Blagojevich quizzed on alleged Jackson deal

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 07, 2011 7:33 PM
Blagojevich quizzed on alleged Jackson deal

By Janan Hanna

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Prosecutors ended their cross examination of Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday by pressing the former Illinois governor to explain whether he was considering a deal worth $1.5 million in campaign contributions in exchange for appointing Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate.

Blagojevich insisted that he had no intention of appointing Jackson to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

He did concede that he met with Jackson the day before Blagojevich was arrested on December 9, 2008. And he did not deny that Jackson supporters had talked about raising campaign contributions for him.

"I was never going to pick him," Blagojevich said under questioning by Assistant Attorney Reid Schar.

Blagojevich is on trial for a second time, accused of trying to sell the Senate seat for money or a high-paying job, and for linking other state action with campaign contributions. A jury in August found him guilty of one count of lying to the FBI but could not reach a unanimous verdict on the other counts.

After a brief questioning by defense attorneys Blagojevich ended his testimony after seven days on the stand. District Judge James Zagel said he expected closing arguments to begin late Wednesday, and that jurors would begin deliberations late Thursday afternoon.

Blagojevich testified on Tuesday that he needed help from Washington insiders, including Rahm Emanuel, now Chicago's mayor, to help him persuade Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to support his legislative initiatives in exchange for giving the seat to his daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Floating Jackson's name was a "negative leverage" play because he knew he was an unpopular choice in Washington.

But taped conversations of Blagojevich talking with aides, including with his brother, Robert, acting as his chief fundraiser at that time, told a different story.

The focus of government questioning Tuesday was a series of calls Blagojevich had with his brother and other aides when he learned that prominent members of the Indian American business community were prepared to raise $1.5 million if Blagojevich would appoint Jackson, the son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

On December 4, 2008, Blagojevich told political pollster Fred Yang about the offer from Jackson supporters, mentioning that there was "tangible political support... specific amounts and everything, some of it upfront," according to transcript of the conversation played for jurors and referenced by Schar during the cross-examination.

On the same day, he directed his brother to set up a meeting with business executive Raghu Nayak for the following morning and tell him some of the "stuff had to start happening now," according to transcripts of the conversations jurors heard. "Now you gotta be careful how you express that. And assume everybody's listening, the whole world's listening."

He told his brother to say, "But if there's tangible political support like you've said, start showing us now."

Blagojevich denied Schar's contention that his language suggested he was telling his brother "be careful you don't get caught." On the contrary he was advising his brother to act completely legally.

Blagojevich told Schar tangible political support meant support for his policies and from the African-American political establishment.

A day after he talked to his brother, Blagojevich said his "world was rocked" upon learning from a Chicago newspaper that one-time aide John Wyma had been cooperating with federal investigators and may have been wearing a wire. Blagojevich testified that he told his brother to cancel the meeting with Nayak. "It's just too obvious," Blagojevich told him, according to a transcript of the conversation.

Blagojevich sparred a bit as Schar methodically went through the calls, telling him in one instance: "With all due respect, Mr. Schar, you're twisting my words."

Blagojevich repeatedly answered questions even after his own attorneys objected, saying "No, I want to answer that."

Blagojevich tried to shake Schar's hand in front of the jurors as he left the stand, but Schar did not respond. Zagel said that lawyers are instructed "not to do that."

(Reporting by Janan Hanna; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)