Prosecutors switch focus at Blagojevich retrial

AP News
|
Posted: May 12, 2011 7:42 PM
Prosecutors switch focus at Blagojevich retrial

Prosecutors at Rod Blagojevich's retrial Thursday steered jurors' attention to charges the former Illinois governor attempted to shakedown a children's hospital and others for campaign cash _ and began moving testimony away from accusations that Blagojevich sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat.

Prosecutors have focused squarely on the Senate seat charge for the first two weeks, presenting a tighter, far easier-to-follow case than the first trial last summer when they often jumped back and forth to different allegations, muddling their presentation and confusing jurors. The first trial ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one charge.

By calling John Wyma, a longtime friend and close adviser to Blagojevich, prosecutors signaled late Thursday that they're moving on to other allegations.

Wyma testified he became so concerned about the pressure Blagojevich was placing on potential campaign contributors that he reluctantly contacted the FBI and began cooperating in the government's investigation.

"These are horrible decisions to have to make," Wyma told jurors about choosing to inform on his old friend.

Blagojevich, who during other witnesses busied himself taking notes, sat watching Wyma intently, only occasionally looking down at his notepad.

As he left the courthouse Thursday, Blagojevich said the day's testimony left him "very, very sad."

"John Wyma was someone that I thought was a close and a good friend," a subdued Blagojevich told reporters. "(To) hear him lie like he's lying is a dagger in my heart." Blagojevich suggested Wyma was making up stories about him to deflect attention from things he, Wyma, may have done wrong.

Wyma testified Blagojevich outlined plans to pressure Children's Memorial Hospital's chief executive Patrick Magoon for a $50,000 campaign donation and thousands more from road-building executive Gerald Krozel, who was hoping the governor would expand a tollway construction program.

Another witness, former Blagojevich Deputy Gov. Robert Greenlee, testified that Blagojevich ordered him _ by using the circuitous words, 'Good to know' _ to hold up a pediatric care reimbursement promised by the state until the children's hospital executive came up with the donation.

In cross examination, defense attorney Aaron Goldstein mocked Greenlee's claim that he took Blagojevich's words as an order, asking over prosecutors' objections, "Mr. Greenlee, you speak English, is that correct?"

"You understood 'good to know' meant stop the rate increase?" Goldstein asked skeptically. "Did you ask for clarification?"

"I didn't believe I needed clarification," Greenlee said.

At other times, Greenlee looked flustered as Goldstein peppered him with questions including, "Have you ever lied to the governor?"

Judge James Zagel warned Goldstein that his inquiry about whether Greenlee had ever lied to Blagojevich was too broad and could cover Greenlee lying to the governor about whether he liked his tie, for example.

Greenlee said Blagojevich discussed appointing Obama's preferred candidate to the Senate seat, Valerie Jarrett, in exchange for a high-paying, high-powered government or private-sector job.

Once Jarrett took a job in the White House instead, Greenlee said Blagojevich and his aides turned to other possible candidates _ and considered what they could do for the governor.

The defense repeatedly asked Greenlee about Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and whether Blagojevich had actually wanted to forge a political deal involving her. Prosecutors objected to the defense broaching the issue, the judge siding with the government.

The defense has argued that in the weeks before his December 2008 arrest, Blagojevich pursued a deal to name Madigan to the seat in exchange for her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, agreeing to push a legislative package favored by the then-governor.

Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing. Jurors at the first trial convicted him of lying to the FBI. This time, he faces 20 charges in all.

Testimony was set to resume Monday.