Blagojevich defense to grill star gov't witness

AP News
Posted: May 09, 2011 3:06 AM
Blagojevich defense to grill star gov't witness

Defense attorneys for Rod Blagojevich hope to unnerve the prosecution's first witness when they cross-examine him Monday in the corruption retrial of the ousted Illinois governor.

As the first major witness of the retrial, former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris focused almost wholly on allegations that the former governor sought to exchange an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.

Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges at the retrial, all of them underpinned by FBI wiretap evidence. With Harris on the stand, prosecutors played dozens of secret recordings of him and his boss allegedly plotting to sell or trade of the Senate seat.

Lead defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein is set to begin the cross-examination of Harris on Monday. Goldstein will likely try to reinforce a central theme from his opening statement: That Blagojevich was merely talking.

"`You and your boss were just running your mouths, right? You spent a lot of time with him, and you know he has a tendency to do that, right?'" said Julian Solotorovsky, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. "If I were them, that'd be what I'd ask Harris."

The defense will also have compared Harris' testimony last week to his testimony at the first trial and will likely try to highlight any inconsistencies in an effort to impeach his credibility.

"That's a pitfall of having the same witness on twice," said Solotorovsky. "They might not tell the same story twice."

Blagojevich's initial trial ended last year with jurors deadlocked on all but one charge. They convicted him of lying to the FBI. Blagojevich denies all wrongdoing.

Harris, 49, was arrested on the same day as Blagojevich on Dec. 9, 2008. He opted for a plea deal that gives him a chance of a reduced sentence for his testimony.

Goldstein, known for grilling opposing witnesses, is almost certain to suggest Harris has a vested interest in embellishing his testimony or even outright lying to please prosecutors.

Harris, though, is a more formidable witness than others expected to take the stand. During his three days of testimony last week, Harris spoke calmly and matter-of-factly.

Prosecutors likely concluded Harris is one of their best witnesses _ based on the fact that they put him on the stand right away. At the first trial, they called him to testify only after two weeks. His testimony also puts the spotlight immediately on the high-profile Senate seat allegation.