Blagojevich explains comments on Senate seat

Wed Jun 1, 2011 5:58pm EDT

Related Topics

(Warning: Use of explicit language)

By Janan Hanna

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich said on Wednesday that he was just discussing ideas when he described his power to name a Senator to replace President Barack Obama as "f***in' golden" and not something he would "give up ... for f***in' nothing."

Blagojevich, testifying for the fourth day in his retrial on political corruption charges, was asked by his defense attorney what he meant by the statement, which he made to political consultant Doug Scofield in a November 5th, 2008 call secretly taped by the FBI.

"In my mind I didn't know. I had no idea other than all these different ideas that we were throwing around and I was trying to figure out what if anything could possibly be part of a deal for the senate seat. I didn't know and that's exactly why I was talking about it," Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich said that's why he was asking questions and "war gaming" in the fall of 2008, even before Obama was elected, about filling the Senate seat.

"I knew this was a unique opportunity and I didn't want to give it up without fully discussing ideas so I could make the best decision. "

Blagojevich spoke about the recording, one of the prosecution's key pieces of evidence, after the federal judge overseeing the trial blasted him for his long-winded answers and ordered his defense team to end their examination of the former Illinois governor without delay.

"I think it would be better for the administration of justice if you got your client to stick to the point of the question," U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel told Blagojevich's lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, outside the presence of the jury.

"There are some things now that have been repeated for the 15th and 16th time. If the jury doesn't get what his position is by now, we may as well give up all hope."

Zagel said Blagojevich liked to give campaign speeches and it's "not doing the trial any good and it's probably not doing your client any good."

Blagojevich is on trial for the second time, charged with 20 counts for allegedly trying to trade government action for personal and political gain. He was convicted of just one count of lying to federal officials at his first trial last summer -- the jury could not reach a decision on the other charges.

Blagojevich did not testify at his last trial.

One accusation against Blagojevich is that he tried to get something for himself in exchange for appointing a U.S. senator to fill the seat vacated by President Obama.

Outside the presence of jurors, Blagojevich told Zagel that he honestly believed what he was doing was legal because his aides and general counsel never told him he was doing anything wrong and his political experience guided his understanding of proper "horse trading." He also offered examples from history.

Zagel rejected the "everybody does it," defense. Prosecution evidence and testimony showed that among the things Blagojevich talked about getting in exchange for appointing Obama's choice of Valerie Jarrett to the Senate was donations of up to $15 million from wealthy Democrats to start a non-profit Blagojevich could head.

"That's money in his pocket. That's not just changing his vote in exchange for political support," Zagel said.

(Writing and reporting by Janan Hanna; Editing by James B. Kelleher, Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)

FILED UNDER: