CHICAGO – Prosecutors rested their case Thursday at the corruption retrial of impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose attorneys quickly announced that — unlike at his first trial — they would mount a defense starting next week.
Blagojevich's attorney Sheldon Sorosky told presiding Judge James Zagel that the defense intended to call "people of some prominence," but did not say who is on the witness list.
Asked by reporters outside court if Blagojevich himself might be on that list, another defense lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, would only say, "You'll find out later."
Blagojevich, who didn't speak to reporters as his left, had said before the retrial began last month that he had prepared for months for the possibility of testifying. But he didn't say he would take the stand for sure.
There are other potentially intriguing defense witnesses.
They include former White House chief of staff and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. While the defense didn't end up calling any witnesses last year, Emanuel and other well-known public figures were subpoenaed by the defense.
Prosecutors' last exhibit before resting Thursday was a video of Blagojevich — one hand raised, the other on a Bible — taking his oath of office, vowing "that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of governor to the best of my ability."
There was no testimony about the video, but the point prosecutors wanted to make was clear enough: That the evidence they had rolled out in recent weeks showed Blagojevich had violated that oath.
Government attorneys presented a drastically streamlined case that took just three weeks to complete. They clearly heeded criticism that their six-week case last year was overly complicated. Hung jurors in the first trial could agree on only one count, convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
Rather than the meandering, all-encompassing narrative they told at the first trial, prosecutors this time told a narrowly focused short story. They put on fewer witnesses, asked far fewer questions and rarely let testimony stray into issues not directly related to the charges.
Blagojevich, 54, denies any wrongdoing. He faces 20 counts this time, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a high-profile job.
Emanuel has never been accused of any wrongdoing in the case, but his name came up frequently during government testimony.
Witnesses described how Blagojevich hoped Emanuel would help him cut a deal whereby the then-governor would name Obama's friend Valerie Jarrett to the vacated Senate seat and Blagojevich would get a Cabinet post.
But when word got back to Blagojevich that the then-president elect would only be willing to offer "appreciation," an angry Blagojevich is heard on FBI wiretap recordings cursing Obama and Emanuel.
Jarrett was also subpoenaed by the defense at the last trial, but, like Emanuel, she did not testify. She could also potentially be called next week by the defense.
The prosecution's last new witness Thursday was a former deputy governor under Blagojevich, who told jurors his boss had planned to hold up a $2 million grant to a school in Emanuel's district until the congressman's Hollywood-agent brother held a fundraiser for the governor. The school eventually got its money and no fundraiser was held.
Bradley Tusk was a formidable final witness in part because he was one of the few close aides to Blagojevich who expressed deep misgivings about the alleged shakedown at the time.
During their cross-examination, the defense stayed with a strategy that began with the first: Couching arguments in the form of questions. Sorosky suggested Blagojevich was merely shooting off at the mouth and was never serious about his directive to call Emanuel.
"Did you know the governor would sometimes say explosive things, rash things, and not really mean them?" he said.
For Blagojevich, presenting a defense carries risks, especially if he is one of the witnesses. He would be subject to blistering and potentially damaging cross-examination by prosecutors.
Before his first trial, Blagojevich repeatedly said that he was sure to take the stand. His attorneys for that trial also promised jurors he would testify. It was a pledge many considered a blunder when, in the end, Blagojevich did not.
Another potential witness is U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, whose name arose in wiretap recordings as someone Blagojevich allegedly considered naming to the Senate seat. The Chicago-area Democrat, who has not been accused of wrongdoing, was also subpoenaed last year. A spokesman for Jackson said Thursday that no requests for him to testify had been made.
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