Blagojevich on stand for 7th day at retrial

AP News
Posted: Jun 07, 2011 3:15 AM
Blagojevich on stand for 7th day at retrial

A sometimes feisty Rod Blagojevich has tried to hold his own against often blistering cross-examination at his corruption retrial, as prosecutors try to discredit the ousted Illinois governor's firm denials that he ever tried to shake anyone down or sell President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

Blagojevich steps onto the witness stand for a seventh day Tuesday to face more questions from prosecutors. They haven't said how much more time they'll need to finish their cross-examination. But on Monday, they asked Blagojevich about all the main allegations against him, so they could begin winding down soon.

Lead government attorney Reid Schar, who has shown only occasional signs of fatigue, repeatedly tried Monday to use Blagojevich's own words against him. Schar would try to trap Blagojevich by first asking the ex-governor to deny a specific allegation, then would read from transcripts of FBI wiretaps in which Blagojevich's words seemed to contradict that testimony.

Asked if he ever sought to exchange an appointment to Obama's Senate seat for a top job _ the most serious charge Blagojevich faces _ the ex-governor 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 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."

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."

There were moments 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.

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 at 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.