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

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Reporting with Natasha Korecki

Before finishing up its cross-examination of witness and union leader Tom Balanoff today, the defense went before Judge James Zagel to get permission to include an e-mail Balanoff sent to fellow union leader Andy Stern the day of Blagojevich's arrest.

Goldstein said Balanoff sent the e-mail to Stern that morning after he received a call from the FBI concerning the arrest, which said in simple terms that Blagojevich was arrested and "we need to talk."

Zagel wondered why Goldstein wanted to include it.

"The government calls and all of a sudden he has an immediate desire to talk to Andy Stern," Goldstein said. "He's potentially putting together a story."

But Zagel said it would be difficult for a jury to draw any type of conclusion from the e-mail without knowing what Balanoff and Stern talked about.

"There are perfectly innocent explanations as to why he would do that," Zagel said. "It was, as these things go, a fairly garish moment in public life" when Blagojevich was arrested.

When defense lawyer Lauren Kaeseberg protested that the defense doesn't know what was in the phone call because the government's witnesses will not talk to them outside of court, Zagel said if they wanted they could call the witnesses themselves.

"You're not helpless here," he said. "It's their turn now. It'll be your turn later."

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.

The tension between Judge James Zagel and defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein just escalated as the Rod Blagojevich defense lawyer questions a top union leader.

"I'm coming very close to sitting you down," Zagel warned Goldstein in a tense courtroom moment. "Don't do this."

The warning came after Goldstein asked SEIU leaderTom Balanoff if, in his conversation with Valerie Jarrett pertaining to Blagojevich's request for a cabinet appointment, he conveyed that Blagojevich wanted "one for the other." Then he asked if Balanoff went to authorities after their exchange.

Prosecutor Reid Schar shot up with an objection and Zagel made clear Goldstein was treading on dangerous water.

Zagel already hinted he wasn't liking the questioning before that exchange.

"If this is about the end of your cross, you can sit down now," Zagel told him.
"It isn't," Goldstein said simply, and continued questioning.

All day, prosecutors have lodged dozens of objections. Zagel has sustained just about all of them.

After the jury was gone for the day, Zagel told Goldstein it was improper to try sneaking in an advice by counsel defense through his questions and that he was going beyond the prosecution's scope. If he wanted to do that, Zagel told him, he could call Balanoff to the stand.

Goldstein asked if he could reply. Zagel cut him off, telling him he'd ruled this way before and he didn't plan on repeating it.

"I want you to understand it and I don't want you to reply to it now," Zagel said. Then, with emphasis: "I want you to comply with it."


Updating his wife on the latest happenings involving the Senate seat appointment and seemingly out of sorts, Rod Blagojevich on tape says Valerie Jarrett had pulled out of contention. Rahm Emanuel, who previously said he wanted Jarrett, subsequently called John Harris with a new list of potential candidates.

Blagojevich called it a "politically-correct list to cover his a--." He talks about how Emanuel had previously been high on a Jarrett appointment.

"Rahm was pushing her more than others because he wanted to get her out of the White House," the ex-gov tells his wife, Patti Blagojevich.

That CYA list included Tammy Duckworth, Dan Hynes, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky, according to the recorded phone calls played in court.

"So what's your next move?" Patti Blagojevich asks her husband.

The conversation circles back to the then-Gov. discussing appointing himself for U.S. Senate. That's a move Blagojevich said at a news conference that he would not make. He repeatedly said publicly that he would do what was best for the citizens of Illinois.

On tape, the conversation goes another way.

"It opens up opportunities for you that we don't have now," Blagjoevich is heard saying. "Financially for us. I'm gonna get working on that now."

Patti: Yeah. I don't know.
Rod Blagojevich: What's best for us - first and foremost. On the legal front, on the personal front and political front. In that order."
Patti: "Right."
Rod: "Right?"
Patti: "Right."


Under direction from President-elect Obama, union leader Tom Balanoff met with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich two days after the presidential election to talk Senate seat appointment.

That's when Blagojevich offers a proposal.

"Tom, my real passion is health care. If I can be the Secretary of Health and Human Services, then I can live out my passion," Balanoff said Blagojevich told him in a Nov. 6, 2008 meeting at the Thompson Center. "I understood that if he could be appointed to that position then Valerie Jarrett could be appointed to the Senate seat."

Balanoff said he warned Blagojevich that wouldn't happen. But Balanoff passed it all on to Jarrett in a meeting the next day, he said.
"Well, he said some goofy stuff," Balanoff said he told Jarrett. "At one point he told me his real passion was health care and if he could be the Secretary of Health and Human Services he could really live out his passion."

The next week though, Jarrett pulls out of Senate seat contention. Blagojevich calls Balanoff now, asking him if it's true. He then offers another idea: set up a 501 c (4) not-for-profit so Blagojevich could head it and he would appoint Jarrett. Blagojevich is heard on tape suggesting that millionaires could pour cash into the fund to get it off the ground.
"I think it's a great idea," Balanoff says of the foundation, which prosecutors have said is part of the plot to sell the Senate seat post.

Just minutes into his testimony, union leader Tom Balanoff talks about a surprise phone call from the would-be president of the United States.

Then-Senator Barack Obama was calling the union leader the night before the 2008 presidential election.

Balanoff said he ignored the call.

"It said 'unknown' on it, and I didn't know who it was," Balanoff testified.

Balanoff, who also testified about the call during the last trial, said Obama left a brief message: "Tom, this is Barack. Give me a call."

After tracking down one of Obama's aides, Balanoff said he would take the call if Obama got a hold of him again; and he did, while Balanoff was pumping gas later that day in downtown Chicago.

After discussing the coming day's election briefly -- Balanoff, an SEIU union leader, said he promised Obama that they planned to help "bring it home" in Indiana -- Obama brought up the Senate seat, Balanoff testified.

"Tom, with regard to the U.S. Senate seat, I have two criteria: one, that they be good for the citizens of Illinois, and two, that they can be reelected," Balanoff said Obama told him.

Valerie Jarrett met both of those criteria, Obama said, though he didn't plan on endorsing any particular candidate and would prefer for Jarrett to serve in the White House under him.

"But she would like to be the Senator and she met both those criteria," Balanoff said Obama told him.

Balanoff said the next night at Obama's election rally, he happened to bump into Gov. Rod Blagojevich and told him he wanted to talk more about the Jarrett matter. The two had already met and discussed the possibility.
"Great," Blagojevich told him. "Gimme a call."

By putting Balanoff on the stand right after former chief of staff John Harris, prosecutors are continuing to hone in on the Senate seat allegations in the case. Balanoff worked as an emissary from Obama's camp to Blagojevich, discussing Jarrett's appointment. Blagojevich is heard on tape hoping to win everything from a cabinet appointment to an ambassadorship in exchange for appointing Jarrett.

Defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein has finished up a heated cross-examination of government witness and former chief of staff to Blagojevich John Harris. Union leader Tom Balanoff is next to take the stand.

Throughout the cross-examination, Goldstein earned almost objection after objection from the government, eventually leading into repeated scoldings from Judge James Zagel.

Balanoff and the SEIU labor union he works for helped President Obama's campaign and discussed his preferences and Obama's preferences for the vacant Senate seat with Blagojevich.

Prosecutor Reid Schar is questioning Balanoff about the Senate seat allegations now.


Rod Blagojevich's lawyers are again asking for notes from the FBI's interview with President Obama.

The interview happened in late 2008, following former governor Rod Blagojevich's arrest.
In the course of the Blagojevich investigation, the FBI and prosecutors interviewed Obama, along with Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, just as they were transitioning into the White House. Investigators wanted to ask them about their interactions with Blagojevich, charged with scheming to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Defense lawyers complain that if Obama were anyone else but the president, they would have the FBI notes from the interview (which is called a 302).

"Based upon the content contained in the disclosed 302s of other individuals that were tendered by the government, the Obama 302s at issue would almost certainly have been disclosed if the interviewee was anyone other than the President," Blagojevich's lawyers wrote. "The mere fact that these summaries are from FBI interviews with the President does not make them non-discoverable."

Last year, attorneys asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to subpoena Obama and to release the interview notes. Both questions were denied.

Attorneys argue that the notes would help them better cross-examine SEIU leader Tom Balanoff, who testified last summer at Blagojevich's first trial that he received a call from Obama the night before the presidential election. Balanoff said he saw that call as a signal to move forward and have discussions with Blagojevich about the possible appointment of Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate seat.

Blagojevich's team says that contradicts an Obama team report that was issued Dec. 23, 2008, which "...states that President Obama did not direct anyone to speak on his behalf regarding the White House's preferences for the Senate seat appointment," Blagojevich lawyers wrote.

Click here to read the filing: Request for FBI 302 Interview Summaries of Barack Obama

Click here to read the report: Obama Report

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