Illinois Public Media News
Rod Blagojevich asked a judge Monday to order prosecutors to hand over written summaries of any FBI interviews with President Barack Obama about the ousted Illinois governor's corruption case.
That raises the prospect that Blagojevich could try to make the president a prominent feature of his defense at his upcoming retrial.
Judges are traditionally averse to drawing sitting presidents into trials, however. And Judge James Zagel, who will preside over Blagojevich's retrial starting later this month, has repeatedly said Obama has no direct bearing on the allegations, which include that Blagojevich sought to sell or trade an appointment to Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case by anyone, including the defense. But Blagojevich's attorneys have argued before that Obama could help demonstrate that their client never did anything criminal but merely engaged in legal, political wheeling and dealing.
"I haven't seen any argument Obama has anything to bring to the table in this trial," said David Morrison, a deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform who has followed the case closely. "I think Blagojevich has been desperate to drag Obama into this for years now, and this motion is just the latest gambit."
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges, including allegations that he tried to exchange an appointment to Obama's seat for a top job or campaign cash. Jurors at his first trial deadlocked on all but one count, convicting him on a lone count of lying to the FBI.
Monday's request came in a motion filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago, saying written accounts of any Obama interviews could "go directly to the heart of testimony of several government witnesses," particularly union leader and Obama ally Tom Balanoff.
U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Randall Samborn declined any comment on the motion.
Zagel had rejected a similar motion before Blagojevich's first trial. Unlike the motion last year, Monday's filing does not ask for permission to call Obama as a witness - an idea Zagel also shot down.
The new motion zeros in on Balanoff, a key government witness. He testified at the first trial that Obama called him on the eve of the 2008 election, telling Balanoff he preferred that family friend Valerie Jarrett work in the White House but that she wanted to be senator.
"I thanked him and I said I was going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich and speak on Valerie's behalf," Balanoff testified.
Defense attorneys claim Balanoff's testimony about the call appeared to contradict some other accounts and that notes of any FBI interviews with Obama could clarify the issue.
Balanoff's testimony is potentially damaging to Blagojevich. On the witness stand last year, Balanoff also told jurors he was startled when, in discussing Jarrett's interest in the seat with Blagojevich, the then-governor broached the possibility of becoming secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration.
He took Blagojevich's reference as an offer to trade one for the other.
"I understood him to be offering that, `Hey, if I got this appointment (as a Cabinet secretary), then I could see my way to appoint Valerie Jarrett,'" Balanoff said.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky, Balanoff conceded that Blagojevich never said explicitly he wanted to trade the appointment to the seat for a top job.
Zagel has repeatedly denied defense moves that could put a spotlight on Obama. In a sidebar last year, for example, Sorosky told Zagel he wanted to ask Balanoff if the FBI focused its questions on Obama rather than Blagojevich when agents interviewed Balanoff.
"I think we have a right to bring that out," Sorosky told the judge.
"No, you don't," Zagel shot back.
That sidebar conversation last year was out of earshot of the jury, spectators and journalists in court, but official trial transcripts released later included it.
Monday's motion leaves open the option of the defense again asking for permission to subpoena Obama. Some legal observers say judges are reluctant to put presidents on the stand, in part, because the spectacle could throw proceedings into disarray.
"It would be a circus," said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago-based attorney who frequently represents clients in federal court. "The whole focus of the trial would switch."
(AP Photo/James A. Finley, File)
The decorative tip of the Champaign County Courthouse is hanging by a cable from the ornate tower.
Sometime either Sunday or Monday, a four-foot piece of the spire disconnected from its base atop the courthouse clock tower, which was completed just two years ago as part of a $1.2 million restoration project.
Sheriff Dan Walsh says one lane of Urbana's Main Street as well as the adjoining sidewalk and closed for safety reasons -- and as a preparation for repair work tomorrow (Tues).
"There's supposed to be a crane in here if things go well, and people will be looking at it including engineers, so we'll have a better idea about what's going to happen and how quick and all that," Walsh said. "But until they actually look at it, anything that could happen would be a guess."
Walsh says the copper piece of spire is attached by a 1-inch thick cable to the rest of the tower.
Butler coach Brad Stevens loves an underdog, whether it's his team back in the Final Four or Connecticut making an unprecedented five-games-in-five-nights run through the Big East tournament.
A Big East team as an underdog? The coach at tiny Butler cheering for big, bad UConn?
Welcome to the bizarro world of college basketball in 2011 - a sport where not only is anything possible, but where nothing quite makes sense. A sport in which the story of a small school from a small conference making a run to a title is no more rare than that of the late-season magic conjured by a power program with one of the nation's best players.
Butler and Connecticut will meet Monday in the national title game - the eighth-seeded Bulldogs trying to finish the deal after coming oh-so-close last season and the third-seeded Huskies (31-9), led by Kemba Walker, talking about shocking the world with their 11th straight victory after a regular season that foreshadowed none of this.
"We were all rooting for UConn because it was a great story," Stevens said, "a lot of fun to follow."
As is Butler, the team from a 4,500-student campus in Indianapolis that practices at Hinkle Fieldhouse, used as the backdrop for the classic movie "Hoosiers" - the based-on-reality melodrama in which tiny Hickory High stares down the biggest schools in Indiana and wins the state championship. On its second try.
What seemed impossible in that movie is becoming more the norm, at least in the college game. Last season, Butler (28-9) came one desperation heave from toppling Duke to become the first true mid-major to win the championship. This season, Butler wasn't even the biggest longshot at the Final Four. That was VCU, an 11th seed that fell to the Bulldogs in Saturday's semifinal.
As recently as 2008, the NCAA tournament landed all four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. This year, there wasn't a single 1 or 2 for the first time in the 33-year history of seeding.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun said this has been the natural progression since the NCAA started limiting scholarships and new NBA rules triggered a flood of players who would come to college for one year, then declare for the draft.
"It's as close to parity as there can be," Calhoun said. "It certainly can occur in a tournament a lot more than it could playing a Saturday night, then Big Monday. It's just the nature of things. ... The one-and-done thing, walking the tightrope is a hard thing, a very difficult thing."
If anyone can say they've mastered it this season, it's UConn. Led by Walker, the junior guard on the verge of becoming the best player to ever put on a Huskies uniform, Connecticut won five games in five nights against Big East competition to win the postseason tournament.
A remarkable accomplishment in any conference, but especially the Big East - the 16-team behemoth that placed a record 11 teams in the tournament this year. Maybe because of the grueling nature of its regular season, the Big East wore down and had a terrible showing, only moving two teams into the second weekend.
But Connecticut is still standing, a testament to Walker's playmaking ability (he's averaging 25.5 points during this 10-game winning streak) and Calhoun's ability to adjust on the fly to the fatigue that has predictably set in.
"Our code has been very simple: 'The hell with it, let's just go play basketball,'" Calhoun said. "Well, we wouldn't be doing all the things we did last night defensively to Kentucky if we just kind of rolled the thing out there. We worked very hard on it. But we worked on it in a different way."
Connecticut advanced to the final by holding the Wildcats to 33.9 percent shooting in a 56-55 victory Saturday night.
Butler, meanwhile, only needed two wins in four nights to capture the tournament title in the less-heralded Horizon League. Still, the Bulldogs are on a 14-game winning streak that began after losing their third straight back on Feb. 3. At that point, this was a team that had no guarantees it would even make the NCAA field. It looked nothing like the one that captured hearts as it made its run through last year's tournament.
In the final last April, Butler trailed Duke 61-59 with 3.6 seconds left when Gordon Hayward (now playing for Utah in the NBA) grabbed the rebound off an intentionally missed free throw, dribbled four times to the halfcourt line and launched a shot at the buzzer. It hit the backboard, the inside of the rim and bounced out. It could have been the greatest finish ever in sports. It wound up as something less, though Stevens insists he walked away that night feeling like a winner.
"Our guys played as well as they could have," Stevens said. "They represented themselves in an unbelievable manner throughout that whole game. That might be the reason why we had parades, too, even though we lost. It was remarkable the way people treated us even though we lost."
One win away from the pinnacle once again, the Bulldogs are talking about finishing the deal this time. They haven't turned their backs on the heart-tugging story lines that help define them, but they don't fall back on them, either.
"There are some connections to us and 'Hoosiers.' I understand that, and that's nice if people want to make those connections," senior forward Matt Howard said.
Calhoun, trying to become only the fifth coach to win three NCAA titles, says he appreciates Butler as much as the next guy. He sees the slow, steady improvement of mid-majors such as Butler and figures there will be more tournaments like this one and more nights like Monday - where the small school and the big school are on even footing.
Maybe one of those days, the little guy will win it all.
"I think it's good for college basketball," Calhoun said. "I think if it starts around 2012, 2013, it would be a wonderful thing."
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A group hoping to open a shared-use kitchen and business incubator in Champaign-Urbana is making a specific pitch to the Hispanic community.
The Flatlander Community Kitchen project is holding a meeting aimed at Spanish-speaking residents Wednesday, April 6, at the Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park in Champaign.
Flatlander volunteer Laura Huth says the meeting is part of their effort to reach potential entrepreneurs who would benefit from access to a certified commercial kitchen.
"One of our volunteers happens to be a fluent Spanish-speaker -- she's bilingual -- and she stepped up and said, 'I'd like to help and this is what I can do," Huth said. "And so we decided to start with the Spanish-speaking session, and then we're going to add on other different language sessions moving forward."
Huth says they are publicizing the meeting through flyers and word-of-mouth. She says owners of two area Mexican restaurant chains -- El Toro and La Bamba -- have shown a lot of interest in the project.
"They see this as a huge opportunity for their ethnic community to take some of their business ideas that currently aren't really being realized, and being able to provide job opportunities for people in the community," Huth said.
The Flatlander Community Kitchen is the brainchild of local chocolate-maker Daniel Schreiber, who died last year. The project is still in the planning stages, as its organizers seek out backers, potential users, and a site for the kitchen. Huth says they hope the opening of a non-profit community kitchen will encourage more locally-produced goods in Champaign-Urbana and create jobs.
Flatlander's Spanish-language meeting is set to begin at 7:00 Wednesday night, in the Schoolhouse facility just inside the Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park, 1600 North Market Street in Champaign.
Danville Police are searching for a 15-year old male they suspect in the shooting of an 18 year old at the Fair Oaks public housing complex Sunday.
Police officials say officers responded to shots fired in the 900 block of Wakeley shortly before 5 PM Sunday. By the time they arrived, the shooting victim had been taken to Provena United Samaritans Medical Center --- he was later transferred to another hospital in Champaign-Urbana.
Public Safety Director Larry Thomason says both the shooter and his victim knew each other, and apparently had an ongoing argument. The shooting came three days after another Danville teen-ager was shot on Washington Street. Police arrested an 18 year old man in connection with that case.
Anyone with information the shooting is asked to contact Danville Police, or call Vermilion County Crime Stoppers anonymously at 217-446-TIPS.
Butler has stopped a series of college basketball Goliaths on its way to consecutive national championship games, and Monday night will pose a unique challenge: stopping a superstar.
Connecticut's Kemba Walker has carried the Huskies to the finals on a run reminiscent of Danny Manning's performance at Kansas 23 years ago.
Butler's scouting report on the versatile Walker is long and detailed. Unlike Kentucky, which tried to slow Walker down with defensive stopper DeAndre Liggins, the Bulldogs will let a handful of players take a shot at keeping him in check.
Coach Brad Stevens says his team respects Walker but can't focus too much attention on him because it could leave room for other UConn players to get loose.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk says Libyan rebels should be given weapons to help them quickly overthrow Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
The Illinois Republican says furnishing weapons will help end the Libyan war and limit costs for the United States and its allies.
Kirk told reporters Friday that conflicts should be rough and violent if that's what it takes to achieve a quick victory.
"When you're in a conflict, make it rough make it violent, so that it is over quickly," said the Senator. "If we win this war as fast as possible it will cost less. It will create less turmoil in the Arab world and it will calm international economies."
NATO and some nations say an arms embargo rules out providing weapons to the Libyan rebels. But President Barack Obama's administration suggests arming them might be an option.
Kirk also says the United States should recognize the rebels as the legitimate representatives of Libya's people, as France has done.
Butler University officials hope the recent success of the school's men's basketball team can help attract donations for a $25 million restoration of the Bulldogs' home arena.
The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that Hinkle Fieldhouse's restoration will begin in the summer of 2012.
About $4.8 million has been raised for the project. Butler's vice president for university advancement, Mark Helmus, says he's "certainly pleased'' the Bulldogs' repeat Final Four trip coincides with the school's plans to expand its fundraising appeal to the general public over the coming months.
The Hinkle restoration will include adding more chair-type seats to the 1928 basketball arena. Those chairs will reduce Hinkle's seating capacity from about 10,000 to about 8,500. But Helmus says "most people don't want season tickets if they're not in chairs.
A quick look at the state's overall economy shows improvement from the recession, but at a painstakingly slow pace.
The author of the monthly University of Illinois Flash Index says March marked the 11th consecutive month of improvement at 96.3, up two-tenths of a point from a month earlier. Anything below 100 still indicates a decline.
U of I economist Fred Giertz cites a January unemployment rate, both statewide and nationally - of 8.9 percent, as well as job growth in the private sector. But Giertz says Illinois is still a long way from where it wants to be, noting the difference between the current recession and those of recent years.
"It was also accompanied by a financial panic," he said. "A lot of people have noted those kind of situations, which occur very rarely, are also much more difficult to recover from. So we're not going to bounce back the way we did in 2001 or 1990."
The flash index is made up of individual and corporate tax receipts through the end of the month. Giertz says the tax hike passed by the legislature in January presented a challenge for him. He says those numbers had to be adjusted to reflect the overall economy, and not solely the higher rates. "So the fact is once you do that, the growth is a whole lot slower than you might think by just looking at the numbers themselves." said Giertz.
Because corporations file tax returns at different times, Giertz says it will take some time before the impact of the tax increase is fully realized.
Gov. Pat Quinn is getting ready to propose changes to the workers' compensation system in Illinois.
The Chicago Democrat on Friday said both the law and the Workers' Compensation Commission must be revamped. He says changes to the law would make the system more affordable for businesses while remaining fair to workers.
Quinn's comments come amid a federal investigation into possible workers' compensation abuses at state agencies and in the actions of arbitrators. The Associated Press has obtained five subpoenas looking for claims data.
Quinn says he's talking to lawmakers and wants Republicans and Democrats to work together on an overhaul.
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