Prosecutor tries to use Blago's words against him

AP News
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Posted: Jun 06, 2011 6:57 PM
Prosecutor tries to use Blago's words against him

A prosecutor at Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial sought to methodically discredit the ousted Illinois governor on the witness stand Monday by repeatedly deploying the same weapon against him: His own words.

In the first full day of Blagojevich's cross-examination, prosecutor Reid Schar endeavored to trap him by first asking the ex-governor to deny a specific allegation, then reading from transcripts of FBI wiretaps in which his words seemed to contradict that testimony.

Asked if he ever sought to exchange an appointment to President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat for a top job _ the most serious charge _ Blagojevich flatly denied it.

"I did not say I would exchange one for the other," he said.

Schar then read from a tape transcript in which Blagojevich is heard talking to an aide about appointing Obama's friend Valerie Jarrett to the seat: "We should get something for that, couldn't I?"

"That `that' is Valerie Jarrett, correct?" Schar asked Blagojevich.

"Yes," Blagojevich responded.

Schar was firm but not as combative as he was last week when he began the cross-examination, no longer yelling across the room or pointing angrily at Blagojevich. On Monday, he paced with his hands in his pockets.

Blagojevich, testifying for a sixth day, also displayed less fight, hunched forward, speaking more softly and occasionally biting his lip. Stepping down from the witness stand for a lunch break, he walked across the room and hugged his wife, Patti.

Going back to the Senate seat, Schar cited another tape in which Blagojevich uses the word "trade" in relation to naming Jarrett to the seat and his being named secretary of Health and Human Services.

"(Jarrett) now knows that she can be a U.S. senator if I get Health and Human Services," Blagojevich is heard saying on the recording. "I'm willing to trade the thing I got tightly held, to her for something she doesn't hold quite as tightly."

When Blagojevich said he never seriously thought he had a shot at a Cabinet post, Schar countered, "You've made a career out of taking long shots, haven't you? You applied to Harvard."

"Yes," Blagojevich answered with a laugh.

Blagojevich often began waxing on after Schar read from a tape transcript and asked him to confirm those were his words. The prosecutor interrupted and told Blagojevich to say yes or no.

"I can't simply answer that question yes or no," Blagojevich said at one point. Another time, looking at a wiretap transcript in which he seems to talk about trading the Senate seat, Blagojevich said, "I see what I say here, but that's not what I meant."

Rahm Emanuel's name also got yanked into testimony Monday.

For the first time in public, prosecutors raised the issue of whether Emanuel had asked Blagojevich to appoint a successor to his congressional seat in 2008 when he became White House chief of staff.

Emanuel "raised the issue with you of naming an interim to his seat until a special election was held ... that would have given an advantage to the person (named) before an election was held, would it not?" Schar asked.

"This is what Congressman Emanuel was asking me to do," Blagojevich responded. Blagojevich said he was told by his lawyers and a political consultant that such a move would be unconstitutional.

It wasn't immediately clear from the prosecutor's question or Blagojevich's answer why Emanuel may have made the request. Schar broached the topic Monday right after asking Blagojevich if he had ever knowingly violated the U.S. constitution.

A representative for Emanuel, now Chicago's mayor, could not immediately be reached for comment.

There were moments Monday when tempers simmered. Addressing the allegation that Blagojevich tried to shake down a racetrack owner for campaign cash, Schar asked pointedly, "You wanted as much money as you could possibly get, right?"

"As long as it was obtained legally," Blagojevich responded.

A minute later, Schar added sharply, "You understand what I'm talking about Mr. Blagojevich."

"No, I don't," Blagojevich shot back.

Legal experts say the next few days could be decisive as prosecutors try to reverse whatever gains Blagojevich may have made with the jury while fielding comparatively soft questions from his own attorney last week.

Blagojevich's first trial last year ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one count. He was found guilty of lying to the FBI. He did not testify in that trial.

Some legal observers say Blagojevich's sometimes rambling, repetitive testimony is only digging him in deeper, making it more likely he will be convicted of some or all of the 20 corruption counts he faces, including attempted extortion and fraud.

Others say he's done well, at the very least muddying the waters after prosecutors presented a strong three-week case.