Published: Jun 03, 2010 12:01 PM EDT
Updated: Jun 03, 2010 9:02 AM EDT

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

Green said.

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

federal prison.

"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

ongoing investigation.

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

largely fiction.

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.