response in the appeals court, supporting Judge James Zagel's decision to keep jurors' identities anonymous until after they reach a verdict.

"This case has generated an unprecedented amount of local, national, and international public attention," prosecutors wrote. "As illustrated by the fact that the district court itself has received unsolicited contacts regarding the case, it is apparent that there exists a substantial risk that, if identified, the seated jurors would become the targets of unsolicited, and presumptively prejudicial, contacts."

News organizations, including the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Illinois Press Association and Illinois Broadcaster's Association made the bid to release jurors' names.

Click here to read the prosecution's filing

Blagojevich in '02: "I didn't inhale, either"

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

By Dave McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times
September 17, 2002

SPRINGFIELD -- When it comes to marijuana, gubernatorial hopeful Rod Blagojevich seems to follow the party line of former President Bill Clinton with a slight variation -- he doesn't remember inhaling.

Clinton said he tried pot, but didn't inhale; the congressman told reporters Monday he had a "vivid" recollection of smoking marijuana twice while in his late teens or early 20s, yet couldn't remember if he breathed the smoke into his lungs either time.

Blagojevich was put on the spot one month and a day after House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) indicated that Blagojevich had "indiscretions" in his past but wouldn't identify any of them.

"Did I try marijuana when I was young? The answer is yes," Blagojevich said in a careful response that took 10 seconds to craft following a reporter's question. "Did I use any other kind of illegal drug? The answer is no."

Pressed on whether he inhaled either of those times, he continued: "I don't know if I did or not. I never liked the smell of it, but it was a smell ... all of our generation is very familiar with, and I'm sure I'm not the only one in this room who can recognize that smell."

Told he would have felt a stinging sensation in his lungs had he inhaled, Blagojevich then said, "I probably didn't. You're using a Clinton line on me here. I just don't know. I did it twice. And I was so inept at it, I don't know whether I did or didn't."

Despite his admission, Blagojevich isn't on the cutting edge of Illinois politics on this particular issue. In 1998, before being elected lieutenant governor, Republican Corinne Wood told the Sun-Times she smoked pot -- and inhaled.

And before that, in the 1996 U.S. Senate primary, Republican Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra acknowledged he tried marijuana, prompting similar admissions from his GOP rival, former state Rep. Al Salvi (R-Wauconda), and from former state Treasurer Patrick Quinn, who lost the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination that year and now is Blagojevich's running mate.

Blagojevich, 45, said he was "college-aged" when he experimented with marijuana and that he opposes any effort to legalize the drug.

While few observers believe disclosure of past marijuana use will swing many voters of his generation, who themselves did the same thing on college campuses, Blagojevich and his Republican opponent, Attorney General Jim Ryan, differ on the marijuana use question.

"Jim Ryan has never taken drugs. No experimentation, no use, zero," Ryan spokesman Dan Curry said. "He never had an inclination to break the law. I can't explain it any other way. He had no desire to do drugs."

Blagojevich said he is still trying to figure out exactly what Madigan was talking about last month with his line about "indiscretions," a barb the state Democratic Party chairman threw at Blagojevich after he questioned the speaker's "arrogance" in awarding a controversial state grant to a friend's equestrian project.

"I feel good about the life I've lived, a very honest life, work hard, jog, you know, try to eat the right kinds of foods, don't do anything in excess," Blagojevich said at a press conference to announce the endorsement of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

with Natasha Korecki and Chris Fusco

Judge James Zagel has adjourned court for the day, but first he asked defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. how much time he'd need to finish cross-examining Lon Monk.

"Tomorrow," Adam said -- meaning all day.

A pause from the judge. Then, "Umm... sure."

If Adam's cross-examination of Monk ends before the end of the day, we will hear brief testimonies from two witnesses -- David Abel and Vinnie Mazarro.

Next up on the stand will be Joseph Aramanda, a Tony Rezko associate who is accused of siphoning money to Rezko tied to the $10 billion state pension bond deal, which was referenced earlier in testimony.

Before Zagel called it a day, Adam was working on breaking down the line between pay-to-play and politics as usual.

Blagojevich was always going to sign the race track bill, Adam argued, contribution or not.

"At no point did he ever say to you, that (the contribution) is what I want, or I'm not going to sign the bill?" Adam asked Monk.

Adam also painted Monk as a bad friend and untrustworthy employee who lied to both Blagojevich and his clients, the Johnstons.

Court will reconvene at 9:30 a.m.

monkblago.jpeg


Reporting with Chris Fusco and Sarah Ostman


Sam Adam Jr. livens up the room as his animated cross examination of Lon Monk begins.
Adam's questions cut deep, to Lon Monk and Rod Blagojevich's friendship beginning back at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, Calif.

Adam says Monk and Blagojevich lived together in law school, they shared secrets, talked about girls. Monk agrees.

Adam says the two of them never committed any crimes together back then, right?

Monk: "Other than some occasional drug use," Monk says to some laughter by spectators. "Yes."
Adam: "I'm not here to ask you about that."

"Rod trusted you," Adam said, then dramatically: "Is there anything from your relationship in Pepperdine that would cause you to believe you'd be here," he says, pointing to the witness chair. Then, pointing to the defense table: "And he'd be there?"

Adam then discusses campaign law, attempting to show that Rod Blagojevich didn't meet the legal requirement of a quid pro quo, arguing he had to expressly ask for money from a donor for it to be illegal.

Monk said he asked horse racing executives for campaign contributions at the same time they awaited Blagojevich's signing of legislation but Monk said he made the request in two conversations.

"I was trying to somehow justify in my mind and make myself feel better," Monk said. "I'm going to keep it to two separate conversations ... I wanted to go there and not cross the line."
Monk said he didn't want to the two to be linked.
"When you say link, that's not exchange one for the other?" Adam said.
"Well it kind of is," Monk said.
"Did you ever hear, ever...did Rod ever tell you one time he wasn't signing the racetrack bill?" Adam asked.
"No," said Monk.
"You're his best friend, aren't you?" Adam said.
Pausing: "Yeah, good friend."

Across the room, Rod Blagojevich is watching. Pen down, he appears calm.


with Chris Fusco

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner wrapped up his questioning quickly after a break. Monk is now being cross-examined by Michael Ettinger, attorney for brother Robert Blagojevich.

Ettinger appears to be trying to prove that Robert had little to no involvement with the Friends of Blagojevich campaign office for most of the time period in question.

The attorney went year by year from 2001 to 2006, asking Monk if Robert Blagojevich had had any involvement in his brother's fund-raising that year.

Monk's answer was generally no, until 2006, when he said that Robert "wasn't getting paid. He was asked too do a few things, but he wasn't getting paid."

Monk looks a little more relaxed and is looking Ettinger right in the eye. Rod Blagojevich, at the defense table, is staring right at Monk. Ettinger is standing at the lectern in the center of the room.

Reporting with Chris Fusco and Dave McKinney

One of Rod Blagojevich's best pals, Christopher Kelly, had plotted to get a presidential pardon from President Bush, government witness Lon Monk just testified.

Kelly wanted Bernie Kosar to approach: "(Then-Florida Governor) Jeb Bush and then go to President Bush and then pardon Chris," Monk said. "Somehow they were linked to the signing of this horse-racing bill," he said.

What was Rod Blagojevich's reaction to this plot?: "It seems kind of far-fetched," Monk said of Rod Blagojevich.

The pardon never happened and Monk didn't elaborate on whether any of the contacts even happened.

Kelly, who committed suicide last year, had been charged at that point but not with any wrongdoing involving Blagojevich.

Kosar, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback, once gave Blagojevich a gift and was listed on campaign solicitation list.

In a March, 2009 article, the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about Kosar's presence on a list as a fund-raising target:

"The list includes a broad range of fund-raising targets, from White Sox and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to onetime Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar to promoters of mixed martial arts, which Blagojevich legalized in Illinois in 2008."

An attorney for Kosar had no comment.

When Monk met with John Johnston on Dec. 3, 2008, he tried to put the race track owner at ease about making a hefty contribution so close to the signing of a bill that meant millions of dollars in subsidies for his industry.

"I wanted to let him know why the bill wasn't getting signed," Monk testified -- namely, because the governor wanted $100,000 to sign it -- "and as a result, he should give the contribution now,"

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked Monk if Johnston was only worried that the contribution would create a perception of wrongdoing.

"No," Monk said.

The prosecutor asked what Johnston was worried about.

"That we were all doing something wrong in linking the signing and the donation," Monk said.

monk


Key government witness Lon Monk actually worked for horse-racing businessman John Johnston.

The alleged shakedown of the executive is among the central allegation's against Rod Blagojevich: that he delayed signing legislation that would benefit Johnston because Johnston wouldn't donate $100,000 campaign donation.

Yet, Monk somehow continues to fumble Johnston's name, repeatedly calling him "Johnson."

It's a clear mix-up that must be apparent to jurors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner appears to try to clue him in, clearly pronouncing the "T" in the name in question after question.

And .... Monk's not getting it.

One of Monk's last one-word answers: "Johnson."

Lon Monk: "Give us the f-ing money"

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

A Dec. 3, 2008 recording captures Rod Blagojevich and Lon Monk talking about the Johnston contribution in-person at the Friends of Blagojevich office.

At this point, both houses of the legislature had passed the race track legislation; it only awaited the governor's signature to go into law.

The tape records Monk and Blago having a mock conversation about what Monk should say to Johnston to get him to pay up.

Monk would tell Johnston that he should hand over the money now, and the race track legislation would be signed just after Jan. 1, Blagojevich said on the recording.

That would leave enough time between the contribution and the signing so they could avoid suspicion.

Monk, as the Johnstons' lobbyist, wanted the bill signed sooner. Every day the bill went unsigned, he said, his clients lost $9,000 in subsidies.

Still, Monk said he would push Johnston to hand over the check.

"Give us the money. One has nothing to do with the other," Monk said he would tell Johnston, referring to the contribution and the legislation. "Give us the f-ing money."

Earlier in the conversation, Monk lies to Blagojevich, telling him he planned to visit his father in Oklahoma in the coming days. Monk was actually going on a golf trip to the Dominican Republic, but given the busy fund-raising season, he didn't want Blagojevich to know it was a pleasure trip.

Plus, the last time Monk went on a golf outing during a busy season a few years earlier, Blagojevich flew off the handle, Monk testified.

"He left a really angry message where he was yelling and screaming on my phone," Monk said about that 2006 trip. "He was angry."


Jurors in Rod Blagojevich's trial hear the first conversation that the FBI secretly captured on bugs they installed in the Friends of Blagojevich fund-raising office.

The sound is grainy at best in the courtroom. In the overflow room, it's unintelligible.

The call is more talk about John Johnston's horse-racing bill. Monk and Blagojevich are discussing the timing of signing the racetrack bill and Blagojevich getting a campaign donation.

Lon Monk: "These guys are breathing down my neck."

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The jurors just heard a recording from Nov. 26, 2008.

Lon Monk says he talked to Blagojevich's chief of staff, John Harris, about the racetrack bill and the Johnstons.

Monk is getting across concern that the horse racing bill hasn't been signed yet.

"I'm not struggling with it," Blagojevich said. "It's a timing issue, that's all."

He tells Blagojevich, "Just so you know, all these guys are breathing down my neck."

Blagojevich trial: More on the hair

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Blagojevich's hair is turning out to be a common topic on these recordings.

Rod, breathing a little heavy: "I just got back from a hair cut."

Lon: "You sound like you got back from a run."

More on the alleged horse-racing shakedown. Monk is testiyfing Rod Blagojevich wanted to talk to him "privately" about it.

The two were at the Blagojevich campaign office on the North Side with Robert Blagojevich when Rod Blagojevich summoned Monk in to his private office.

"Let's go in here, I want to talk to you about your issue," Monk recalled the former governor telling him on Dec. 3, 2008. That way, "we could discuss it privately [away from] Rob."

The issue was, of course, that Blagojevich had yet to sign the bill benefiting the horse-racing industry, costing it $83,000 a day.

Prosecutors appear to be setting the stage for testimony about how Blagojevich wanted a $100,000 campaign contribution in exchange for the bill being signed, but the judge has called a lunch break. More to come this afternoon.

Judge Zagel: Tapes may be made public sooner

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Lawyers for the Tribune Co. have asked Judge Zagel to make tapes and transcripts of the recordings available to the press and public after they are played in the court.

Until now, the judge has insisted that the recordings not be released until after the defense has had the chance to cross-examine a witness about them.

That makes it harder for the media to quickly and accurately get out the contents of the recordings.

Zagel said he is inclined to go along with the request, but asked attorneys to give him written responses by noon tomorrow.

Testimony is expected to pick up again at 11:45 a.m.

After calling a break in testimony, Judge Zagel addressed a report in this morning in this morning's Sun-Times about some potential jurors not heeding his advice about discussing media coverage of the Blagojevich case. The discussion came before the full jury was empanelled.

"A story appeared in one of the media about a prospective juror who did not serve indicating a person currently sitting on the jury overheard other potential jurors speaking about . . . I will quote from the article . . . This deals with potential juror 169 . . ." Zagel said.

He then read the following passage of the story:

"Hallstrom [the prospective juror in the story] said the potential jurors referenced news coverage involving how Zagel 'smacked down' one potential juror who was trying to get out of service.

'I distinctly remember that being discussed. I don't know that I remember anything else being talked about,' he said. 'Maybe there were almost half a dozen people having that conversation. Maybe it was four.'

"One of the people in the room, a female, is now on the panel, he said. That woman was not taking part in the discussion with others but was present . . ."

Zagel said he wanted to let both the prosecution and the defense know about the matter.

"It's my understanding from a very brief off-the-record conversation there is no need to go further with this considering the substance of what was discussed," he said. "I just wanted to put that on the record."

Zagel also discussed that one part of the story "indicated some lack of understanding on the part of the prospective jurors" about his order on ignoring and discussing media coverage of Rod and Robert Blagojevich. However, he said, "that's not material here."

Blagojevich requests irritated race track owner

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Jurors just heard another tape of a conversation between Lon Monk and Rod Blagojevich about reeling in contributions from race track owner John Johnston and contractor Jerry Krozel.

Blagojevich asked Monk again where things stood with the Johnston money. Monk responds that Johnston is getting frustrated that the Blagojeviches keep bugging him about it.

"(Johnston) said, 'I told you, I'm good for it. I'm figuring out where to get the money. I'm going to get it,'" Monk tells the then-governor.

"He knows by the end of the year. He knows," Rod is heard saying. "We're gonna be all right."

with Natasha Korecki

It's apparently Robert's, too.

In discussing a potential donor to Rod Blagojevich's campaign, Robert Blagojevich says on one secretly recorded telephone call that he talked to that donor's wife.

"I tell you what, very impressed, very delightful wife," Robert Blagojevich tells Rod Blagojevich on the call. "She loves our hair by the way. She loves your hair, loves my hair, because it's all real."

Robert Blagojevich cracks a rare smile at this part of the exchange. So, too, does the usually straight-faced court reporter.

Prosecutors have played a second recording dealing with the solicitation of a $100,000 contribution from race track owner John Johnston.

On this Nov. 14, 2008 tape, Lon Monk and Robert Blagojevich are again talking about the status of contribution.

"(Johnston) said, 'Tell the big guy I'm good for it. I'm just figuring out which accounts to pull the checks from,'" Monk says on the tape.

But it sounds like Monk is trying to keep Robert Blagojevich in the dark about any wrongdoing.

Monk tells Robert that the timing of the contribution could give the false appearance of a pay-to-play arrangement -- that is, that Johnston's cash could be "buying" him an extension of the subsidies for the horse racing industry.

"There's absolutely no connection between the two," Monk tells Robert on the tape. "There's a legislative issue that I don't want to get in the way."

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked Monk if he did, indeed, think there was a connection between the contribution and the bill.

"Yeah," Monk answered. "There could be."

But Monk didn't want Robert to know that.

"I didn't want him to think that," Monk said. "I had seen Rod try to have discussions with Rob that did not include state action. He tried to keep him out of that area."

with Natahsa Korecki

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner continues to ask Monk about the alleged horse-racing shakedown and plays a Nov. 13, 2008 call between Monk and Johnston.

"Tell the big guy I'm good for it," Johnston tells Monk, a reference that the $100,000 to Blagojevich's campaign fund might be coming.

In court, Blagojevich smiles and turns to look at his wife Patti when Johnston calls him "the big guy."

with Natasha Korecki

Former gubernatorial chief of staff Lon Monk this morning it testifying about another count in the case: Blagojevich's solicitation of campaign contributions from horse track owner John Johnston in exchange for legislation that would benefit the horse-racing industry.

The alleged shakedown became a key part of Blagojevich's impeachment trial last year, with some of the secretly recorded conversations between Monk and Blagojevich being played in the Illinois Senate chambers.

Monk told jurors this morning that it went down like this: Blagojevich wanted Johnston to raise $100,000 for Friends of Blagojevich in exchange for signing a bill that would extend cash payments to the horse-racing industry a windfall from Illinois' nine casinos.

Monk, who also was a lobbyist for Johnston, testified he knew this illegal and wanted to get the contribution in hand as quickly as possible.

"I was trying to get the contribution as quickly as I could so there would be more time between the contribution and the signing of the bill," Monk said.

The government again began playing some of the secret recordings to support Monk's testimony, playing a Nov. 12, 2008, call with Robert Blagojevich, Rod's brother and then-fundraising chairman. Monk said he told Robert Blagojevich, Rod's brother and top fund-raiser, that he lied about his whereabouts that day so he wouldn't have to meet with Robert about how fund-raising was shaping up before the end of 2008.

"I gave him a deadline of today," Monk tells Robert Blagojevich on the recording, noting the money had yet come in.

"What [Johnston] said on Friday was 'I'm good for it, I'm good for it,'" Monk also says. "I may have to have Rod call him again."

The conversation then turns to engineering magnate Niranjan Shah, the former chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Monk says he hopes to have Shah host a fund-raiser for Rod Blagojevich that would raise about $100,000.

"Probably a cocktail party and a dinner," Monk says. "Any time from about two weeks from now."

Rob: "Um, his number is 100?"

Lon: "Yes."

Rob: "Good man."

Blagojevich to Children's hospital: "Screw these guys."

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Lon Monk is back on the stand saying he witnessed Rod Blagojevich grow upset when he learned the hospital wasn't returning his brother's phone calls soliciting campaign contributions.

"He wasn't happy, he got up and said: 'Screw these guys,' and got on the phone," Monk testified Blagojevich said in a meeting with him and Robert Blagojevich.

Monk said Rod Blagojevich then called the governor's office and talked to an aide about the status of state funds for the hospital.

"Don't do anything with it until I talk to you," Monk said he overheard Rod Blagojevich say.

with Natasha Korecki

After the Sun-Times reported this morning regarding jurors not heeding Judge James Zagel's orders to avoid reading and discussing media coverage of the Blagojevich case, Zagel seemed to deal with the issue behind closed doors.

He took lawyers into chambers this morning and started proceedings nearly 30 minutes late. When the jurors came out, Zagel reminded them about his order.

"Again, be careful to avoid contact with any media," Zagel said. "You must not communicate in any way" about the case.

Natasha Korecki and Sarah Ostman Reporting

Fall 2003 -- early 2004: Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine allegedly schemed to split a kickback off a $50 million state pension deal.

Early May 2004: Rezko allegedly used his influence to reappoint Levine to state pension board. Around this time, Rezko served as a fund-raiser on Barack Obama‚s Senate campaign finance committee.

May 2004: FBI visits Stuart Levine at home after hearing criminal activity over a wiretap since April.

June 2004: Sun-Times breaks story involving a shakedown scheme tied to the proposed Edward Hospital and a federal probe into Mercy Crystal Lake Hospital. The Mercy deal is later part of Rezko's indictment.

Jan 2005: Sun-Times reports of a spat between Gov. Blagojevich and his father-in-law, the powerful Ald. Dick Mell (33rd). Mell triggers a probe after charging in a Sun-Times story that Chris Kelly "trades appointments to commissions for checks for $50,000" to the governor's political fund.

March 2005: Governor brags about his "testicular virility" in Mell battle and invites a probe into his administration, saying it is: "Clean as a hound's tooth."

May 2005: Levine indicted in connection with state hospital board business. Feds make clear this is just the beginning.

June 2005: In a controversial purchase, Rezko's wife, Rita, buys vacant lot same day Sen. Barack Obama buys abutting $1.65 million home.

Aug 2005: Levine indicted on Teachers Retirement System board charges.

Oct. 2005: Sun-Times outs Blagojevich as "Public Official A" in a plea deal struck by Chicago attorney Joseph Cari.

Early 2006: Levine secretly cooperates, wears wire.

Sept. 2006: Rezko indicted in two separate cases while overseas.

Sept. 2006: Levine pleads guilty to litany of crimes, working out a 67-month deal. The plea document exposes a dirty underworld involving a Who‚s Who of Illinois political players. Sun-Times identifies the players in a series of articles.

Dec. 2007: Blagojevich aide Chris Kelly indicted on tax charges related to personal gambling debts.

March 2008: Rezko trial begins. Three witnesses testify under oath they talked to governor about campaign donations and access in his administration.

June 2008: Jury returns guilty verdict against Rezko.

Dec. 9, 2008: Federal agents arrest Blagojevich at 6 a.m. at his Ravenswood Manor home.

Dec. 19, 2008: Blagojevich breaks a 10-day silence with a press conference at the Thompson Center, arguing that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. "I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath," he says.

Dec. 30, 2008: Blagojevich names former state comptroller and attorney general Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's U.S. senate seat.

Jan. 9, 2009: The Illinois House of Representatives votes 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich; Rep. Deb Mell, Blagojevich‚s sister-in-law, casts the lone dissenting vote.

Jan. 30, 2009: Blagojevich becomes the first Illinois governor to ever be impeached from office, following a 59-0 Senate vote.

Feb. 14, 2009: Chicago Sun-Times reveals Roland Burris gave inconsistent statements about his appointment and his discussions concerning fund-raising.

April 2, 2009: Rod Blagojevich formally indicted on corruption charges while he's in Disney World, along with five co-defendants: his brother, Rob Blagojevich; former chief of staff, Alonzo "Lon" Monk; his most recent chief of staff, John Harris; chief fund-raiser Christopher G. Kelly, 50; and Springfield powerbroker William F. Cellini.

June 2009: Patti Blagojevich travels to Costa Rica to appear as a contestant on the game show, "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" One of the show's challenges requires her to eat a tarantula.

July 8, 2009: John Harris pleads guilty to wire fraud, making him the first co-defendant to accept a plea deal and agree to testify against Blagojevich.

Sept. 12, 2009: Christopher Kelly commits suicide days before he was set to begin serving an eight-year prison term for tax and mail fraud charges.

October 20, 2009: Alonzo "Lon" Monk pleads guilty to wire fraud.

March 14, 2010: Blagojevich appears alongside Cyndi Lauper, Bret Michaels and others on "Celebrity Apprentice" with Donald Trump.

April 4, 2010: Blagojevich is "fired" from "Celebrity Apprentice" for a lack of leadership and technology skills.

June 3, 2010: Blagojevich and his brother, Rob, both go to trial.

Blagojevich trial: Dismissed jurors speak out

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

David Hallstrom
David Hallstrom

No. 169: David Hallstrom:

"Suddenly, service becomes very real. And I start thinking of everything I will miss in the next four months. Business: The last 18 months have been spent working on a new product that is schedule to roll out July 1. I am traveling next week to prepare for this launch and that will have to be canceled. The product will roll out, but I will not be at the launch. Personal: My oldest daughter leaves for university in August and I will not be on that trip," Hallstrom told the Chicago Sun-Times.
"And it hits me, the judge, prosecution and defense have been able to prepare their lives around the four months this will take. But the jurors have no time. Something seems truly unfair about that."
Zagel refused to dismiss Hallstrom for cause, despite defense lawyers noting he had personal dealings with entities in the case.
"I think this is a highly intelligent juror," Zagel said. He's eventually not selected because Zagel appears to choose the final jurors in numerical order and picks the 18th juror just before reaching Hallstrom.

ryanmanno.jpeg

Ryan Manno

No. 171, Ryan Manno:
Former Q101 Talk show host Ryan Manno discusses his experiences with jury selection on his blog. He was dismissed for cause since he had talked about the case on his show.
Manno says on his blog:
"Imagine my surprise when I made it thru the first round of cuts, even after I had indicated on my questionnaire that I had publicly talked about the case on Chicago's radio waves. I thought, for sure, that'd be an automatic DQ."
Manno even includes a photo of the cover of the non-public jury questionnaire on his Web page. Hmmmm.


No. 167:
A woman who says on Twitter she was 167 set up a Twitter page saying:
"What an experience was being in front of such audience at Blago's Jury selection. Got to admit I wanted to be a part of it."
The same person posted a note to this blog saying: "I am Juror #167 Best of luck to the selected jurors. May the truth set us free :) "

He's formerly known as juror 169.

He had the potential to serve on Rod Blagojevich's jury but was dismissed.
Before he was told to go home last week, former Republican-appointed state employee David Hallstrom tells me that he sat with other potential jurors who were discussing Blagojevich news coverage they read or had seen. Another person in the same room who heard this -- but who did not take part in the discussion -- is now a member of the Blagojevich jury.

The talk came even after Judge James Zagel told the entire panel to ignore media coverage, according to Hallstrom, whom Zagel had referred to in court as "a highly intelligent juror."

Zagel refused to dismiss Hallstrom for cause, saying he believed Hallstrom could be fair. Hallstrom eventually was not picked for the jury though.

The judge appeared to seat jurors in numerical order and stopped after choosing 18 people. The last numbered juror was 166. Hallstrom was 169.

Read today's story at: www.suntimes.com


Blagojevich trial: Day 7

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks


We resume today with more of Lon Monk's testimony. We're likely to hear many more recordings through Monk as well. We just got started Thursday with four recordings, the first of the trial.

Last week, Monk, the former governor's onetime best pal, running buddy and former chief of staff dished incredible amounts of information on Rod Blagojevich. He spoke of secret meetings, secret bank accounts and code names -- 1, 2, 3 and 4 -- that referred to Blagojevich, Monk, Christopher Kelly and Tony Rezko, making money off of state deals. He said Blagojevich agreed to use his influence to help his friends and himself make money off the state.

Good for prosecutors: Monk is articulate, straightforward and doesn't embellish. Sometimes he hardly completes a sentence, blurting out phrases: "to make money," only after being pushed by the prosecutor. He testifies he didn't tell then Gov. Blagojevich about Rezko giving Monk up to $90,000 in cash because he'd be afraid Monk would get caught.

Good for defense: Monk is giving the defense much to work with on cross examination.
He says he took cash payments and didn't tell Blagojevich about it. He says Rezko rehabbed his basement and didn't make him pay for it. The defense will try to convince jurors that Monk had committed his own crimes and is now on the stand only to save himself. His deal calls for two years in prison instead of the more than five that he faced.

Other updates:
• Dismissed juror tells Sun-Times tales of others in pool disregarding judge's order.
• Over the weekend, Robert Blagojevich's lawyers put in a filing asking for a chunk of cash from his brother's campaign fund to help pay for legal costs. To read filing: Click here.

No Blagojevich trial today -- off on Fridays

| 4 Comments | No TrackBacks

Blagojevich trial: Today's exhibits

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Before dismissing them for the day, U.S. District Judge James Zagel just warned jurors they are not allowed to communicate by any means, about the case.

And with all the technology today, that's a long list.

Zagel said that includes, in person, by phone, by email, chat room, blog, Web site or a similar feature.

"I don't want you to communicate with anyone in any way ... about this case or anything to do with it," Zagel warned. "Do not make any investigation or try to learn about the case on your own," he said. "I'm sure by the end of this trial you will learn more than perhaps you want than when the case began."

With that, they were dismissed until Monday.


Lon Monk testified that as a large Illinois tollway expansion, a $1.8 billion road building program, was going to be announced, Rod Blagojevich told Monk he should hit up engineering firms for campaign donations.

"He wanted to put pressure on me to put pressure on them to donate money by the end of the year," Monk said.

Monk told prosecutor Christopher Niewoehner he wouldn't do it, at least not make straight up requests.

"It was just a blatant mixing of fund-raising for state action and vise versa," Monk said.

At one point, the two met with Jerry Krozel, a contractor who was pushing Blagojevich to
approve capital expansion. Though they were talking about state action, they met in the fund-raising office.

Blagojevich asked Krozel for financial "support" at the same meeting. Krozel told Blagojevich would be happy to help.

"It would really incentivize him to really fund-raise for Rod," Monk said.

Krozel was told the expansion would be a boon to the industry and in turn, Blagojevich hoped Krozel would raise $500,000 from others. Rod Blagojevich based that number, which Monk called "unrealistic," on past donations.

As Monk checked up on progress, Krozel said he hit a snag.

"I'm not going to be able to raise money from my members right now because they had been served subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney's office," Monk said.

Blagojevich trial: Talk of Jesse Jackson Jr. on tapes

| 3 Comments | No TrackBacks


More tapes continue to be played.

In one, Rod Blagojevich complains he's been pressured by all kinds of people to appoint U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Barack Obama's vacant senate seat. Rod Blagojevich in a call with his brother says of Jackson: "He's got people calling my house now, Jesse Jr."

In another call, between Monk and Rod Blagojevich, the exchange goes like this:
Monk: Says he's ignoring calls from Jackson
Rod: "He'll offer you fund-raising and all kinds of stuff."
Monk: "Have you talked to him?"
Rod: "I haven't, he's got people calling me."

"When Is see you I'll talk to you about some ideas on that," Rod Blagojevich said to Monk on the phone. Monk explains he means he'll talk about Senate picks.

Monk doesn't get into it, but federal authorities have alleged that Rod Blagojevich was led to believe in 2008 that he would be paid $1.5 million in campaign cash if he appointed Jackson to the senate post.


The voices of the Blagojevich brothers are filling the courtroom for the first time as secret FBI recordings are played with Lon Monk on the stand.

Jurors can hear an animated and irritated Rod Blagojevich who is pushing his brother hard to get to $4 million.

Rod Blagojevich is snapping at his brother, telling him to keep hitting people up.

"In terms of having money in the bank, it's going to be close," Rod says. "We've got to somehow get there...get to that $4 million."

Rod tells Rob to keep calling people and ask:
"Can you send us $5,000, can you find us whatever, follow me?"

Rod tells his brother on the recording to hit up anyone and everyone: the Pritzkers, Sam Zell, Blair Hull.

"Every event that we've done with the exception of (state Sen. James) DeLeo have been under the budgeted amount," Robert Blagojevich can be heard saying.
Robert Blagojevich sounds almost alarmist telling his brother that everyone's pulling back on donations.

"The Greeks are falling off," as well as others, he said.

Two more calls are played, including one in which Rod Blagojevich discusses asking Blair Hull for a campaign donation. Hull had expressed his interest in the Senate seat.


We take a break and jurors are handed two huge three-inch binders with transcripts of recordings.

Judge James Zagel told them not to look ahead in them.

Before that though, Lon Monk says that Illinois State Rep. Kurt Granberg, (D-Carlyle) is interested in a position head of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Monk said Blagojevich told him he planned to appoint Granberg but he wanted something in return. Blagojevich, who had an ally in Granberg, said he planned to ask Granberg to kick over all the remaining cash in his campaign fund to Blagojevich.

(It didn't happen though, according to Granberg's campaign fund, because Granberg's fund is still active.)

After Blagojevich was booted from office, Gov. Pat Quinn fired Granberg.


Lon Monk is now describing meetings in 2008 where Blagojevich and those close to him would pore over fund-raising lists and set goals for the end of the year.

How high was Blagojevich's fund-raising goal in 2008?
"As high as possible," Monk said.

That's because the ethics law would take effect in 2009, stifling the then-governor's ability to tap into anyone who did significant business with the state.

The sheets of paper jurors are seeing show past donors and had a "low projection" of $2.5 million and a high projection at $3.3 million.

Though Monk was a lobbyist at the time and no longer working for Rod Blagojevich, he still said he played a role in helping raise money for the then-governor. Otherwise their relationship would be "strained," he said.

Monk said Blagojevich pushed them to raise money but they ran into brick walls.
The next election wasn't for another two years.

"A lot of people we were asking for money didn't see a need to be donating money," Monk said.

Plus, there was a presidential election.

"We had Barack Obama in Chicago running for president," and they were hitting up some of the same people, Monk said.

And one more reason: "The economy was not good and there were federal investigations that I'm sure was concerning donors," Monk said.

Blagojevich could not use the money for anything he wanted if he didn't run for governor in 2010.

He could donate it to another candidate or create political action fund or some other entity to promote various issues, Monk said.

Robert Blagojevich now comes into play

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


Lon Monk starts discussing Robert Blagojevich and his role as a fund-raiser for his brother.

Monk testifies that it was Rod's idea to bring his brother in from Nashville in the fall of 2008 to act as the head of Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund.

Monk identifies the former governor's brother from across the room.

Robert Blagojevich shows no reaction, only calmly staring at Monk.

Monk is now taking jurors through fund-raising lists and photos of the campaign offices.

Jurors see photos of the inside of the office: nice wooden desks and leather chairs.

He is discussing meetings again. This time in the fund-raising office.

Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko, at this point both indicted, are no longer part of the storyline.

We are getting closer to the tapes.

Lon Monk just gives a new angle on the most compelling storyline of the Rod Blagojevich trial: horsetrading for the senate seat.

Monk described Blagojevich as a man so consumed by raising money, and thus power, for himself, that he was willing to trade a Senate seat appointment to kill an ethics bill.

Monk testified that a call from Barack Obama in 2008 unwittingly derailed a deal hatched by Rod Blagojevich and Illinois Senate President Emil Jones.

Monk testified that Blagojevich told him that Jones (who has since retired) would not call an ethics bill that Blagojevich strongly opposed if "Rod named him to Obama's Senate seat if Obama won in November."

"Did you understand he was serious?" prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked.

"Yes," Monk said.

Obama himself then called Jones and told him to call the bill for a vote, Monk said. Jones then called to tell Blagojevich he was going back on the deal.

Rod Blagojevich was writing furiously and leaning into his notebook during this part of the testimony.

The reason Blagojevich was so interested in killing this bill goes back to fund-raising, Monk testified.

Once Chris Kelly was charged in 2007, Rod Blagojevich took a more direct and active role in fund-raising, Monk testified. Blagojevich picked up the phone and called people himself. He was more active.

Then the brakes were going to be put on him. The Illinois Legislature in 2008 passed a far-reaching ethics bill that would keep him from soliciting donations from people who did business with the state. After Jan. 1, 2009, there was a fairly large group of donors who were no longer able to give him money.

Blagojevich thought: "It was overreaching and unfair because it focused only on the governor's office and not the legislature," Monk said.

As an aside: When the bill stalled in the senate, there were many negative headlines. That was led by the Chicago Sun-Times where an editorial eventually asked then-Presidential candidate Obama to call Jones and force the bill to be called. The editorial included Jones' office phone number.


Lon Monk left Rod Blagojevich's employ in 2006. He went on to be a state lobbyist.

And boy did he cash in. Monk says his salary went up exponentially. In 2007, he made $750,000.

In 2008: "About a million."

Before that, Monk detailed the gubernatorial campaign, saying Blagojevich handily beat his opponents in fund-raising.

Rod Blagojevich's strategy was to "outwork" Judy Baar Topinka in the 2006 election, Monk said.

He outspent and out-raised Topinka in the campaign, Monk said. (Recall the "What's she thinking," commercials that blanketed the airwaves.)

Prosecutors lay the groundwork to show a financial relationship between Patti Blagojevich and Tony Rezko.

Lon Monk said the then-governor wanted his wife to get a steady flow of income. So they asked lawyers from Winston & Strawn if it was legal for Patti Blagojevich to work at Rezmar, Rezko's company. She would sell and market real estate on retainer.

"It wasn't a problem for her to work for Rezmar so long as she was actually working for them," Monk said the lawyers told them. "His advice was, you know, make sure she's working."
That was a concern, he said, because:"She was not only the governor's wife, but she was also a stay at home mom for two little girls."

Prosecutors will later say, through other witnesses, that Patti was a ghost payroller, that she didn't actually do work but came in to Rezmar offices for show. They'll say she sometimes brought her kids to the offices with her but didn't do the work. She was paid $12,000 a month on retainer.

They'll say that Mr. and Mrs. Blagojevich flouted the advice of their attorneys.


Prosecutors tell the judge that the first tapes in the case will likely be played this afternoon.

They'll play tapes involving Lon Monk, whose cell phone was tapped in the investigation.

Here's the Sun-Times' recap of this morning's events.


Rod Blagojevich's lawyers are trying to keep the prosecution from asking witness Lon Monk about a conversation involving his lawyers at Winston & Strawn.

This has to do with testimony we haven't heard yet.

Prosecutors say Patti Blagojevich asked lawyers from Winston & Strawn for advice about her getting paid a retainer from Tony Rezko.

"The privilege doesn't exist here," Zagel said finally, allowing in the conversation.

Prosecutors plan to bring in a conversation or exchange involving the powerful law firm, which once represented Blagojevich when he was governor.

At one point, Blagojevich owed the law firm $500,000 when he was still governor.
Prosecutors say the privilege is waived because Patti Blagojevich as present.

Zagel, who is rarely ponderous, says the situation is very similar to a hypothetical offered to him way before he was a judge, or even a lawyer.

"This is a point of historical insignificance and I don't know why I said it," Zagel says.

Jeremy Scheuch, a 31-year-old event planner from Humboldt Park, is planning to make a trip down to the Dirksen Federal Building in the coming weeks.

He's got something to show the courthouse's most famous current defendant -- Rod Blagojevich.
Read today's story: Click here

Blagojevich trial: Monk accepted $70,000+ from Rezko

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Lon Monk accepted envelopes stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars in cash from Tony Rezko starting in spring of 2004, Monk testified.

The cash came in overnight envelopes, usually $10,000 at a time. He accepted the cash seven or nine times, Monk said, including once as a gift at his wedding.

Rezko also brought in contractors to finish Monk's basement at his Park Ridge home in fall 2005, Monk said.

Monk was already doing pretty much everything Rezko asked, Monk said, and Rezko didn't ask for anything in particular in exchange for the payouts.

"(Rezko) was a friend and ... at some point, based on my conversations with him, i was going to go work for the insurance company or for him," Monk said.

Monk thought the money was "some kind of advance in salary," he said.

Monk kept the money in his home, but the influx of cash made him nervous, he testified.

"If anybody looked at my bank accounts, they'd wonder why all of a sudden I stopped withdrawing cash," Monk said.

Judge Zagel has called a lunch break.

Blagojevich Trial: "1, 2, 3, 4"

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Rod Blagojevich, Tony Rezko, Chris Kelly and Lon Monk used code names for themselves "when talking about the four of us making money," Monk said -- "1, 2, 3, 4."

Monk said in 2007 or 2008, when he and Blagojevich were alone in Blago's office, they discussed an FBI investigation.

Blagojevich told Monk not to ever talk about the "1, 2, 3, 4" reference.

Monk on the stand silently mimicked Blagojevich's actions, putting up his fingers one at a time, then running a single finger across his throat.

Blagojevich is clearly upset, unsettled in his chair. He leaned forward and stared right at Monk. But at Monk's gesture, Blagojevich sat back hard in his chair and appeared to mutter something.

He's now trying to be contained, hands folded before him.

Blagojevich trial: Prosecution connects Blago, Levine

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

We're now seeing much evidence of what we've seen in Tony Rezko's trial. But this is key for jurors. Included in today's exhibits were two letters that clearly showed Blagojevich appointed the notorious Stuart Levine to two state boards that had much power over state investments.

That seems to clash with what Sam Adam Jr. told jurors in openings, when he tried to minimize Blagojevich's role in putting Levine on those boards.

Lon Monk testified that both Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly wanted Levine on those boards.
Levine has pleaded guilty to substantial wrongdoing and without a plea deal, could have faced up to life in prison, instead of five years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner this morning asked Monk about Blagojevich's relationship with New York class-action lawyer Melvyn Weiss, with Monk saying that Blagojevich once spent a night at Weiss' home.

Here's a 2006 Sun-Times story that included Weiss. This also includes some background about Stuart Levine's ties to Blagojevich:

"Feds probe gov's fund-raising trips: Generous law firms scored prime spots after donations"

By Chris Fusco, Dave McKinney and Natasha Korecki
Staff Reporters
Sept. 22, 2006

The feds are investigating two New York political fund-raising trips made by Gov. Blagojevich to see if East Coast donors were illegally nudged ahead in line for state business, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

This is the first indication the government is zeroing in on face-to-face discussions Blagojevich had with donors as it probes alleged corruption in his administration and the Teachers' Retirement System of Illinois.

AN 'EXCLUSIVE CLUB'

A source familiar with the investigation said the feds are looking at three law firms placed on a preferred list of outside lawyers that TRS could hire. The three firms have donated more than $120,000 to the governor, including donations that came at the New York events.

"They were admitted to a very exclusive club, and one case could make you millions," the source said.

Blagojevich, his fund-raisers, the law firms and others who attended the October 2003 and December 2003 fund-raisers have not been accused of wrongdoing.

The governor's campaign confirmed Blagojevich met with several well-known, deep-pocketed Democrats during his travels but insisted there was no connection between pension business and donations to the governor.

"The governor has no role in what law firms TRS chooses to do business with," campaign spokeswoman Sheila Nix said.

The firms are top-notch, class-action litigators, with "a long history of giving to Democrats nationally, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama," Nix said.

None of the law firms have made any money at TRS since landing on the list because they only get paid if they win or favorably settle lucrative class-action lawsuits on the pension system's behalf.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment.

The case initially caught the feds' attention because both New York trips were partially financed by former TRS board member Stuart Levine, who is cooperating with the government and will enter a guilty plea next month.

In October 2003 and December 2003, Levine paid for flights aboard private planes to get Blagojevich and supporters to the East Coast, state records show. Once there, Blagojevich met lawyers, investment bankers and media executives -- many of whom wrote checks to his campaign fund.

On Oct. 29, 2003, Blagojevich huddled at New York's exclusive Harvard Club with lawyer Leonard Barrack, the former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, and ex-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), a consultant for Barrack's law firm, according to a copy of the governor's office schedule obtained by the Sun-Times.

Torricelli's political career ended in tatters in 2002 after he was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee for improperly accepting gifts from a campaign donor.

On Nov. 3, 2003, Barrack's law firm -- Barrack Rodos & Bacine -- and Torricelli each gave Blagojevich $10,000. On Feb. 20, 2004 the TRS board voted to put the law firm on its select list of class-action lawyers.

Torricelli could not be reached. Barrack, whose firm also gave $5,000 to Blagojevich in 2002, did not return a message.

In another instance, lawyer Melvyn Weiss paid $5,000 toward lodging, meals and entertainment for Blagojevich's entourage during its December 2003 trip to New York.

Weiss, his law firm and its attorneys also donated $45,000 to the Blagojevich campaign, including $10,000 on May 13, 2004. Twelve days later, the TRS board voted to place Weiss' law firm on its list of outside litigators.

Last May, Weiss' law firm and two of his partners were indicted by a federal grand jury in a kickback scheme. Weiss did not return a message left at his New York office.

TRS SAYS IT USED SEARCH

A third law firm tied to the fund-raising trip was Bernstein Liebhard and Lifshitz, which gave the governor $45,210 in cash and services, state records show. A call to the firm was not returned.

The New York firm donated $10,000 during the October 2003 fund-raiser and gave another $25,000 at the December event, where it also helped cover the cost of a fund-raising breakfast.

Bernstein Liebhard wound up being voted onto the system's preferred lawyer list after a February 2004 vote by the TRS board.

TRS released a statement Thursday night stating the three firms were placed on its list after a national search. The agency "thoroughly reviewed the qualifications of these firms, and they were selected based on their experience and qualifications."

Levine's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner is now asking Monk about Blagojevich's ties to Stuart Levine.

Levine has to be somebody who's confused jurors to date.

The prosecution keeps talking about how Blagojevich, a Democrat, reappointed Levine to two state boards.

The defense keeps saying Levine was a close associate and fund-raiser for Jim Ryan, Blagojevich's Republican opponent in the 2002 governor's race.

Niewoehner is finally trying to straighten all this out, having Monk respond to questions about why Blagojevich would reappoint Levine, a Republican, to government posts in his Democratic administration.

Blagojevich, according to Monk was "above playing politics," and told Monk he wanted to tap into Levine's expertise as a member of the state's teacher-pension and Health Facilities Planning boards. Levine also was being recommended for reappointment by close Blagojevich fund-raiser Tony Rezko.

Levine "was very reputable, smart and qualified to do this, and he was being recommended by Tony," Monk explained.

Levine, of course, ended up being the star prosecution witness in Rezko's trial. He's pleaded guilty to rigging or trying to rig countless state deals along with Rezko, who ended up being found guilty of conspiring with Levine in 2008.

Blagojevich's lawyers are expected to try to continue to distance Blagojevich from Levine. Keeping Blagojevich's ties to Levine clear for jurors is expected to be key to the prosecution's case.

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner is questioning Monk about a 2003 proposal to combine several state pension boards and the backlash that followed within the governor's circle.

Former fund-raiser Chris Kelly argued at the time that Blagojevich should not combine the boards -- that having fewer total board seats would make it harder for Blagojevich to fund-raise and assert influence over those boards, Monk said.

"It would be easier to make appointments and influence the boards if they remained separate," Monk said. "If you have more people to appoint to these boards, you're going to have more points of contact."

Blagojevich inevitably decided against combining the boards.

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner is questioning Lon Monk about appointments that Blagojevich made to a list of unpaid positions on state boards and commissions in 2003 and 2004.

Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly brought forward a list of recommendations for these at positions -- mostly people who had made sizable contributions or could be counted on to make sizable contributions, Monk testified.

They were "people who would support the governor's agenda, potentially donate money," Monk said. The appointments were a fund-raising tool, he said.

Rezko said that "some of these board spots were high-profile enough and prestigious enough ... that at a minimum some of these people ought to be donating $25,000," Monk said.

These were positions like trusteeships at the University of Illinois, the State Board of Investment, and the like, Monk said.

Blagojevich called these positions his "ambassadorships," Monk said -- referring to the notion that ambassadorships are appointed by presidents as a thank-you for big campaign contributions.

One of those most publicized appointments was that of Ali Ata, former director of the Illinois Finance Authority. Niewoehner is questioning Monk on that appointment.

Blagojevich Trial: Rod reprimanded for "gesturing"

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Prosecutor Reid Schar started the morning by complaining that Blagojevich was gesturing inappropriately to people in the courtroom. Schar said jurors were distracted by his gesturing.

He said Blagojevich made it "audibly clear in his displeasure continuously looking over, gesturing to people in the pews."

Schar said it was "not proper decorum. It's clearly distracting."

Blagojevich, sitting down, frowned.

Zagel told him to stop. "By and large it's for their own benefit," he said.

Also, Patti will have to leave the courtroom later as Monk is expected to discuss her in testimony.

During the morning discussion about testimony, Rod kissed Patti on the cheek.

Monk again walked in and looked away from Rod, taking the long route around and away from his old friend. He ended up running into a microphone that was sticking out from the jury box in his path.

Blagojevich trial: Laski, Mosseley in the courtroom

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Bizzarely, two former federal defendants -- convicted City Clerk James Laski and convicted extortionist Derrick Mosseley -- are sitting in the courtroom as spectators, opposite one another.

Laski, who has written a book about public corruption, is here with a media pass. Laski is acting as a commentator for WGN.

Blagojevich Trial Today: Day 6 and overview

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks


Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich trial day 6 will feature expanded testimony from Lon Monk, who started dishing considerably against his old friend and boss during his first day on the stand Wednesday.

EXPECTED TODAY: The government could begin playing the first, much-anticipated secret FBI recordings today. Since Monk's cell phone was tapped, he'll have a bunch of calls to discuss.

MONK'S KEY POINTS FROM WEDNESDAY:

Good for prosecutors: OK, Lon Monk went on family vacations with Rod and Patti Blagojevich, he even lived with the couple when he returned to Chicago to take a job in the governor's administration back in 2002. So prosecutors made it crystal clear that Monk is close to the former governor and maybe that makes him more believable to jurors.
•Monk said he witnessed Blagojevich in meetings where the former governor agreed
he'd use his influence to help his friends -- and himself -- make money off of state deals.
•Monk says $500,000 was funneled into a secret bank account and it was to be split in four, with a share going to Rod Blagojevich after he left office.

Good for Blagojevich: Monk said he never saw a dime from the $500,000 that Tony Rezko took as a kickback payment for steering a state deal to a firm he and Kelly hand-picked. That means he didn't see Blagojevich ever dip into that money either.
"Do you know what happened to it?" Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked. Monk: "No."

Blagojevich trial: Here's today's exhibits

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Rod Blagojevich and his defense team will refrain from making statements to the press while a witness is on the stand, Sam Adam Jr. told reporters after court today.

That means he won't say anything publicly about Lon Monk's testimony until after the defense has cross-examined him.

"We want to respect Judge Zagel, we want to respect the court, we want to respect the process," Adam said.

"Don't blame Rod," he said, adding that maintaining radio silence was his idea and not Zagel's.


Secret FBI recordings of Rod Blagojevich and his top aides will be made public as they're played in court, Judge James Zagel said today at the trial's conclusion.

Zagel cautioned that they cannot be released until the defense has its chance to cross examine the witness on the recordings.

That's tough from a media standpoint because we may hear stuff one day in court but will have to wait days before we're able to publish it to the public.

We may hear recordings tomorrow, since Monk, by his own account, is on many of them.

His cell phone was tapped by the FBI in the fall of 2008.



Lon Monk's critical testimony continues as he alleges that a $10 billion state deal was controlled not by experts in Rod Blagojevich's administration -- but fund-raising friends who wanted to make money off the deal.

That's because Blagojevich, Tony Rezko, Chris Kelly and Monk were to win a $500,000 kickback off the deal, he said.

Monk told of a number of secret meetings involving the four of them. He said they referred to one another as 1,2, 3 and 4.

Monk said he listened intently when Kelly explained to him how they could profit off of state deals.

"I was intrigued and I wanted to make money," he said.

While the money was paid into a secret account held by Rezko, Monk never testified whether he knew if Blagojevich ultimately got any of the money.

Monk said in 2003, early in Blagojevich's first run in the governor's office, Blagojevich gave the OK to sell all $10 billion in bonds in one day -- rather than over several days, and by several different firms.

Handling the huge task was Bear Stearns, a firm recommended by Kelly and Rezko.
Blagojevich gave the nod to the deal only after Kelly took him aside in a government meeting and told him what to do.
Kelly was the only non-staffer present at the meeting, Monk said.

Kelly later told Monk he pushed Blagojevich to approve the deal.

"It was either really going to help fund-raising or we were going to make money ... The four of us," Monk said Kelly explained.

Monk said the $10 billion deal was steered to Bear Stearns while Bob Kjellander was lobbyist.

Monk said as a reward for the business, Kjellander: "had given Tony $500,000 and that Tony was putting that in a separate account for the four of us."

Monk said he, Rezko and others didn't want anyone to know about the account: "Because it would have been illegal."
Was the money all for Rezko?
"No," Monk said. "That it would eventually be divided equally among us ... "After Rod was out of office."

Kjellander at the time was the National Republican committeeman.

Chris Kelly later blew his top at Rezko for withdrawing $100,000 from the account.
"By withdrawing the money it would make the account more visible than it otherwise would because there was activity in it," Monk said.

Kelly told Rezko to put the money back in, Monk said.
Kelly wasn't worried Rezko would take the governor's share just: "That the account would become known," Monk said.

Ultimately, Monk said he saw not a cent of the money.
"Do you know what happened to it?" Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner said.
Said Monk: "No"

Rod Blagojevich was worried about money in the year after he won the governor's seat in 2002. Patti's real estate firm had taken a hit since she'd become first lady, and the family was forced to live on Rod's $160,000-or-so governor's salary, Monk testified.

It didn't help that Rod liked to buy expensive suits, he said.

But Rod's money worries were bad news for Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly, Monk said.

"They didn't want Rod and Patti to really be worried about finances, because they didn't want finances to be the reason why he may not run for re-election or run for higher office," Monk said.

The higher office Rezko and Kelly had in mind?

"At one point, president of the United States," Monk said.

They were eying the 2008 election, Monk said, because "2004 would have been premature for someone who had just become governor."

Rahm Emanuel's name surfaced for the first time in Rod Blagojevich's trial today as witness Lon Monk described an alleged attempt to shake him down for fund-raising money.

That happened earlier, but quickly was lost once Monk said Blagojevich allegedly agreed to pocket money in backroom deals.

Jurors in Blagojevich's case saw a giant photo of Emanuel published on the screen.

Monk, Blagojevich's former chief of staff, said Emanuel, then a congressman, asked Blagojevich for some kind of funding or grant from the state to help out the Chicago Academy.

"He said he‚d try to get it done," Monk said of Blagojevich and the $2 million grant for Chicago Academy, a school that trained teachers that was in Emanuel's district at the time.

But Emanuel didn't get his money initially and he repeatedly called Blagojevich's staffers demanding to know why.

Blagojevich told Monk to hold off on the grant unless Emanuel's brother, big L.A. talent agent Ari Emanuel, held him a fund-raiser.

"He wanted to either see if a fund-raiser was going to take place or see how successful it was going to be organized by Ari Emanuel in Los Angeles," Monk said.

Monk said Blagojevich told him to relay a message to Emanuel that Blagojevich wanted the fund-raiser.

Monk said he ignored the former governor.

"I intentionally did nothing," he said.

Monk eventually stopped taking Emanuel's angry calls, referring him to Bradley Tusk, a deputy governor.

The defense has subpoenaed Emanuel, the Sun-Times first reported last week.

They want him to discuss the grant money as well as Emanuel's role in discussions about candidates for the U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich trial: The Beverly Wilshire meeting

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner is questioning Monk about a 2004 meeting during a fund-raising trip to Los Angeles.

Rod Blagojevich, Lon Monk, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly -- along with the then-governor's security detail, scheduler, scheduler's daughter and several of Rezko's associates -- boarded a private plane on Jan. 22 and stayed at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

The trip provided a chance to meet privately with "fewer distractions than we'd usually have, since we were out of state," Monk said.

Rezko led the meeting, Monk said, elaborating on the money-making schemes they had discussed at the Rezmar meeting.

Again, Rezko wrote up the plans for each way to make money and put a dollar figure next to each one of them, Monk said.

"What did you do?" Niewoehner asked him.

"Listened," Monk said.

Rezko and Kelly didn't ask him or Blagojevich to do anything during the meeting, Monk said, but it was implied that they would have to "cause the state to do something to bring a number of these ideas to fruition" down the line.

Again, Monk said, the plan was that he would get his quarter of the money after Blagojevich was out of office.

"We didn't want to be getting the money when Rod was in office when there was a lot of scrutiny" from law enforcement and the media.

Blagojevich trial: Rod building up steam

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

During a 15-minute break, Rod Blagojevich appeared visibly upset but contained. He spent the break speaking with defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky outside the courtroom.

Then a supporter approached him and handed him a book titled "Why Did This Happen to Me?"


Rod Blagojevich is livid and cannot contain the anger he's reflecting as Lon Monk finally gets to the meat of his remarks: he puts Rod Blagojevich in the room when there was a discussion to divvy up hundreds of thousands of dollars made through state action.

Monk described a 2003 meeting in which Blagojevich, Monk, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly are all in the room talking about how to make money off of state deals. He said one of Rezko's ideas involved creating an insurance agency that would make money by getting business from the state. Blagojevich presumably would be sure he directed the control appropriately.

Monk says that Rezko led the discussion and on a blackboard puts up nine different ideas that would make each of them money. Each idea was worth about $100,000 he said.

What was the thrust of the meeting: "How the four of us could make money different ways."

Who was going to make money off the deals?

"The four of us," Monk said.

How was that money going to be divided? "Equally," Monk said. "All told, hundreds of thousands of dollars ... in total."

In court, Blagojevich appears angry and is almost smiling at times, shakes his head and shoots glances at the prosecutor and Monk.

Monk said Blagojevich agreed not to take the money until after he was out of office.
"Because we didn't want anyone to know what was going on," Monk said. "There wouldn't be as much scrutiny. ... "In all liklihood (it was) wrong and we would be breaking the law."

The exchange wasn't lost on jurors; several of them were furiously taking notes during the questioning.

Lon Monk: Chris Kelly behind pay-to-play

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Chris Kelly was the first person to suggest to Lon Monk that he could benefit personally from Rod Blagojevich's position as governor, Monk has testified.

The conversation occurred just before the 2002 election in the garage of the Blagojevich campaign office on Lincoln Avenue.

The polls were leaning in their favor, and Kelly and Monk were pretty sure Blagojevich was going to win over competitor Jim Ryan.

Kelly told Monk "in essence, that the Republicans had been in power for so long and they have been benefiting from the state," Monk said. "And that was something we were going to be able to do now that we were close to Rod and he was going to become governor."

How did Monk feel about this?

"I was intrigued by the topic and I wanted to make money," Monk said.

In the courtroom, Rod is shaking his head and almost smiling. Several jurors are taking notes.

Lon Monk: "I wanted to help them"

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Niewoehner is asking Monk if, in his duties as Rod Blagojevich's chief of staff in 2003 and 2004, he was asked to participate in "pay to play" politics.

When asked by Rezko and Harris, Monk helped arrange favors for campaign donors, he said -- "in some instances to get appointed to boards and commissions, and in some instances to get state business."

Rod is getting more animated, shaking his head and writing furiously in his yellow notebook.

"At times would Rezko and Kelly ask you do so something with respect to the individuals and firms?" Niewoehner asked. Monk said yes.

"What did you typically do?" the prosecutor asked.

Monk paused.

"Whatever they asked."

"Why did you do that?" the prosecutor asked.

"Because I wanted to help them."

Niewoehner has now turned specifically to the allegations involving Chicago Academy. That's the school in former Congressman Rahm Enamuel's district from which Blagojevich allegedly withheld state money to leverage fund-raising dollars.

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner is mapping out the spots where Rod Blagojevich's fund-raising team held meetings in 2003 and 2004.

They are the Friends of Blagojevich office; the office for Rezmar, home base for Tony Rezko's development and fast food businesses; Blagojevich's home in Ravenswood Manor; and his office in the Thompson Center

Monk, Rezko, Harris and Blagojevich talked about "governmental, non-governmental items, fund-raising, a whole variety of things," Monk said.

The prosecution is trying to show the jury a map of the above locations, but there's a problem -- it's the wrong map.


Lon Monk, former close friend and fund-raiser for Rod Blagojevich, is back on the stand.

Before the lunch break, prosecutor Chris Niewoehner questioned Monk about his involvement in Blagojevich's 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Now he's asking about the transition period between his win and when he took office in January 2003.

There were 30 to 35 "senior positions" in state agencies that needed to be filled, Monk said -- heads of the Department of Human Services, public health directors, general counsel, and the like.

Monk helped to fill those spots, he said, along with Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.

"Were these people going to be Blagojevich's closest advisers?" Niewoehner asked. Monk said yes.

The prosecutor asked who had the most success placing people in these senior positions in the Blagojevich administration.

"Probably Tony Rezko, Chris (Kelly) and (2002 Blagojevich campaign chairman) David Wilhelm," Monk said.

Political appointees in that round included heads of the state transportation agency and the Illinois Tollway, he said.

Rod scribbled furiously in his notebook as Monk talked about filling jobs.

Lon Monk's testimony now discusses how Rod Blagojevich's two biggest fund-raisers - Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko -- raised millions of dollars, then the two immediately had the most influence over his administration as governor.

Kelly and Rezko were part of the governor's transition team in 2003 and had control over dozens of crucial appointments in Blagojevich's administration, Monk said.

Monk said Blagojevich vacationed with Kelly and his family. They went to ball games together and out to eat. They spoke frequently, with Kelly doing the lion's share of raising money -- millions of dollars between 2001 and 2004, Monk said.

Through Monk, prosecutors are trying to show that Blagojevich knew these men intimately and thus backed their aggressive fund-raising strategies.

"Did you learn which people were allowed to see defendant Blagojevich when they wanted to?" Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked.
"Yes," Monk said.
"How much access did Mr. Kelly have?" Niewoehner asked.
"A significant amount. He was the lead fund-raiser, he had developed relationships with these large donors and that was his responsibility."

As for Rezko's access, Monk said: "Significant amount. He didn't exercise it that often but a significant amount."

Rezko was second only to Kelly as far as raising money for Blagojevich.

Rod Blagojevich and Patti lunch in cafeteria

| 3 Comments | No TrackBacks


Yesterday the former governor had his lunch delivered into a witness room in the courthouse.

Today, Rod Blagojevich and his wife were in the federal courthouse cafeteria pumping their own coffee from giant thermoses.

Several jurors were in the same general area, picking out their lunches. So were Patti's sister, state Rep. Deb Mell, and her partner.

All the while, courthouse security kept watch of the jurors, rounding them up with their lunches to bring them upstairs.

Monk is being questioned about financial documents from Friends of Blagojevich -- campaign contributions received and expenses paid out for different reporting periods.

Prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked Monk what the most important line is on a particular campaign finance form. The amount of contributions received, Monk answered.

"It showed political strength it showed that the campaign was strong and well-run," Monk said.

Niewoehner asked why that would be a big deal.

"You could spend it on media and grassroots events ... You could travel more than other candidates who didn't have as much money," Monk said. "It showed a likelihood that he would win."

Monk said for his 2002 election, Friends of Blagojevich spent most of their money on commercials in order to overcome competitors Paul Vallas and Roland Burris, especially downstate.

"We had to spend more money on media down there to introduce people to Rod who might not have known him," he said.

The prosecution is talking the jury through each election leading up to Blagojevich's win as governor.

"About when did defendant Blagojevich finally become governor?" Niewoehner asked.

"January 2003," Monk said.

With that, Judge Zagel called a one-hour break for lunch.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner is taking the questioning into Monk's fund-raising activities with the Friends of Blagojevich campaign.

Monk got involved with fund-raising for Blagojevich during the 2002 election cycle. That's around the same time that Monk met former Blagojevich fund-raiser Chris Kelly.

"He was a contributor, a big contributor to Rod and was starting to raise some money from other people," Monk said of Kelly, who owned a roofing company.

There was a brief, surreal moment when prosecutors posted a giant photo of Kelly on an overhead screen for Monk to identify.

Blagojevich looked up at the photo, who is deceased after taking his own life last year, and back to his old friend Lon Monk, who is on the stand.

Judge James Zagel has said that jurors may not hear about Kelly's suicide.

Niewoehner asked Monk about his relationship with Kelly.

"We mostly had meals together, or coffee," Monk said. "We may have gone to a ballgame."

Kelly and Blagojevich, too, were "close," Monk said.

Lon and Rod

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Lon Monk is on the witness stand providing some details about his relationship with Rod Blagojevich that haven't been in the press.

The two met in London in August 1981 when they were studying overseas as part of a program with Pepperdine Law School. They stayed at the same hotel and became roommates once they were back on the Pepperdine campus in Malibu, Calif.

Monk's background was as a sports agent, representing mostly tennis players and Olympic athletes, when Blagojevich told him he planned to run for governor during a ski trip in Copper Mountain, Colo.

Monk got into politics with Blagojevich after that. He became Blagojevich's gubernatorial campaign manager in summer 2001.

Lon Monk, Rod Blagojevich's longtime friend, roommate, groomsman and running buddy, walked into the courtroom and Blagojevich, sitting at the defense table, stared right at him.

Blagojevich followed him with his eyes all the way to the witness stand.

Monk purposely looked straight ahead as he walked right by the defense table.

When he got to the witness stand, Blagojevich leaned to his lawyer Shelly Sorosky and muttered something, looking irritated, shaking his head.

Monk is talking about his plea deal and why he's hoping to get less than five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to solicit a bribe.

"I'm focused on the two years (in prison), as long as I tell the truth and cooperate," he said of a plea deal that gives him a break in his sentence.

Blagojevich trial: Lon Monk takes the stand

Alonzo "Lon" Monk -- Blagojevich's law school roommate, an usher in his wedding and former chief of staff -- has just taken the stand.

He is speaking clearly and calmly as he gives his age, 51, and place of residence, Decatur, ready to testify against who was once one of his closest friends.

Monk is currently unemployed, he says, except for a gig promoting a sports event recently. He last worked in January 2009, when he worked as a lobbyist, he said. Prior to that, he worked as chief of staff for Rod Blagojevich from 2003 to 2005.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner is questioning Monk about the charges against him -- conspiracy to solicit a bribe.

Do you expect to go to jail" as a result of these charges, Niewoehner asked.

"Yes," Monk said -- for two years, under his plea agreement, he said.

Prosecutors yesterday said money was political power for Rod Blagojevich.

If that's the case, Blagojevich's power rose exponentially in his first two elections, then plummeted by 2008, according to charts prosecutors are showing jurors right now.

In his 2002 election, Blagojevich raised $23 million, racing far past his opponents.

In the 2006 gubernatorial election, it was at $27 million. His Republican opponent, Judy Baar Topinka had a mere $9.9 million.

The prosecution is trying to show jurors how much money he amassed and that it was substantially more than his opponents.

The government is also trying to show that Blago's campaign fund diminished significantly before his arrest. Yesterday, they said he was personally $200,000 in debt in fall 2008.

Defense attorney Aaron Goldstein is now cross-examining Cain.

Blagojevich FBI agent: Wiretaps everywhere

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

FBI agent Dan Cain says his office was secretly recording 10 different phones or places in the Rod Blagojevich probe. The recordings happened Oct. 22, 2008 through Dec. 9, 2008 -- the day the ex-governor was arrested.

The recordings include two "bugs" and eight wiretaps of cell phones and desk phones -- including Rod's cell and home phones, Robert's cell, John Harris' cell and desk phone, Lon Monk's cell, and bugs and wiretaps in Blago's campaign office.

Cain says 5,000 calls were wire tapped and 1,100 of those are relevant to the case.

Bottom line: Cain presents a disk of about 100 conversations that the government will play at trial.

He is setting up Lon Monk, who will testify next. If Monk wants to refer to a recorded call, it will now be in evidence.

In the courtroom today is Patti's sister, state Rep. Deb Mell. She is sitting next to her sister in the front row.

Robert Blagojevich's wife, Julie, is not here today.

Testimony in Rod Blagojevich's trial begins with FBI Agent Daniel Cain, who is explaining how the feds bugged the former governor's campaign office.

Cain reveals a whopper: when the feds first started listening to Blagojevich secretly, they put in a bug into offices, then monitored the calls from a van outside the office.

Sounds a little like the Sopranos.

He says the FBI can "spot check" conversations that appear legal.

Cain says the phone lines were eventually "tapped" so the FBI could get recordings directly off of phone lines.

It didn't take long for defense to ask for a private sidebar conference. But Judge James Zagel warned he allows just one a day.

"Better wait," Sam Adam Sr. told Shelly Sorosky. Laughter erupted in the courtroom.

Rod Blagojevich: "Follow the money"

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Rod and Patti Blagojevich entered the Dirksen Building minutes before court was scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m.

Rod spoke briefly to reporters, thanking Judge James Zagel for allowing him to attend his daughter, Amy's, graduation yesterday afternoon. She finished second in her eighth-grade class, he said.

Echoing attorney Sam Adam Jr.'s opening statement yesterday, Blago then urged jurors and the press to "follow the money."

"You will see that I didn't take a dollar, I didn't take a nickel, I didn't take a penny I didn't earn," he said.

Judge Zagel entered the courtroom at about 9:40. The testimony of FBI Special Agent Dan Cain is now under way.

Blagojevich Trial Today: Day 5 Witness list

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich trial day 5 features at least two witnesses, including former chief of staff Lon Monk, his law school roommate and best man at his wedding, who is expected to be a major snitch in the trial. Today's witnesses are testifying for federal prosecutors.

WITNESS LIST

1. FBI Special Agent Dan Cain. He will give an overview of the case and likely tease to the hundreds of secretly recorded conversations. Cain was also the lead agent in last year's trial of businessman and fund-raiser Tony Rezko.

2. Lon Monk. He will outline various corrupt schemes. He pled guilty to a scheme involving a horse racing businessman.

How does Rod Blagojevich's defense team feel about the case coming out of opening statements?

"We're no less than even," Sam Adam Sr. told me yesterday minutes after his son delivered rousing opening statements.

Rod Blagojevich was all smiles himself.

It was a drastic change from Blagojevich's demeanor as prosecutors hammered away at him.

As prosecutor Carrie Hamilton talked about shakedown schemes, Blagojevich bit his lip, looked down and wrote furiously. Sometimes it seemed he was forcing himself to write just to distract himself.

Other times, he'd lose himself and stare right at Hamilton looking like he wanted to explode.

By the time he left the building, rushing off to his daughter's graduation, he was shaking hands and glowing again.

Today, events will turn again as an FBI agent takes the stand first to give an overview of the case against him.

monk.jpg

Of all the Rod Blagojevich witnesses expected in this trial, no one's cooperation personally hurts the former governor more than Lon Monk.

Monk was Blagojevich's running buddy, his law school roommate, his groomsman.
Monk's parents even attended Blagojevich's wedding.

But today, Monk will be on the stand for the government.

Monk, whose cell phone was among those wiretapped in the Blagojevich corruption probe in 2008, can take prosecutors through numerous alleged corruption schemes beginning when Blagojevich first took office in 2003.

Monk will say he took cash pay offs from political fixer Tony Rezko, among other schemes. Monk also worked as Blagojevich's chief of staff.

In opening statements yesterday, attorney Sam Adam Jr. noted Monk was the California guy with "beautiful hair." He then paused and looked at Blagojevich, rattling off a line that made more jurors laugh than most things Adam said over two hours:

"Maybe not as good as others."

Afternoon recap

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Here's the Sun-Times' afternoon report on what the prosecution had to say. And here's the response from the defense.

Blagojevich could make daughter's graduation

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Opening statements ended around 4:30 p.m.

Rod and Patti Blagojevich had a quick conference with their attorneys in a 25th floor conference room and then left the building moments after 5 p.m. with a wave and a "see you tomorrow."

That means that, depending on traffic, they could make their daughter Amy's eighth-grade graduation. which is scheduled for 5:30.

Defense opening concludes with familiar argument

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Adam has started trying to topple the two most notable charges against the former governor.

The first is the accusation that Blagojevich tried to swindle campaign money from the CEO of Children's Memorial Hospital in exchange for passing a bill that would increase the hospital's cash flow.

The second are accusations that he tried to personally benefit from naming somebody to replace Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

Both accusations are false, Adam said, and Mike Madigan is behind both of them. The Illinois House speaker clashed with Blagojevich and held up legislation that the ex-governor wanted passed, meaning that Blagojevich had to resort to other bargaining measures.

Just like Blagojevich did in his book, "The Governor," Adam is making the case that Blagojevich is only guilty of playing the dirty -- but legal -- game of politics.

Adam just finished up, and Zagel has adjourned court for the day.

In what was likely meant to be a private conference -- but was inadvertently broadcast into the overflow courtroom -- Zagel told Adam that it was OK to "yell" at the jury but that he would not be allowed to addresses witnesses that way.

Court will reconvene at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

Adam Jr.: Patti stands by her man

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The opening statement from Blago attorney Sam Adam Jr. briefly switched gears to the topic of Patti Blagojevich -- and preparing the jury for what they're bound to hear out of the former first lady's mouth.

Patti is a "good woman," Adam said, one that "stands by her man."

That explains why jurors will hear Patti say "F-- the Cubs" on a recording in the coming months, he said.

Of course she disliked the Cubs, he said -- the team is owned by the Tribune Co., and that newspaper's editorial board wanted her husband impeached.

But this time, there was no "eff-ing" around. Adam dropped a full-fledged f-bomb.

Sam Adam Jr. is painting a lot of people as villains in the Blagojevich saga -- Tony Rezko, Alonzo "Lon" Monk and now Stuart Levine.

But in the process, he's managed to work in references to peacocks and a "specialized gynecologist."

Perhaps that's the "26th and Cal" style he's so known for.

Now Adam is saying that Rod Blagojevich turned federal investigators on`to Rezko, leading to the former fundraiser's conviction on corruption charges.

Blago would never do such a thing if he were in cahoots with the man, Adam said.

"He turned them onto Rezko!" Adam shouted. "Nobody would do that. I don't care how crazy you think the guy is. Nobody would do that!"

Sam Adam Jr. takes the floor - big time

| 1 Comment | 1 TrackBack

Ettinger has concluded and Sam Adam Jr. has taken the podium.

And as expected, he's off to quite the start.

The younger Adam, known for his bombastic style, started off at almost a whisper.

"I know when you hear the government's opening you got a feeling," he said to the jury. "I know you get it in your gut, you know it.

"But by the end of this case, I'm telling you, that man there is as honest as the day is long," he said, his voice rising. "And you will know it where? In your gut!"

Like the government, Adam is focusing on the Blagojevich's finances -- but to a very different end.

"He's broke! He's broke!" Adam yelled. "And do you know why he's broke, ladies and gentlemen? It's not hard. He didn't take a dime!"

Adam is animated, to say the least. He is whispering and yelling, putting his hands over his stomach, putting them into and out his pockets, pointing at the jurors, Rod, the prosecutors. He's covering much ground, walking up to the witness stand, back to the defense table.

"This is the federal government," he said. "The same people chasing Bin Laden are chasing him!"

Rod is not writing anymore. He is sitting with his hands folded.

"Robert followed the rules," attorney says

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Robert did his brother a favor by agreeing to help run the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund, Ettinger said. But he did it legally, he said.

"Robert followed the rules," Ettinger said. "Let me promise you, the evidence will show. Robert followed the rules."

Ettinger set the stage for the jury to hear numerous phone calls from Robert saying that when Robert was asked to call someone, he would call them three or four times because he's "persistent."

But that doesn't mean he shook anyone down, he said.

Ettinger told the jury about the confusing back-and-forth between the brothers when it came to Rod appointing a replacement for Obama's senate seat.

"In the last 10 days, Rod has changed his mind eight times!" Ettinger recalled.

Rod and his group, sitting at a separate table, chuckled at this comment.

Ettinger is getting worked up - his face is getting red at times and he is bumping the mic as he argues.

He hit the mic loudly at one point, causing a loud noise - "Sorry in the other room," he said to the people sitting in the overflow courtroom.

Up next with opening statements is Michael Ettinger, attorney for Rod's brother, Robert Blagojevich.

"My name is Michael Ettinger and I have the honor of representing retired Lt. Col. Robert Blagojevich," he began.

"I'm going to tell you now, I'm going to tell you until the end," Ettiner continued. "He's innocent. He's an innocent man and he's a great man. And I think at the end, when you've heard all the evidence, you're going to agree with me."

Ettinger is walking the jury through Robert's life -- being careful to call him "Robert" and not "Rob," which could be mistaken for "Rod." That's not the only way he's trying to separate Robert from his more notorious brother.

"He's not a politician," Ettinger said. "He's a businessman."

He's painting Robert as a dedicated military man.

"He's not about money," Ettinger said.

When the two were in college, "They weren't close," Ettinger said.

Government's opening statements conclude

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton has wrapped up the government's opening statements:

"At the conclusion of the case we will stand before you again and we will ask you to return the only verdict that is consistent with the evidence in the case," she said to the jurors. "Guilty as charged on all counts."

Rod Blagojevich furiously took notes as Hamilton spoke, but at times stopped dead and stared as she leveled accusation after accusation of the various shakedowns.

Hamilton spoke emphatically, sometimes pushing her fingers together, sometimes pointing in the air as she explained the case.

The crowd looked on, engaged -- including one courtroom artist with a mini-binocular attached to one of the lenses of his glasses who stood as he sketched.

Judge James Zagel has called a 15-minute break.

"You're going to hear," Hamilton tells jurors

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Hamilton is now talking to the jury about the recorded conversations they are going to hear throughout the trial.

They will hear conversations recorded from Rod Blagojevich's home phone and Robert Blagojevich's cell phone, she said.

"What you are going to hear is these defendants talking about this corruption at the time it was happening, when they did not believe that anyone besides their trusted insiders were listening," she said.

Hamilton then invoked what has become the most famous one-liner from the trial:

"You are going to hear him say "I've got this thing and it's 'eff-ing' golden and I'm not giving it up for 'eff-ing' nothing," she said.

She is repeating that phrase: "You're going to hear."

Senate seat was "golden ticket," Hamilton says

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks

Hamilton has moved on to the hot-ticket item - the alleged sale of Barack Obama's senate seat.

She set up the topic by talking about the Blagojevich's money woes. She showed jurors a chart of the family's debts in the fall of 2008 - $200,000 in "consumer debt and lines of credit against their home," she said.

Rod Blagojevich didn't know how to fix his money troubles, Hamilton said. He didn't even know if he was going to run for governor again.

"He had no career plans for what he was going to do and no plans of what he was going to do with this financial situation," she told the jury.

"For Governor Blagojevich, his golden ticket arrived on Nov. 4, 2008," she said. That's the day Barack Obama was elected president, giving Blagojevich sole rights to replace him in the senate.

Hamilton: "Blago was asking, what about me?"

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton is about 30 minutes into her opening statement, which is expected to take an hour.

In her overview of the charges against ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, she is using a phrase consistently throughout -- "What about me?"

In each of the alleged shakedowns, she says, Blagojevich was thinking about himself.

"In those instances when he was supposed to be asking, 'What about the people of Illinois?' he was asking, 'What about me?'" Hamilton said early in her statement.

She has returned to that phrase several times in describing each of the shakedowns:

"The answer, in this case, was a $25,000 campaign contribution" ... "The answer, in this case, was a $500,000 campaign contribution." ... etc.

Hamilton is now giving the jury an overview of the charges regarding the AUSL school.

"You're going to hear about a shakedown that happened just before the election, this time involving a school," she told the jury.

In a clear and almost cheerful voice, she is describing the accusations that Blagojevich held up a grant for the school in then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel's in an attempt to get the congressman's brother to hold a fundraiser for him.

"Rather than paying out the money as it should have been, defendant Blagojevich demanded that the money be paid out slowly, over time," she said.

"One of the things you're going to learn in this trial is that money is power," she said.

The shakedown didn't happen, she said -- "not because he didn't want it to happen, but because his middleman refused to carry it out.

Hamilton is now giving an overview of the charges regarding the Illinois Tollway. She is referring to Blagojevich as "defendant Blagojevich."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton has put up a screen with a picture of Blagojevich with lines linking him to convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko, now deceased fundraiser Chris Kelly and former staffer Lon Monk.

Hamilton, dressed in a dark suit and wearing her blond hair in a ponytail, is describing the alleged shakedown conspiracies in very simple terms.

"It wasn't that (Blagojevich) would go out and do it himself," she says, "Instead the demand was made by a middleman for his benefit. The middlemen that were used were Lon Monk, Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko."

She is referring to that foursome as the "inner circle."

She is also introducing the jury to the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund.

"Part of the plan was to try to build up that campaign fund," she said. "They knew the more money in that campaign fund, the more money Blagojevich could yield and the more they could personally benefit from decisions he was making."

Rod Blagojevich stops writing in his notebook and stares up at Hamilton, fiddling his pen between his fingers.

Prosecution opening statements begin

| No Comments | 1 TrackBack

"On the North Side of Chicago is a hospital named Children's Memorial Hospital."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton has kicked off the prosecution's opening statements with those words.

"In 2008, Children's Memorial was trying to get a grant to treat sick kids," she continued in a slow, clear voice. But before Blagojevich would allow that grant, she said, he demanded something in return."

"But there was a catch," Hamilton said. "Now that he had decided to help the hospital, he wanted to make sure the hospital was going to help him."

"Blagojevich decided if the hospital president wasn't going to help him, he wasn't going to help the hospital."

"This was just one in series of illegal shakedowns that started shortly after Gov. Rod Blagojevich became governor of Illinois in 2000 and continued until he was arrested in 2008."

Blagojevich is not looking at her as she speaks -- he is busy writing in his yellow notebook.

There were a number of friends and trusted aids" who helped Blago, Hamilton told the jury. "You will hear from a number of those people in this trial."

Hamilton is now showing jurors a chart on a giant screen: "Personal demands in exchange for state actions," it it titled.

Opening statements bring out a crowd

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The courtroom is awaiting the start of the much-anticipated opening statements. Everyone is seated and waiting for Judge James Zagel to begin the session.

Meanwhile, the overflow room -- a courtroom down the hall from the proceedings that has audio from the trial piped in -- is silent and chock full. "Shoulder to shoulder," a court security officer is shouting as people slide onto the packed wooden benches.

Opening statements are now about 15 minutes late.

Zagel has just entered the courtroom.

The Jury

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Judge James Zagel has announced the 12 jurors and six alternates that will decide the case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Robert.

Eleven females and seven males were announced.

They first 12 are thought to be the official jurors:

103, a quiet-spoken white woman in her 20s who works as a full-time legal assistant
105, an African-American woman who teaches math to sixth- and seventh-graders in public school; her husband is a state probation officer
106, a white, female retired director for state public health department who has served on two juries before
115, a blond woman in her 30s or 40s who has worked in retail for the past 15 years; a fan of boating and gardening, she reads news "only for the weather"
119, a mother in her late 20s or early 30s who works in investment accounting and is an avid runner
121, a white, female accounting student at Western Illinois University with an interest in law; her father is a police officer
123, a white, male human resources manager in his 30s who volunteers for a family shelter and has done volunteer work for political candidates
127, a woman in 50s or 60s who likes reading and crafts like knitting and cross-stitch
128, a white community college student and former Best Buy salesman who likes sports, videogames and hanging out with his friends
133, a former Marine of 18 years who served in various places, including Beirut, where he suffered an injury; he has had a hip replacement and was concerned about sitting for long periods of time
135, a retired man in his mid-60s who said he was born in a Japanese internment camp in California; a former Marine, he has served on a jury
137, a retired Navyman who works full-time

The final six are thought to be alternates:

148, an African-American, church-going man who worked as a letter carrier for 30 years; has served on two juries in the past, one of which did not reach a verdict
151, a mechanical engineer with a graduate degree who supervises a crew of 30 at a steel company
153, a female secretary and paralegal in the real estate department of a law firm
155, a secretary at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who volunteers at her church and used to be an event planner for a dating service; said it was hard to avoid the news, but believed she could be fair
156, young women who works in direct mail marketing and likes spending time with her boyfriend and her dog
166, a female, African-American social worker for a nursing home with a college degree

No. 134, a young mother of two who works in outreach for the Department of Children and Family Services was announced as a juror but then removed for hardship and another reason that Zagel did not discuss. She was replaced with No. 166.

Delay of game

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Judge Zagel had hoped to start opening statements at 11 a.m., but assembling the jury and dealing with motions this morning has taken longer than planned.

He's going to have the jury sworn in, give them instructions and let them break for lunch. The prosecution's opening statement is now set for 1 p.m.

One juror replaced; openings pushed back

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Judge James Zagel has removed potential juror No. 134 from the jury because of "hardship reasons" and another issue that he did not disclose. He has replaced her with No. 166, an African-American social worker for a nursing home.

That keeps the likely jury tally at eight women and four men.

Zagel has pushed back the start of opening arguments. Citing his experience working with "hungry jurors," openings will now start at 1 p.m.

He is currently addressing the jurors about their duties.

Blagojevich jury announced

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Judge James Zagel has announced the 12 jurors and six alternates who will decide the case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Robert.

Eleven females and seven males were announced.

Assuming the first 12 are jurors and the remaining are alternates -- alternates are generally not told they are not full-fledged jury members until deliberations -- that would mean the jury is comprised of eight women and four men.

The judge was not explicit in stating whether the first 12 are the jurors. But he did appear to seat the jurors in sequential order.

Included on the jury is a man who said he was born in a Japanese internment camp in California, a human resources manager in his 30s, a public school math teacher and an investment accountant.

reporting with Natasha Korecki

Court got under way around 11 a.m., jurors have been picked (more to come) and Judge James Zagel has just told Rod Blagojevich that there can be no twittering from the courtroom.

Blagojevich has been twittering on and off since his arrest in December 2008, as has his publicist.

"I do not want anybody in the well of the court using twitter during trial," Zagel said.

The judge also warned Blagojevich that recent public statements he's made on radio and television could come back to haunt him.

Blagojevich nodded as Zagel explained that repeated statements outside of court can be risky and open himself up to issues. He placed his fingers up to his face and under his nose as Zagel continued talking.

"You do get to a certain point in time where if you make a lot of statements. . . and you wind up testifying on the witness stand," questions that have to do with "impeachment" might arise, Zagel said. "There is a risk . . . by repeated public statements outside the courtroom."

Then, there was a lighter moment.

Blagojevich leaned back in his chair, appeared a bit flushed and laughed when Zagel told his lawyer to shorten his opening statement -- set for this afternoon -- so his client can make it to his daughter's graduation ceremony later today.

While Gov. Quinn, a Democrat, has downplayed the impact of Rod Blagojevich's trial on the upcoming governor's race, his opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), issued a statement this morning designed to get voters to support his candidacy.

Here's the full text:

"The beginning of disgraced [former] Gov. Rod Blagojevich's criminal trial is a stark reminder to voters that too many Illinois politicians have long placed their own interests before the people's interests. Enough is enough.

"This election marks one of the best opportunities in a generation to finally put an end to the back room deals, and the go along, get along culture of politics as usual in Springfield. But we can't change Illinois by electing politicians like Governor Pat Quinn, who publicly stated that Rod Blagojevich -- whom he served alongside -- is an 'honest' politician with 'integrity.' We need a clean break.

"These criminal proceedings are just another example of the choice voters will face this November -- more insider politics as usual under Governor Quinn, or a fresh start for Illinois taxpayers."

reporting with Natasha Korecki and Sarah Ostman

Rod Blagojevich strut his stuff this morning as he walked through the metal barriers and into the courthouse.

Blagojevich said he "slept great" last night.

He walked over to shake hands with a supporter who shouted: "I'm with you!"

"I fought for you the whole way," Blagojevich said. "I never let you down."

He then embraced legendary New York author Jimmy Breslin and walked inside, introducing him to the press throng gathered in the lobby.

Standing next to Patti in a suit and blue tie, Blagojevich was calm and composed as he addressed reporters for about two mintues. He called today "historic" and said the public and media have been "lied to."

"This is frankly a new beginning," he said. "Finally you'll be able to hear the things I've been dying to tell you ... and it begins with opening statements."

The defense attorneys appeared calm minutes later in a ride up the Dirksen Building elevator. Sam Adam Jr., who will be delivering the opening statements, admitted to being nervous last night but said he was calm now.

Then the elevator lurched to a stop between floors and the elevator fell silent.

"Guess we got our continuance," Sheldon Sorosky said.

The elevator stayed still for several moments, with the attorneys growing visibly nervous. When it finally began moving and the doors opened nine floors too early, they hurriedly exited and proceeded to the 25th floor -- in a different elevator.

The Blagojevich buzz

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Reporting with Sarah Ostman and Chris Fusco

Spectators were reportedly out on Dearborn Street at 4 a.m.

All of the tickets to the courtroom were dispensed by 7:30 a.m.

Yes, there's a morning buzz in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse as we all await the start of the Rod Blagojevich trial.

The Blagojevich brothers aren't expected to arrive until 9:45 a.m. There's some camera people taking shelter from the rain outside. As far as supporters bearing signs of support, haven't seen any.

To read today's overview article: Click here


With opening statements in his trial just hours away, Rod Blagojevich makes a last-ditch effort to throw out his case that is an "improper criminalization of his rights under the First
Amendment," according to a filing.

"In this case, the defendant was engaged in political speech and expression. The
government alleges that the political process in which he was engaged was criminal. This is a violation of the defendant's rights of freedom of speech and expression afforded him under the United States constitution," the filing reads.

Don't hold your breath on this one.

No Liz Lemons in this jury pool

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


A young potential juror's attempt to get out of jury duty last week (simply by thinking up every imaginable excuse) reminded me of this "30 Rock" episode, where Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) dresses up as Princess Leia hoping to skip out of jury service.

Lemon: "This used to get me out of jury duty in Chicago all of the time."
Security guard: "This ain't Chicago, honey. Look at these people."

See how good we have it here?

Blagojevich opening statements mid-morning tomorrow

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks


Opening statements in Rod Blagojevich's case will begin around 11 a.m. tomorrow, lawyers in the case said they were told.

Lawyers will first meet in Judge James Zagel's courtroom at 10 a.m. and hand him a list of the people they want tossed from the jury pool. There's about 50 potential jurors in that pool right now and lawyers on each side get 22 strikes between them.

Zagel said he'd likely announce the jurors in open court, swear them in, then begin with opening statements in the morning session. He said after both sides are through with their openings, he'll likely adjourn for the day.

That means Rod Blagojevich is likely to make his daughter's graduation tomorrow night.

After cutting several more potential jurors -- including a lawyer and a mother who said she needed to take care of a child with a medical condition -- Judge James Zagel has whittled the Blagojevich jury pool down to 50.

Court has just adjourned for the day. Attorneys will now privately come up with bids for peremptory challenges -- that is, their "free passes" to cut jurors for any reason -- before the start of court tomorrow morning.

The defense can cut 13 jurors for any reason. The government can cut nine.

Zagel and attorneys will meet tomorrow morning to go over both sides' peremptory challenges. Zagel will then announce the 12 jurors and six or so alternates that will comprise the jury. They will be sworn in and then opening statements will begin.

That means that opening statements will likely start mid-morning tomorrow.

Before adjourning, Blago attorney Sam Adam Jr. took Zagel aback when he requested 2 1/2 hours to deliver his opening statement tomorrow.

Zagel asked Adam if he was "sure" he wanted to do that, and then said he would allot Adam 1 3/4 hours.

"And I do that reluctantly," Zagel said.

The government will give their opening statements first. They are expected to take one hour. Attorneys for brother Robert Blagojevich will take about an hour for theirs.

Q101 radio show host booted from jury pool

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

A TV show host and former host of a radio show on Q101 has been removed from the jury pool.

The decision was unanimous among attorneys from both sides.

"What a surprise," said Judge James Zagel.

The potential juror said he was an avid news consumer and had discussed the Blago trial on his radio show. He also said if he were chosen for the jury, he would likely lose his job.

Also tossed from the jury pool was an auto mechanic who had car troubles -- something Zagel probed him about during questioning last week. Zagel asked if he thought it was "odd" that he couldn't make it despite his expertise and employment at an auto parts store. Prosecutors were worried he wouldn't show.

Also removed was a student and nanny who would have had to cancel a semester-long school trip to Honduras, a former bank chairman who said she had a bad "gut feeling" about Blagojevich, and an advertising executive who sat on another jury just two weeks ago.

After the judge removed potential jurors for cause, or legal reasons, it left the pool with 48 people. Zagel has now resumed questioning the remaining few jurors called today.

Potential juror has ties to governor's office

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

A potential juror said she would have a tough time remaining unbiased after two close friends confided in her about their experiences working in ex-Gov. Blagojevich's press office.

No. 183, a woman in her 20s who works for a medical education organization and aspires to go into health law, said two "very close" friends -- at least one of whom she has lived with -- started as fellows in the governor's office and worked in Blago's press office.

The woman said the friends talked to her about their work "the way you would with a roommate, venting about normal office things."

When Judge Zagel asked her if her friends had talked to her about one of the defendants, No. 183 leaned forward and raised the microphone.

"Yes," she said confidently.

"It would be very difficult" to remain impartial, she said.

Judge Zagel has called a 10-minute break. After the break, attorneys will return and strike more jurors for cause.

Twenty-two have been questioned so far today.

Blagojevich gets closer to a jury

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Reporting with Sarah Ostman

We've concluded questioning of another 14 potential jurors in the trial of Rod Blagojevich and his brother, Rob.

Judge James Zagel said last week that it's likely we'll have a jury by day's end.

As of this morning, 35 potential jurors survived strikes for cause (meaning they can't be fair, or they have severe circumstances keeping them from serving).

Another 14 or 29 were then questioned before the lunch break.

We resume to finish questioning that pool.


During questioning earlier today, one potential juror, who also said she's a fan of Christian radio, reported on her jury questionnaire that there's a high power who decides our fate.

"God is the ultimate judge of our sins," she said.

No visible elated reaction from the defense, but prosecutors are likely to want to toss her.

However, she told Judge James Zagel she could put her beliefs aside. He asked if she'd have any difficulty in doing that and rendering a verdict.

"No," she said.

Jury service not a walk in the park, judge says

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Jury selection continues with a freelance journalist, a college student/nanny and an employee at an insurance agency that doesn't like conflict.

Each faces their own set of challenges. The freelancer, No. 172, a former magazine reporter, said he could have trouble making ends meet if he had to serve, although he admitted that "it isn't a matter of survival."

The student, No. 173, could be forced to give up both a summer nannying gig and a five-month trip to Honduras to learn Spanish.

And the insurance worker, No. 174, said she was troubled by the arguing she encountered when she served on a jury in the past.

Judge Zagel said that was not uncommon.

"Most people I've talked to are happy they've served on a jury, they're proud they've served on a jury," he said. "But nobody I've ever talked to said it was like taking a long train ride through a beautiful countryside."

The judge has called a break for lunch. Questioning will resume at 1:40 p.m.

Former Q101 host questioned

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Judge Zagel has called a 10-minute break.

Before the break, the judge questioned potential juror No. 171, a TV show host and former host of a radio show on Q101 for nine years.

The potential juror said he was an avid news consumer and, on his radio show, took calls from listeners about the Blagojevich trial.

He also said if he is chosen for the jury, he will likely lose his job.

"Would that affect your ability to be fair in this case?" Zagel asked him.

No. 171 paused and said it would not.

Nerves in the courtroom as jury selection continues

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

No. 167 admitted to being a little nervous. The state health department worker made lots of eye contact, looking around the room as she answered Judge Zagel's questions as if she were at a job interview.

She answered her questions with precision -- "37 1/2 hours" per week instead of full-time. She included the full address and zip code when asked about her employer.

Upon leaving, she gave a little bow and said, "Pleasure to be here."

It was Blagojevich who appeared nervous a few minutes later when another potential juror, No. 169, was being questioned. Judge Zagel asked the insurance underwriter what he thought of politicians.

The man had written on his questionnaire that some motivated by good, but "that is rare."

Blago bit his lower lip and shifted forward in his chair.

Graduate student an unlikely jury pick

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

No. 164 appears to have a number of strikes against her.

The 20-something graduate student worked for 3 1/2 years as a policy analyst in the Illinois Officer of the Comptroller. Blagojevich and Comptroller Dan Hynes have long had a tumultuous relationship.

Previously, No. 164 volunteered on political campaigns and worked as a substitute teacher -- which could be another strike, given accusations that Blago used the teacher's pension fund for his own gains.

The potential juror also said she reads two newspapers a day, mostly online -- a point that Judge Zagel had some fun with.

"Would you still continue to read them if you got charged for them?" the judge asked her.

"That's a good question," No. 164 said. "Maybe."

The defense could want to boot her from the pool for any of these reasons. They could use one of their 13 peremptory challenges to do so.

Also questioned so far were a woman who worked for a bookstore company and a nursing home social worker.

Former bank chairman says she's likely biased

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Attorneys have begun individual questioning with the last batch of 29 jurors.

First up is No. 161, a well-spoken former bank chairman currently undergoing treatment for cancer; she has an MBA and has given depositions in court.

Judge Zagel is questioning her about her volunteer work with the Chicago Network and the Commercial Club of Chicago and her political affiliations -- she gives money to politicians and worked on President Barack Obama's campaign.

The juror stated in her questionnaire that she would try to be impartial, but "I have a lifetime of experience that gives me great trust in my opinions about people."

She gave an example from her corporate life of having to give business loans to people when she had a feeling something "wasn't quite right."

"I don't think I can divorce myself from my gut feelings, though I would try very hard to do so," she said.

Jurors dismissed for cause

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Attorneys for both sides have finished making their arguments for which jurors should be booted because of bias.

Among those cut this morning are a man with personal knowledge of the Teachers Retirement System who had also contributed to Children's Memorial Hospital. Blagojevich is accused of corruption involving both of those organizations.

The man said on his questionnaire that he was biased toward a guilty verdict. Though the government argued that he was "rehabilitated" during questioning, the judge said, "I didn't believe him."

Also out is a retired woman from Poland who worked as a housekeeper for a time. The defense argued to keep her in the pool, but the judge worried the woman did not understand his questioning and cut her. Visibly upset, Patti puffed up her cheeks and shook her head at the judge's decision.

The courtroom is now waiting for the next group of potential jurors. Patti appears deeply invested in the jury selection process. She is standing over her husband at the defense table, making marks on the yellow notebook where he has been tracking the jurors.

There is now a pool of 35 potential jurors. Questioning now continues, as the judge wants to accumulate a pool of at least 40.

From there, lawyers on each side will issue their peremptory strikes. They get 22 in all.

An early morning for Blagojevich

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Day three of jury selection is under way.

It was an early morning for Rod Blagojevich. He started the day with an interview on WLS Radio's "The Don and Roma Morning Show." (The ex-governor quipped during an appearance on the show last week that he may become a regular correspondent; maybe he was being serious.)

"It¹s good to be in the courtroom," Blagojevich said on the air. "It¹s the beginning of the process that will unlock the truth."

His optimism continued when he and Patti arrived at the courthouse.

"Opening statements will hopefully begin tomorrow," he told reporters. "And that, essentially, means the key to the truth will be in our hands."

The Blagojeviches and their attorneys now sit in Judge James Zagel's courtroom, waiting for jury selection to continue.

Lawyers will begin by tossing some of the jurors questioned last week. It's likely jury questioning will conclude by day's end.

Rod Blagojevich might not be able to go to his daughter's graduation Tuesday afternoon, because opening statements in his corruption trial will be underway.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel said he was unlikely to grant a defense request to take a break that afternoon.
"I would be extremely unlikely to do so," Zagel said.

Patti Blagojevich appeared upset by the news.
But leaving the courthouse, she said: "We'll figure it out."

Rod Blagojevich stopped and said: "I always look at it as the glass is half full."

Zagel said taking an afternoon off here and there would send the wrong message to jurors, who were asked to take off so much time out of their own lives to serve on the jury.

He did say he would consider ending the day early if opening statements in the case could begin earlier.

The grade school graduation is scheduled for late afternoon that day.

Jury selection concluded today with 20 potential jurors getting tossed and 30 remaining in the pool.

Opening statements could start Tuesday.

Jury questioning wraps up for the day.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


Judge James Zagel questioned another 30 potential jurors today and has taken a short break.

The lawyers will return and decide which jurors from the day should be dismissed.
Zagel said he thought some would be fairly obvious choices.

This morning, 19 people remained in the pool after the judge dismissed certain ones "for cause."

That means the potential juror couldn't be fair and impartial or he or she had some kind of extenuating circumstance that conflicted with serving on the panel.

Included in the afternoon questioning was a potential juror who didn't make it
His job? He works at an auto parts store.
His hobby? "I like to work on cars."
Zagel asked if he thought it was "odd" that he had car trouble, given his job?
"Odd?"
The man said he didn't know much of anything about the Rod Blagojevich case.

Gov. Blagojevich's ears seemed to perk up when one potential juror said "I teach Croatian folklore at the Croatian Cultural Center." Blagojevich made a note, sat up in his chair, and leaned over and spoke to his attorney, Sheldon Sorosky.

Serbs and Croats are sort-of cousins with similar languages and cultures, though they occasionally fight wars and kill each other. Blagojevich's most notable moment in Congress was flying to Serbia with Rev. Jesse Jackson to secure the release of three captured U.S. Servicemen. Blagojevich went for his fluency in Serbian.

So if the juror, a recent college grad who works for Abbott Labs and Lutheran General Hospital, could be considered a friendly cousin, the Blagojevich team might want her on the jury. She also mentioned that she was a member of the Young Democrats when she studied at the University of Dayton.

On the other hand, if she is a Croatian who holds a grudge against the Serbs -- "All my family" still lives in Croatia save her and her parents, she said -- and she says she listens to Moody Radio - Blagojevich's political stands on some social issues such as abortion are at odds with some religious groups' - than maybe Blagojevich's team won't object if Judge Zagel heeds her advice that "I don't really have any free time" to be on a jury between her three jobs and enforcing the dog rules on Montrose Beach.

The young woman also noted she doesn't have much faith in the truthfulness of politicians.

Update: Both parties and the judge agreed to release the potential juror from service.

Do you know anyone here? Yes ... You!

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


There were various potential jurors who recognized names that could be mentioned at Rod Blagojevich's trial.

But just one, number 145, circled the judge's name on her screening questionnaire.
"I met you and your courtroom deputy when I clerked here," the woman told Judge James Zagel.

The woman clerked in the federal courthouse for a couple of years and worked as an
assistant inspector general for the state. She now works as an attorney.

Zagel didn't bother asking her if she'd be fair in the case or about her media exposure. So maybe she won't be returning.

Reporting with Abdon Pallasch

A male freelance graphic artist said just now he'd have a tough time being a juror and ignoring the news when he went home.

"Unless we were sequestered, I think it would be tough personally," the man told Judge James Zagel. "I archive court news. I've always had a certain fascination with the history of news."

When pressed, he said he wouldn't consciously violate the judge's order to ignore the news.

One potential juror just revealed she has a negative opinion of Rod Blagojevich who "flaunts himself" on TV.

"I think with the media blitz that has surrounded this situation and reality shows, I think a lot of times people go in there to promote themselves," she told the judge.

And ... we're back in court with juror questioning.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks


Jury questioning resumes close to 1:30 after a lunch break, beginning with a male civil engineer whose business has contracts with the Illinois Department of Transportation, a state agency.

The man, juror 140, said on his questionnaire he was concerned with people who have made plea bargains with the government in exchange for their testimony. Judge James Zagel said he'll tell jurors to consider the testimony with caution and great care.

"If that were the standard for which you evaluated their testimony do you think you can fairly evaluate their testimony?" Zagel asked him.

"Yes."

New group of potential Blagojevich jurors under review

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Reporting with Abdon Pallasch

After tossing nine people and questioning another eight, the parties have taken a break for lunch.

The second day of jury selection exposed another group of people who had all heard about the charges against the former governor but who said they could still be fair.

It also revealed that media and public interest has already fallen off. The main courtroom was half full compared to one day ago. It's not likely to fill up again until opening statements.

Among those questioned this morning was a man who was born in Camp Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp. He went on to serve as a staff Sgt. in the U.S. Marine Corps. The man's wife worked for Chicago Public Schools, he said.

Also questioned was a department of homeland security employee recently promoted from baggage inspector at O'Hare to safety specialist and the president of the largest neighborhood group in Joliet.

On day two of the trial, Rod and Patti walked into the courthouse together again.

This morning it was Blagojevich who spoke to reporters. The former governor praised U.S. District Judge James Zagel for running a tight ship.

"We've been lied about and falsely accused," Blagojevich said. "I know I'll
be vindicated."


By Abdon M. Pallasch
Political Reporter

Judge Zagel agreed to remove nine potential jurors for cause, including the 22-year-old Wall Street-bound college grad he admonished yesterday for consulting with a lawyer friend on how to get out of jury duty.

"Who am I to question the challenge the government's wisdom on [Juror] 126, your honor?" Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky said.

Zagel also removed a woman who said that, apparently for religious reasons, she would have a hard time judging anyone.

Also cut were a woman who said she had "mostly negative" opinions about the case, an appraiser who had time finding work and others who doubted they could be fair.

Left in the pool of potential jurors is an advertising coordinator for The Chicago Reader, even though he wrote on his questionnaire that he has already concluded Blagojevich is guilty.

"Here is a man who's called to be a fair and impartial juror and 'I already believe Blagojevich to be guilty,'" Sorosky said. "I don't know what more compelling argument a lawyer can make."

But Zagel responded, "My decision is based on the general tenor of his answers when I spoke to him, his level of education, I think he can and will base his decision on the evidence he hears in court and nothing else."

Of course, lawyers for both sides will get a chance to remove potential jurors without having to offer a reason.

Blagojevich charms courtroom artists

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

As we wait in the empty courtroom, Rod is flirting with the courtroom artists. He's smiling and trying to charm them from the defendant's table as they stare at him to sketch. In minutes, he's laughing and they appear charmed.

"That's why he won the governorship," Sam Adam Sr. says, laughing.