Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected to testify in his own defense after his second trial on corruption charges surrounding President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat resumes on Wednesday.
“Blagojevich has been preparing to take the witness stand for several days and worked in depth on his possible testimony over the weekend, sources said,” The Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday, adding that it was not unclear just when he would be called.
The prosecution rested its case on Monday, and U.S. Judge James Zagel of the Northern District of Illinois gave everyone Tuesday off, since he had pressing business unrelated to the trial. The judge has yet to rule on defense lawyers’ motion for a mistrial. The defense argued in part that the prosecution has failed to prove its case, and that some of the judge’s remarks in front of the jury have been prejudicial.
If Blagojevich does indeed testify, it would not be surprising, since he told The Tribune on the eve of his retrial there was a “strong likelihood” he would take the stand — something he did not do during his first trial, which ended last August with his conviction on only one of the two dozen charges against him. That conviction was for a relatively minor charge of lying to the FBI.
And what if he changes his mind and decide not to testify after all? That would not not be shocking either, since his lawyers signaled at his first trial that he would taken the stand.
The first trial was widely seen as a defeat for the prosecution, and there was considerable discussion afterward on whether the prosecution’s case had been overstuffed with too many facts, laid out in an order that was not always easy to follow. So prosecutors were expected to offer a leaner case this time around (see Main Justice’s report), focusing on allegations that the then-governor tried to put the Senate seat up for auction.
“It was his thing, his golden thing,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner of the Northern District of Illinois told the jury in his opening statement three week ago.
Prosecutors stuck to their plan. They took just three weeks to lay out its case this time, half the time they needed in the first trial, and cut the number of counts against the defendant to 20. Still, Blagojevich, 54, could go to prison until he is in his 70’s, if he is convicted.
Blagojevich’s team has said it will call “witnesses of some prominence,” as The Chicago Sun-Times reported. If the defense follows through on its promise, the prominent witnesses could include Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)
Jackson has heatedly denied suggestions that he was part of any plan to raise campaign money for Blagojevich in return for an appointment to the Senate seat that opened with Obama’s election to the presidency. And Emanuel, who gave up his seat in Congress to become White House chief of staff before returning to Chicago to run for mayor, would surely testify that he wasn’t part of any illicit scheme to fill the Senate seat, which eventually went to Roland Burris. (Senate ethics charges against Burris were dropped for lack of evidence, and he did not seek election in 2010.)
But former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer told The Sun-Times he doubts that Emanuel and Jackson would be called. Cramer said Emanuel and Jackson both “hurt and help” Blagojevich. “Both will say no bribe was paid or even considered,” he said. “But they will also try to distance themselves from Blagojevich.”