CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich told jurors on Thursday he was working to name state Attorney General Lisa Madigan -- not U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson -- as Barack Obama’s successor in the Senate when he was arrested in 2008.
Testifying for a fifth day in his corruption retrial, Blagojevich insisted Madigan was his first choice for the Senate seat all along -- but only if her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, backed a raft of legislative proposals Blagojevich wanted passed.
Blagojevich said he only floated Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. as a possible candidate for the vacancy to get powerful Washington insiders, who he said did not want Jackson to succeed Obama, to broker a deal with Speaker Madigan.
“Is it fair to say that Lisa Madigan was the front runner in your mind,” attorney Aaron Goldstein asked Blagojevich.
“On the condition that I get a deal,” Blagojevich said. “Absent the deal, she goes from first to last.”
Blagojevich is on trial for a second time, charged with 20 counts, including conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and attempted extortion. A jury in August found him guilty of one count of lying to federal prosecutors but did not reach a unanimous verdict on the more serious counts.
Prosecutors presented testimony earlier in the trial showing Blagojevich allegedly favored the idea of appointing Jackson after business supporters of Jackson’s in the Indian-American community offered as much as $1.5 million in campaign cash.
Shrugging off U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s order that he simply answer the questions put before him, Blagojevich continued on Thursday to sometimes offer up rambling statements.
Blagojevich also said that on November 14, 2008, he told his former deputy governor Robert Greenlee he might appoint himself to the Senate seat vacated by then president-elect Barack Obama.
Still, a week later, Lisa Madigan was “very much on my mind,” Blagojevich said.
He said that on November 21st, Greenlee had come up with a list of the legislative initiatives Blagojevich wanted from Madigan in exchange for appointing his daughter to the U.S. Senate.
The list, which was shown to jurors, included passage of an expansive infrastructure bill that he said would create 500,000 jobs; a health care expansion bill; a promise that there would be no state income tax hike; homeowner’s relief for those facing foreclosure; early childhood education; poverty reduction and small business initiatives.
There has been no testimony so far that Blagojevich ever approached Madigan with his wish list.
But Blagojevich said he talked about his plan with numerous politicians in Washington, including U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and U.S. Senator Steve Menendez of New Jersey, as well as with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
In a conversation with Reinsdorf on December 3, 2008, he decided he would enlist the support of Rahm Emanuel to be his “ambassador” to Michael Madigan to help broker the deal, Blagojevich said, adding he instructed his chief of staff the following day to send word to Emanuel through an intermediary.
“Senator Durbin wasn’t tough enough or strong enough to deal with Madigan,” Blagojevich said.
It was unclear whether prosecutors would get a chance to begin cross-examining Blagojevich Thursday.
Zagel said Wednesday he would interrupt the direct examination because he believed the defense was “running the clock” asking the same questions repeatedly and failing to control Blagojevich’s run-on answers.
Editing by James Kelleher and Jerry Norton