JUNE 29, 2010
President Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, were mentioned repeatedly in the corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday, even as the White House desperately tries to put distance between the commander-in-chief and the monstrous political scandal.
In its fifth week, the trial is getting juicier by the day with government witnesses testifying about the impeached governor’s unscrupulous scheme to sell Obama’s Senate seat. The president has denied any involvement but refuses to share information from an extensive FBI interview conducted shortly after Blagojevich got indicted with dozens of crimes, including bribery, extortion and conspiracy.
Obama and Emanuel kept coming up during Tuesday’s testimony in the Chicago federal courtroom filled to capacity with media and onlookers. In his final day on the stand, Blagojevich’s top aide, John Harris, testified that the disgraced ex-governor asked him to call Emanuel to confirm that Obama was “still in agreement” with Jesse Jackson Jr. getting the Senate appointment.
Son of the crooked shakedown “civil rights leader” (see Judicial Watch’s special report; Jesse Jackson Exposed), Jackson Jr. is an Illinois congressman who pushed hard for the Senate appointment even though he previously had a falling out with Blagojevich. Initially Obama considered Jackson an “acceptable” candidate, Harris testified, but later the president expressed doubts about Jackson’s ability to retain the seat in an election.
Harris previously testified that Blagojevich tried to exchange the Senate appointment for a cabinet position in the Obama Administration and that a list of “acceptable” candidates was supplied by the commander-in-chief. The testimony was collaborated with secret FBI recordings of conversations between Blagojevich and Harris that have been played for the jury.
The defense wrapped it up with Harris before the lunch break then union leader Tom Balanoff, a longtime Obama ally with powerful political connections, took the stand. He testified that Obama initially wanted his longtime confidante, Valerie Jarrett, to fill his Senate seat before she decided to take a White House position. When Balanoff relayed Obama’s message about Jarrett to Blagojevich, the governor said he would appoint Jarrett if he got named Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“That’s not going to happen,” Balanoff testified that he told Blagojevich shortly after the 2008 presidential election. The governor then asked: “Is that because all the investigations around me?”
The testimony provoked laughter from the media and a coy smirk from the Blagojevich, who doesn’t seem phased by the magnitude of the charges against him. He strolls around the courthouse smiling and shaking hands during breaks and gives any reporter who will listen an earful about the accomplishments of his administration.
On Tuesday he bragged about vetoing a “horrible piece of legislation” to a female reporter who followed him out of the courtroom when the trial broke for lunch. “It had to be done and I did it,” Blagojevich said. “I got things done.”
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