Before Rod Blagojevich’s retrial ended for the day, the former governor addressed in the most detail yet the charges he tried to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat.
Blagojevich denied interest after his brother, Robert, the former governor’s fundraising chief, had received an offer for “accelerated fundraising” from supporters of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson if he was appointed Senator.
“My position was, no, not interested in it,” Blagojevich said. “I wasn’t interested in making an appointment of a U.S. senator in exchange for campaign fundraising or accelerated fundraising from my Indo-American supporters. I didn’t want to do it.”
Later, in a recorded call, Blagojevich told Deputy Gov. Robert Greenlee he had been approached “pay-to-play” and that Jackson supporters were calling his house and making offers.
“It was irritating,” Blagojevich testified. “It just was over the top.”
At the end of October 2008, a Jackson appointment was a non-starter, Blagojevich testified.
“I was opposed to the offer of fundraising in exchange for the Senate seat,” Blagojevich said. “I had no intention of appointing Congressman Jackson, with or without that situation.”
Among those advising him was Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the U.S. House. Hastert was firm with him, Blagojevich said, saying whatever the process is, “this is your decision.”
Blagojevich said he sought advice from many places. After all, his lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, pointed out, he had never appointed a senator before.
“Never want to again either,” Blagojevich said.
Blagojevich then addressed charges that he had tried to barter an arrangement for Obama friend Valerie Jarrett in exchange for a cabinet post in the Obama administration.
In a recorded call, his then-chief of staff, John Harris, told Blagojevich he had heard from Rahm Emanuel, who was leaving Congress to become Obama’s White House chief of staff. Emanuel had told Harris that there was an Obama preference. In their later conversation, Blagojevich had asked Harris what he thought he could get for that.
Blagojevich explained from the witness stand what he meant.
“Is there a potential horse-trade – legal?” Blagojevich testified. “Whether there’s something I might be able to get as part of that horse-trade.”
Before the recorded call was over, Blagojevich had thrown out the idea of being appointed as secretary of Health and Human Services.
“I throw out… the position because I wondered if there might be a role for me to help President Obama expand health care to every American,” Blagojevich explained in court. Blagojevich said he knew it was not realistic, pulling out a quote from poet Robert Browning.
“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?” Blagojevich said.
Blagojevich also contended that part of the recorded call was deleted. It was his answer when Harris said to him that he could get good things for the people of Illinois.
Blagojevich said he answered that that was always his priority. “My definition for ‘f’ing golden,’ if you will,” he said.
5 p.m. Blago sought Senate seat deal so he 'could do good things for people'
The backbone of the defense is that Blagojevich planned to appoint Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan as part of a political deal with her father, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, so that his legislative agenda would win legislative approval. Blagojevich testified that the legislation “could do good things for people.”
Blagojevich testified he feared that if he didn’t appoint Madigan’s daughter, the speaker would “be the more punitive and we’ll get even more gridlock.”
“Her father was my nemesis,” he said, though he called Michael Madigan a very good dad. Blagojevich said he often tried to get advice from him on raising kids in a political environment, drawing an objection from prosecutors.
“I just want to say something nice about him, judge,” Blagojevich told U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
Blagojevich said he had three main conditions for the deal to happen. Michael Madigan would have to pass the capital bill to get state projects going, health care for the poor would be expanded, and there would be no state income tax increase.
Blagojevich’s lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, asked whose idea that was.
“I think it was me,” Blagojevich said.
Other possible candidates, Blagojevich testified, included “an African-American war hero” as well as U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, who he called “a good, solid possible pick” for the Senate seat.
Blagojevich testified he thought it was important that the only black U.S. Senator be replaced by another African-American.
After 3 days on stand, Blago talks about Senate seat
4:23 p.m. CDT May 31, 2011
It took most of three days on the witness stand, but Rod Blagojevich has moved on to the marquee charge in the case: that he allegedly attempted to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president in 2008.
In the fall of 2008, Blagojevich said he talked “incessantly” about the seat.
“It’s fair to say I talked a lot during that time period,” he said. “It’s fair to say I’ve talked a lot during this time period (the trial). It’s fair to say I talk a lot.”