Rod Blagojevich takes witness stand

Reuters News
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Posted: May 26, 2011 4:03 PM
Rod Blagojevich takes witness stand

By Janan Hanna

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich took the stand in his own defense on Thursday morning in his corruption re-trial, smiling at jurors and telling tales of his boyhood.

"I'm here to tell the truth," said Blagojevich.

Much of his morning testimony centered on his college and law school years, his work doing odd jobs, and his humble Chicago upbringing. As of the lunchbreak, he had not yet addressed the charges against him.

Blagojevich's first trial last year ended in a jury deadlock and he was convicted on only one count of lying to the FBI. He did not put on a defense in his first trial, and did not take the stand despite repeatedly saying that he would.

Thursday morning's testimony centered on his college and law school years, his work doing odd jobs, and his humble Chicago upbringing.

He also apologized to jurors for the use of swear words they heard in tape recordings played by the prosecution.

"I'd like to apologize to the men and women for those terrible words," said Blagojevich, who on one tape refers to his power to appoint a U.S. senator to fill the seat vacated by President Barack Obama as "f****** golden."

"I am an effing jerk," said Blagojevich. He also admitted to jurors that he was "vain" and "narcissistic."

Blagojevich said he began college at the University of Tampa but then transferred to Northwestern University.

His penchant for polyester and disco made him an outsider with the typical Northwestern student who wore khakis and "alligators on their shirts," he said.

He said he nearly flunked out of law school at Pepperdine University, saying his first year was "almost catastrophic." But he graduated and passed the Illinois bar after three tries.

He got connected to Chicago politics early in his career, working for the corporation counsel's office one summer while he was in law school, a job secured by a former Chicago alderman. And he worked for two years in the Cook County state's attorneys office, handling minor misdemeanor cases.

Blagojevich was calm and charismatic, but choked up twice -- once when talking about his Serbian immigrant father's death, and before the lunch break when he looked at his wife Patti, who was in the courtroom. He was about to talk about how he met her. Patti broke down, and the judge called a break.

Blagojevich testified his knowledge of criminal law was minimal and he never handled a federal case. He said he did not feel smart enough.

Prompted by his lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, he said he had never handled an extortion, bribery or wire fraud case.

Those are among the charges Blagojevich faces in his federal corruption trial.

Blagojevich was the third witness to testify in his defense case. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., testified.

Prosecutors presented three weeks of evidence and played numerous recording showing that Blagojevich was scheming with aides, allegedly to trade official conduct, such as the senate appointment, for personal gain and campaign contributions.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)