Judge to Blagojevich: Stop Smuggling in Testimony
An angry judge chastised ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday for "smuggling" testimony into his political corruption retrial that the judge had previously ruled inadmissible.
Judge James Zagel said Blagojevich has insisted on mentioning issues or opinions that the judge has ruled shouldn't be cited in front of the jury. He warned him sharply not to do it again.
"This is a deliberate effort by this witness to raise something that he can't raise," Zagel said. "This is not fair, this is a repeated example of a defendant who wants to say something by smuggling (it) in."
Zagel, who sent the jury out of the room before admonishing Blagojevich, implied that the former governor's motives were less than pure.
"I make a ruling, and then the ruling is disregarded, and then I have to say, 'Don't do it,'" Zagel said. "And when you do that more than once or twice, it is inevitable that I'm going to believe that there is some purpose other than the pursuit of truth."
The judge had said earlier that Blagojevich wasn't allowed to tell jurors that he thought his plans to seek a top job in exchange for appointing someone to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat were legal.
At a hearing without jurors present, Blagojevich told Zagel that he wanted to testify that he believed he wasn't crossing any lines by asking Obama to appoint him to an ambassadorship or Cabinet post in exchange for appointing the president-elect's choice for the seat.
But Zagel was largely unswayed, ruling that jurors won't be allowed to hear any opinions about legality.
"The fact that he thinks it is legal is not relevant here," Zagel said.
Prosecutors had fought to keep Blagojevich from talking about the legal issue, and it's unclear how radically it will affect Blagojevich's testimony going forward or his defense strategy.
Jurors finally began hearing from Blagojevich about the Senate seat Tuesday after three days of testimony in which he had focused on accusations that he attempted to shake down executives for campaign cash. He began delving into the Senate seat charge toward the end of that day.
Blagojevich told jurors he wasn't enticed by an alleged pay-to-play proposal from fundraisers close to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to raise millions of dollars in campaign cash if Blagojevich named Jackson to the seat.
"That's illegal," Blagojevich said. "I was opposed to the offer of fundraising in exchange for the Senate seat."
Blagojevich also echoed a long-held defense argument that all the FBI wiretaps that capture him talking on the telephone about how he might benefit from naming someone to seat was just that - talk.
Asked by his attorney, Aaron Goldstein, if he spoke frequently about the seat in the weeks before his arrest on Dec. 9, 2008, Blagojevich did not miss a beat.
"Absolutely, yes. Incessantly," said Blagojevich.
He explained that his method for arriving at a decision on the seat was to talk with as many confidants and as often as possible.
"I wanted to be very careful to invite a full discussion of ideas ... good ones, bad ones, stupid ones," he said. He added, "There was a method to the madness."
The twice-elected governor briefly mentioned that he got word in November 2008 that Obama appeared to be interested in seeing family friend and fellow Chicago Democrat Valerie Jarrett named as his replacement.
Prosecutors played a recording during their three-week case where Blagojevich asks one aide about appointing Jarrett, "We could get something for that couldn't we?" He mentions the possibility of a Cabinet post.
Blagojevich told jurors he had in mind what he described as legal, political horse-trading.
At the end of those proceedings, prosecutors complained that Blagojevich seemed to be resorting to arguments that Zagel explicitly ruled he could not make, including that he was merely engaging in the kind of wheeling and dealing all politicians engage in.
Zagel agreed, warning defense attorneys then that he would likely instruct jurors before they began deliberating that any defense based on the theory that everybody does it isn't valid.
"There's legal horse-trading and there's also illegal horse-trading," Zagel said.
Blagojevich, 54, denies all wrongdoing. He faces 20 criminal counts, including attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. In his first trial last year, a hung jury agreed on just one count - convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)