MAY 03, 2011
Chicago—Rod Blagojevich’s onetime chief of staff, John Harris, testified about negotiations between his former boss and President Barack Obama to fill the U.S. Senate seat once held by the commander-in-chief.Obama’s top aide, Rahm Emanuel, called Harris in 2008 to suggest the then-governor appoint Obama’s close friend Valerie Jarrett, according to Harris’s testimony. Harris was the second witness to take the stand in Blagojevich’s corruption retrial, which is taking place in the same Chicago federal court where he was tried last year. In that eight-week circus the impeached two-term governor got convicted of only one count (lying to the FBI) and the jury deadlocked on all others.The government dropped a couple of charges the second time around, but Blagojevich is still facing 20 counts, among them attempting to sell Obama’s old Senate seat. Shortly upon taking the stand Tuesday, Harris testified that he and Blagojevich discussed the Senate appointment in October 2008 and Blagojevich asked him “What do you think I can get for this?”In the first trial Harris testified that Obama sent Blagojevich a list of “acceptable” Senate candidates to fill his old seat. The list included then Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth, Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Obama eventually named Duckworth to a top position at the Department of Veterans Affairs.So far the retrial has lacked the widespread interest and hoopla of the first one, which dragged on through the entire summer. The overflow courtroom that often filled up in the first trial isn’t even open and Blagojevich isn’t getting mobbed by crowds during lunch in the courthouse cafeteria. He still has fans, though. A young African-American couple and their toddler seemed giddy during an elevator encounter with Blagojevich; “good luck,” the woman said smiling. “Take good care of yourself.”The disgraced governor also remains a media darling, joking and winking at the army of mostly local reporters covering the retrial. During lunch in the courthouse cafeteria Tuesday, Blagojevich and his wife exchanged jokes and laughs with reporters sitting at a nearby table. Chuckles were heard throughout the floor.
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