CHICAGO (AP) - Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sees his
trial's Thursday start as the end of an 18-month ordeal that began
with his humiliating arrest on charges of scheming to profit from
his power to fill President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.
"My government is doing something very wrong to me and my
family," Blagojevich told a radio audience in one of his most
recent public pronouncements of innocence. "That will soon be over
when we begin on Thursday."
Prosecutors see a chance to send a second-straight governor to
prison in one of the biggest political trials ever in this
corruption-plagued state. U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel's
courtroom is expected to be packed with reporters, lawyers and
simple curiosity seekers even as jury selection begins.
"This blows every other political story out of the newspapers
and off the air," Roosevelt University political scientist Paul
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts including
racketeering, wire fraud, attempted extortion and bribery. He and
his co-defendant brother - 54-year-old Nashville, Tenn.,
businessman Robert Blagojevich - deny scheming to sell or trade the
president's old Senate seat for personal gains.
The former governor also is charged with plotting to turn his
administration into a giant moneymaking operation with profits to
be divided between himself and a circle of advisers and fundraisers
after he left office.
The Democrat was impeached and ousted about seven weeks after
his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest and has since pleaded his case to the
public from radio to reality TV.
Now comes jury selection in a trial that is just the latest
chapter in U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald's attack on
corruption in a state where politics have long been awash in
patronage and payoffs. Blagojevich's predecessor, Republican George
Ryan, is serving a 6½-year racketeering and fraud sentence in
"The U.S. attorney is trying to bring about a sea-change in the
political culture of this state," says DePaul University law
Professor Leonard Cavise.
If convicted, Blagojevich faces a maximum of 415 years in prison
and fines totaling $6 million.
Judge Zagel said he plans to question up to 34 jurors a day
until a jury is seated. The final panel will consist of 12 jurors
plus a thus-far unspecified number of alternates.
On Wednesday, attorneys close to the case said Blagojevich's
defense has subpoenaed White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as a
witness. The attorneys spoke on condition of anonymity because the
subpoena had not been made public.
If Emanuel did take the stand, he might be asked about what
effort if any the White House made to get Blagojevich to appoint
Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat. Jarrett had been
mentioned as a candidate but withdrew to become a presidential
adviser. She also has been subpoenaed by the defense, a White House
official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the
Neither Jarrett nor Emanuel is accused of any wrongdoing.
The indictment accuses Blagojevich of ordering an associate to
pressure Emanuel, then a Chicago congressman, to get his Hollywood
agent brother to raise campaign funds. It says the governor urged
the associate to threaten to withhold a state grant for a school in
Emanuel's congressional district. But nothing in the indictment
suggests Emanuel ever was threatened.
Federal prosecutors have 500 hours of secretly recorded FBI
wiretaps of Blagojevich and his associates. But Blagojevich's
attorneys have said, if played in their entirety, the recordings
would show he did not try to sell the Senate seat.
They say he planned to award it to Illinois Attorney General
Lisa Madigan in exchange for a deal with her father, House Speaker
Michael Madigan, to get tax, health care and jobs legislation
through the House. Prosecutors are expected to call that deal
Neither Madigan has been accused of any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors have lined up numerous key witnesses to testify at
what could be a four-month trial. They include Blagojevich's former
chiefs of staff John Harris and Alonzo "Lon" Monk.
Monk, Blagojevich's law school roommate who has pleaded guilty
to conspiring to solicit a bribe in the form of campaign
contributions from a racetrack owner, was with the governor at the
outset of his administration and is guaranteed to be asked about
alleged efforts to use the office to generate profit.
Harris, who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell the Senate
seat, is guaranteed to be asked for full details.