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Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

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Day three of Rod Blagojevich's testimony begins today as the defense continues to give jurors its own take on the prosecution's various shakedown charges.

The government outlined five major shakedown allegations and Blagojevich last week testified about two of them.

The defense has yet to tackle the weightiest charge -- that the ex-gov attempted to sell President Obama's Senate seat. That's likely among the last allegations Blagojevich will discuss.

Last week, Judge James Zagel ruled that Blagojevich could testify that he really wanted to appoint Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat in exchange for a legislative package. But Zagel said he was unlikely to get in any of the recordings that support the theory. Why? Zagel said he didn't believe it. The defense repeatedly argued to get in this point, noting that it wanted the jury to decide whether it was believable.

Whether he plays new tapes -- Blagojevich has much explaining to do when it comes to the Senate seat. He must answer various tapes -- including one where he's heard telling his brother to meet with a donor, and instructing that he wants something "tangible up, front."



Up today: Prosecution says it'll rest its case, possibly before lunch.
But first, we must hear from:

1. Former Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk, who will testify about a shakedown allegation involving a school in Rahm Emanuel's district when he was congressman.
2. Donald Feinstein, the executive director for that school, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.
3. Doug Scofield, who will be recalled briefly for a few follow-up questions.
4. FBI special Agent Daniel Cain.

Defense:

Judge James Zagel will give the defense until Monday to begin. There's much flying about what the defense may or may not do. Blagojevich has been prepping to testify since before the trial began, including by mock cross examination from different lawyers. But sources cautioned that discussions could take a sharp turn at any time. Indeed, Blagojevich attorneys were huddling on Wednesday night after court.

After the defense finished up cross-examining John Wyma Monday morning, the prosecution called up Children's Memorial Hospital CEO Patrick Magoon to delve into allegations of a shakedown for campaign contributions and moved onto current witness, construction consultant Gerald Krozel.

Prosecution: An increasingly desperate Rod Blagojevich used legislation as leverage to try and squeeze campaign contributions out of Magoon and Krozel.

Defense: Magoon earned more than $600,000 a year and had given to politicians in the past. The hospital had plenty of cash on hand even as it wanted a rate increase for its doctors treating Medicaid patients.

Up next: The prosecution will call up Blagojevich's groomsman and former top aide Lon Monk after Krozel steps down, and may even get to racetrack executive John Johnston before Tuesday's end.

Blagojevich retrial: Day 15 -- Are we nearing the end?

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The prosecution's case continued at a rapid clip last week, with the government trimming witnesses, testimony and tapes.

The government, having re-focused its case squarely on the Senate seat and four other shakedown allegations, has hinted that it could very well wrap up by week's end.

The major witnesses remaining include racetrack owner Johnny Johnston, road building executive Gerry Krozel and Children's Memorial Hospital CEO Patrick Magoon. We're not likely to see onetime national fund-raiser Joe Cari. If Lon Monk takes the stand, sources said, his testimony would be limited compared to the ex-governor's first trial, with his focus on the racetrack shakedown allegation.

Today: John Wyma's testimony continues. He has yet to undergo cross examination.

Blagojevich retrial: Day 11, f-bomb central

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Reporting with Lark Turner

Day 10 in review:
Prosecution: The broke Blagojeviches were desperate to get Rod out of the governorship and into a better-paying job, and were willing to leverage his power to appoint a senator to get him a better gig. Jurors hear the infamous "f---ing golden" recording and another expletive-laced tirade where Blagojevich angrily lashes out at everyone.
"I feel like I'm f------ my children," Blagojevich is heard saying about trying to make a deal off the Senate seat appointment as wide-eyed jurors listened.

Defense: After court, Rod Blagojevich points to an exchange with consultant Doug Scofield, saying he did not intend do craft an illegal deal:
BLAGOJEVICH: How do you make a deal like that? I mean it's gotta be legal obviously, but... But it's very commonplace is it not? Doin' things like this?
SCOFIELD : Ah, I mean that kind of 501(c),(c)(4) is not unusual.

Blagojevich retrial: Day 10, Taking off the gloves

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Defense: On day 10 of Rod Blagojevich's retrial, defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein managed to set off Judge James Zagel, who threatened to sit him down in front of jurors.

Zagel, in turn, set off Patti Blagojevich, who went before cameras to protest Zagel's repeated sustained objections. Some reporters counted more than 100 government objections that Zagel sustained. Zagel said Goldstein flouted his repeated rulings so that he could in essence offer testimony through his questions. Zagel repeatedly blocked him, but jurors still heard the questions.

Patti Blagojevich launched a potentially dangerous salvo at the judge, charging his rulings were "a deliberate attempt to hide the truth."

Prosecution:
What will prosecutors do today?
Prosecutor Reid Schar has previously complained to Zagel that the Blagojevich strategy is to make it appear to the public that the government is trying to hide the ball when really, the defense is just being asked to follow the same rules as everyone else in federal court.
While the ex-governor didn't do the talking in the news availability after court, he was standing at his wife's side while she did.

Up next: Union leader Tom Balanoff continues under Goldstein's cross examination.

Blagojevich retrial: Day 8. Bring on the witnesses.

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Opening highlights

A pared down version of Rod Blagojevich's case was delivered to a newly-minted jury panel in the former governor's retrial Monday. The jury is made up of 15 women and three men.

Prosecution: The government took heed from jurors who sat in last summer's trial and sliced off significant portions of their case in their initial remarks, which lasted less than an hour. They focused on five shakedown schemes, focusing on the alleged sale of President Obama's Senate seat. Patti Blagojevich was unscathed this time around in openings, with no allegations involving her being a ghostpayroller for convicted businessman Tony Rezko.



Defense:
For its part, the defense told jurors to ask themselves after every witness testifies and every tape is played, what ended up happening in the alleged scheme.
"Rod gets nothing. Rod does nothing," defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein said.

WITNESS LIST

1. FBI Special Agent Dan Cain. He will give an overview of the case and tease to the hundreds of secretly recorded conversations.
2. John Harris: In a change, the former chief of staff will be the first insider to take the witness stand. Last year, the government headed off with Lon Monk. By comparison, Harris has more Boy Scout qualities, giving off an aura of someone trying to do the right thing while having a boss he couldn't quite control. Monk, on the other hand, had admitted to taking cash bribes from Rezko. Harris was arrested the same day as Rod Blagojevich. He's pleaded guilty.

Blagojevich trial: Day 28 Closings or contempt?

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After Rod Blagojevich's lead lawyer told a federal judge he couldn't abide by his ruling, he was told to show up at 8:45 a.m. to discuss closing arguments before the 9:30 a.m. start time.

Judge James Zagel told defense lawyer Sam Adam Jr. he couldn't argue about matters not in evidence, specifically, he couldn't reference that the prosecution hadn't called witnesses they had promised to call. Adam said he couldn't properly defend his client if he listened to the judge.

Zagel, who had ruled on the issue Friday while talking about jury instructions, said if Adam didn't listen, he'd be held in contempt of court. He then suggested that Adam reconstruct his closing argument or have another attorney give it.

Adam left the courthouse vowing to go to jail if it were necessary.

So ...

Up today:

1. Adam delivers a closing argument abiding by Zagel.
OR
2. Adam crosses the line and heads potentially for the jail house.

Blagojevich trial: Day 26 -- Decision Day

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After a night of wrangling, a haggard-looking defense team for Rod Blagojevich was ready to rest its case without calling a witness Tuesday -- but lawyers were told by the judge to sleep on the decision.

We'll be back today, at 9:30 a.m. with a final public decision by Rod Blagojevich.

Rod Blagojevich attorneys Sam Adam Sr. and Sam Adam Jr. said publicly they were divided on whether to put the former governor on the stand. But Attorney Sheldon Sorosky later told me: "There's absolutely no dissension among the lawyers."

Ultimately, sources tell the Sun-Times that on Monday night, the attorneys and the former governor agreed that Blagojevich couldn't withstand what promised to be a stinging cross examination. They were also concerned because during preparation he was reluctant to admit he made mistakes and couldn't keep his answers brief.

Also factoring into the calculation: there was some concern that Tony Rezko might be called as a rebuttal witness by the prosecution if Blagojevich took the stand.

Sorosky conceded that without Blagojevich on the stand it closed the door to calling any rebuttal witness -- Rezko or otherwise.

The challenge now left for the defense: Sam Adam Jr. told jurors in his opening statement they would hear from Rod Blagojevich. Judge James Zagel will tell jurors they aren't allowed to hold the decision not to testify against a defendant.

Up today:

Blagojevich is expected to announce he won't testify. If that happens, U.S. District Judge James Zagel, outside of the jury's presence, will explain to him his rights and ask him if he's sure of his decision and that he is making that decision.

Blagojevich trial: Day 25 and recap

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Monday recap:

Robert and Julie Blagojevich both take the stand as the first defense witnesses.
Robert Blagojevich tells of an approach by Jesse Jackson Jr. fund-raiser Raghu Nayak, who, according to Blagojevich, offered up $6 million in exchange for the congressman's appointment to the Senate seat. Robert Blagojevich said he shut down Nayak and a previous meeting by Rajinder Bedi who spoke of an offer of $1.5 million for Jackson's appointment. He describes his brother as someone who changed his mind often and sometimes nagged him.

Good for Robert Blagojevich: Jurors hear of Robert Blagojevich's lengthy resume, including a distinguished military career, volunteerism, donations to charities, and successful business dealings. His lawyer, Michael Ettinger, plays new recordings. In one, Blagojevich tells an Indian fund-raiser: "Money is not going to be a factor here," with respect to a Senate seat appointment. In another, he tells his brother to appoint a candidate to the Senate because of the good it would do for the state.

Good for prosecutors: Prosecutors wasted no time in tearing into Robert Blagojevich, questioning whether he really separated fund-raising and state action. They pointed to two phone calls. In one, Robert Blagojevich suggests to his brother that Barack Obama might quash an investigation into Rod Blagojevich. He testified he suggested that out of love for his brother and that it was a naive request. In another, Rod and Robert discuss Robert approaching a former state representative to ask for a campaign contribution. The state rep was up for a state job.

Up next:

1. Prosecutors continue to cross examine Robert Blagojevich.
2. Some brief witnesses, including possibly former budget director John Filan, will take the stand.
3. Rod Blagojevich then could take the stand as early as today.

Blagojevich trial: Day 23 and recap

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It's Rod Blagojevich's right to have a speedy trial, but his lawyers suddenly want to hit the brakes.

The defense team ended the day Monday saying they needed at least a week delay in the trial because the prosecution plans to rest this week, the sixth of the trial.
Judge James Zagel has said the trial could last up to 17 weeks.

The defense said its witnesses were told to be ready in August, based on the prosecution's schedule. Things went rapidly for the prosecution, in part because the defense questioning has been relatively brief. Prosecutors also are not calling baggage-heavy witnesses like Stuart Levine and Tony Rezko, who would have likely eaten up much time.

Up today:

1. FBI Agent Daniel Cain will take the stand and testify that Blagojevich had a more than $1.2 million legal bill in early 2008, months before prosecutors say he went on a corruption "crime spree."
2. John Wyma, former Congressional chief of staff to Blagojevich, longtime friend, state lobbyist and the man who served as the probable cause for the recordings in the case, is the next major witness.

Blagojevich trial: Day 21 and recap

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Prosecutors elicit a conversation that alleges U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was present at a meeting where campaign contributions were discussed in exchange for a Senate seat appointment. Rajinder Bedi, onetime state worker, described the Oct. 28, 2008 meeting with Jackson and fund-raiser Raghu Nayak.

Up today: Bedi undergoes questioning by defense lawyers today.
Onetime Deputy Governor Robert Greenlee is expected to be the next witness.

Blagojevich trial: Day 18 and recap

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Wednesday recap
Prosecutors continue to zip through Rod Blagojevich's trial at an amazing pace.
On Wednesday, they play recordings of the former governor calling Barack Obama's ascent to the presidency a "bad thing." Former campaign communications chief Doug Scofield testified that Blagojevich had "a level of jealousy and anger" regarding Obama's 2008 win. But "I'm better off with this guy winning" than Republican John McCain, he says. Blagojevich goes on to say he needs to try to take this "bad thing" and make it into something good. Prosecutors contend that meant trying to sell Obama's Senate seat for Blagojevich's gain. Scofield also talks of relaying a message from Blagojevich to an Obama intermediary that was "ridiculous, even by our standards."


Good for Blagojevich:
Even though he says he's just placating the then-governor, Scofield acknowledges that he encourages Blagojevich's musings about the Senate seat, never flagged Blagojevich's actions and never was charged for taking part in the same discussions.

Up today:
1. Prosecution's redirect examination of Scofield.
2. Judge likely to address three defense filings seeking a mistrial.

Blagojevich trial: Day 17 and recap

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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 trial: Day 16 and recap

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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 trial: Day 14 -- and recap

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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.


Blagojevich trial: Day 13 -- and recap

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

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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.

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