In his federal retrial, Blagojevich takes the stand and center stage
Last summer, when a jury convicted Blagojevich on one count and deadlocked on all the rest, he didn't testify. This time defense lawyers apparently are betting on his personal charm.
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Much of the testimony appeared designed to tame characterizations made by prosecutors that Blagojevich was a deceitful and arrogant public servant who spared the public interest in favor of his own. On wiretap recordings played in the first and second trials, Blagojevich is heard using a common profane epithet, which he addressed in his testimony Thursday.Skip to next paragraph
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“When I hear myself saying that on tape, I’m an effin’ jerk and I apologize. It makes you wince,” he said.
Federal prosecutor Reid Schar complained to US District Judge James Zagel that Blagojevich needed instructions to answer in a way that’s “more focused and responsive to the actual questions.” Judge Zagel responded that the background testimony was appropriate, saying it was “a chance for him to tell his story.”
Stoltmann says allowing Blagojevich to testify using his natural charm is “all part of the strategy because that is [his] primary defense” in helping show the wiretap recordings “are nothing more than the random musings of somebody who thinks out loud.”
“They want to reinforce that image,” he says.
Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor currently in private practice in Los Angeles, says the decision to put Blagojevich on the stand comes with risk.
“At a certain level, the ability to humanize a corporation or a defendant like him certainly has some value and doesn’t hurt. But at the end of the day, it’s not more important than substance and the evidence,” Mr. McRae says. “You do not want to pander.”
Blagojevich’s testimony followed a day of high courtroom drama. On Wednesday, his defense team questioned US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. for 30 minutes, a decision that backfired when Representative Jackson alleged that Blagojevich did not appoint his wife as the head of the Illinois Lottery because Jackson did not deliver a $25,000 campaign contribution.
“In classic Elvis Presley fashion, he snapped his fingers and said, ‘You should have given me that $25,000,’ ” Jackson said.
Outside the court building Wednesday, Blagojevich told reporters that Jackson’s statement was “absurd and completely not true. That never happened.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also testified, if only for three minutes, Wednesday. In what became more favorable to Blagojevich, Mayor Emanuel said he was never asked to hold a Hollywood fundraiser for Blagojevich in exchange for state grant money for a school in his district when he was a US congressman representing Chicago’s North Side.
Emanuel also said he was never asked to set up a charitable organization for Blagojevich in order to get Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett appointed to the president’s former Senate seat.