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Inside the Rod Blagojevich investigation and related cases

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Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Whew. Rod Blagojevich's one-time close friend and former chief of staff Lon Monk is off the stand, and the courtroom was full of relieved sighs and stretches all around when defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky told the judge he had no more questions.

Sorosky finished up his questioning by bringing up Monk's guilty plea - though he seemed to have some trouble remembering what exactly Monk pled guilty to. Prosecutor Christopher Niewoehner helped him out, standing up and whispering in his ear.

"....Conspiracy to solicit a bribe," Sorosky finished. "However, you did NOT plead guilty" to taking cash from Tony Rezko, he added.

Sorosky was cut off from saying that, but not before a juror who works as a nutritionist grew wide-eyed and shot a glance at a fellow juror.

The prosecution's follow-up focused on who told Monk to talk to racetrack executive John Johnston and construction consultant Gerald Krozel about donating to the campaign while they waited on certain legislation. "Rod," Monk answers.

"Who was gonna benefit from that contribution?" asks Niewoehner.

"The governor," Monk responds.

Meanwhile, Blagojevich looks from the prosecutor to Monk like it's a tennis match, brows furrowed.

In a session with Monk withiout the jury, where both sides asked him questions so Zagel could see if they were admissible in court, the judge finally stepped in and asked Monk a couple of questions of his own.

"Am I correct that your understanding of the governor's conversation with respect to Johnston was that Johnston should understand, even if you did not explicitly say this to him, that a prompter signing of the Recapture Bill would be influenced by the giving and the size of contribution?" Zagel asked.

"Yes," Monk responded.

"Did you think that this was both proper and legal for you to do?" asks Zagel.

"No," Monk said.

Zagel said he won't allow any of the questioning outside the presence of the jury to be asked in open court.

The prosecution will call Johnston next.

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

After having to repeatedly object as defense lawyers questioned key witness Lon Monk this morning, the prosecution has had enough.

"Judge, we've been paying attention," prosecutor Reid Schar told U.S. District Judge James Zagel before the jury re-entered the courtroom after lunch. "There are certain jurors who are actually writing down his questions."

Zagel spent the morning repeatedly blocking Monk's answers because he said the questions were out of bounds, not factual, in violation of his rulings or outside the scope of the prosecution's direct examination.

Schar added that, to defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky's credit, the method may be working: the jurors could be considering the questions even though Monk hasn't answered them.

Schar said the prosecution doesn't like cutting off lawyers but doesn't feel like Sorosky's questions should be heard by the jury. He called this position "impossible" for prosecutors and asked the judge to instruct jurors, for the second time, that questions by lawyers aren't evidence and they can't consider them. He also asked Zagel to tell jurors that they can't consider all the sustained objections Sorosky's piling up.

"What you're doing is, you're making this argument in the form of questions, and you've done it persistently and you did it in the last trial, so I'm going to give this instruction," Zagel told defense lawyers. "This is an abusive cross-examination."

If Sorosky continues, Zagel said he'll cut him off --- but added that he'll excuse the jurors first so he doesn't embarrass the lawyers in front of them. Sorosky asks if he can just make a comment on Zagel's ruling; the judge swiftly replied, "No."

"I don't want to hear you speak about it," he said. "I want to see you follow it."

After that thumping, Sorosky walked back to the defense table and handed Rod Blagojevich a copy of his question sheet. After Zagel issued the instruction to the jury to disregard questions and objections, Monk is back on the stand and Sorosky is once again racking up objections.

The courtroom can't help but laugh as Sorosky struggles. Even Monk smiled at one point as he waited for Sorosky to phrase a successful question.

Longtime Blagojevich pal Lon Monk endures a sometimes tough, sometimes comical cross examination this morning, where he's getting hammered for betraying his onetime close friend and for taking cash bribes from Tony Rezko.

At first, attorney Shelly Sorosky tries weaving in some of Blagojevich's political and personal history through his questions, probing Monk about how the two first met in law school in California, how Monk was part of Blagojevich's wedding party.
"Is it fair to say you were the rich kid from southern California and he was the poor kid from the Northwest Side?" Sorosky asked. Sustained.
"Your mother wasn't a CTA ticket agent was she?"
Sustained.

Sorosky manages to get in that Mayor Daley endorsed Blagojevich in his early political years and Blagojevich won his political success without too much help of Monk.
"He was a congressman and you're still trying to hustle contracts ... right?"

Then he turned to talk of Rezko, with Sorosky trying to tie the timing of Rezko's legal woes to Monk beginning to take money from Rezko, implying that it was somehow hush money as a federal investigation ramped up against the North Shore businessman.

Monk, while Blagojevich's chief of staff, has testified he took $70,000 to $90,000 in secret cash from Rezko.
"You start receiving this cash from Mr. Rezko at the same time these controversies began?" Sorosky asked.
Monk: "They started a little bit after that."

Monk said he spent some of the cash to buy groceries.
"Did you not eat before you got this money?"
Sustained.

Monk said he went in to talk to FBI agents back in 2005 where he didn't tell them about taking cash from Rezko.
"You lied to the FBI right?" Sorosky asked.
Pause. "Yes," Monk replies.
He later was campaign manager for Blagojevich, pulling in $20,000 a month, he said.

Monk admitted he kept the cash secret from even Blagojevich.
"He wouldn't have approved of the method in which I was getting the money," Monk said.

Reporting with Lark Turner

In Lon Monk's afternoon testimony, prosecutors worked to crystallize one of the charges against Rod Blagojevich: that he was shaking down a racetrack executive for campaign money.

Monk said he met with Blagojevich in his campaign office where the two engaged in a dress rehearsal of shaking down harness racetrack owner Johnny Johnston. Prosecutors contend Blagojevich was putting off signing a bill to benefit Johnston's two racetracks as he awaited Johnston to kick into his campaign fund.

Prosecutor Christopher Niewoehner: "Did you decide to help the defendant get his contribution in exchange for no longer delaying signing the bill?"
"Yes," Monk said.
"Did you go meet with Johnston to go make that happen?"
"Yes," said Monk.

Niewoehner punctuated those two questions, largely to emphasize to jurors that Monk and Blagojevich did more than just talk about the alleged scheme. Under Blagojevich's directive, Monk drove to the Melrose Park track and asked Johnston to make the contribution.

Minutes after leaving Johnston, Monk is back on the phone with Blagojevich. He's heard relaying what happened in their meeting.
"My point is, it's all got to be in, now," Monk tells Blagojevich that he said to Johnston.

Monk and Blagojevich later spoke again about staying on Johnston for a contribution.

"From a pressure point of view," Monk says on tape, Blagojevich should personally call Johnston.

Reporting with Lark Turner


Rod Blagojevich's running buddy, onetime law school roommate and former chief of staff Lon Monk testified that he took $70,000 to $90,000 in cash payments from fundraiser Tony Rezko.

Monk said he took the money while he worked as chief of staff for Blagojevich and Rezko was a major fund-raiser.

Before his 2008 conviction, Rezko was a major political donor, forging ties with numerous politicos, including one Barack Obama.

The cash payments from Rezko started in May of 2004, according to Monk.

"I'd gone to him to recommend a car dealership where I could buy a particular car," Monk said of Rezko. "He gave me that recommendation and at that time told me he wanted to help me buy the car."

Rezko then helped him buy his car. He continued paying Monk about $10,000 in cash on different occasions. Monk did not deposit it because he didn't want anyone seeing large cash deposits in his bank account.

Jurors heard the disclosure after Monk described how he, Blagojevich, fund-raiser Chris Kelly and Rezko were close and had met on occasion to discuss ways to make money off of state business. Monk's testimony was not as detailed as it was in last summer's trial, when he described Rezko at a drawing board describing ways to divvy up potential state deals.

Monk then turned to the time period under a microscope in this trial, the fall of 2008. He described numerous fund-raising meetings with Blagojevich, painting him as increasingly desperate to grow his campaign treasure chest.

"He was consistently concerned about the amount of fund-raising that was going on," Monk said of Blagojevich in 2008. "It was never enough."

In a recent interview, Blagojevich said of all the witnesses who took the stand in his first trial, he'd like to take Monk aside and look him in the eye.

"Why? You needed money, why didn't you ask me?" Blagojevich said of Monk's testimony about taking Rezko payments. "And you know what Lon, I pretty much let you pay yourself whatever you wanted to pay yourself."

Reporting with Natasha Korecki

To the prosecution, he's the ultimate insider; to the defense, he's the ultimate backstabber.

Rod Blagojevich's former close friend and chief of staff Lon Monk has stepped up to testify in Blagojevich's retrial, and the prosecution is diving into allegations about fundraising and shakedowns in the then-governor's administration.

Monk walked into the courtroom without looking at Blagojevich. Jurors might recognize Monk from opening statements, when prosecutors flashed a photo of the two friends together on the day of Blagojevich's wedding. Monk was part of the wedding party.

Today the relationship looks a lot different. As Monk talks, Blagojevich fiddles with his ring, stealing glances at Monk before staring right back down at the table. Prosecutors have already dived into allegations involving a shakedown of new Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he was a congressman and is moving onto Monk and Blagojevich's contact with Tony Rezko, a current inmate convicted of corruption, and Christopher Kelly, a one-time fundraiser and insider who killed himself in 2009 after pleading guilty to fraud charges.

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 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.

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.

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.

Blagojevich trial: Day 9 Witness list

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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.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.

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: "Smoke signal? Anything at all?"

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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.

Blagojevich trial: Judge cautions Adam

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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.


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.

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."


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.

Blagojevich trial: Day 7

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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.

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