MAY 04, 2011
Chicago—President Barack Obama and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, keep coming up in the corruption retrial of impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich just as they repeatedly did in the first one last summer.That’s because Blagojevich tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Obama got elected president. The then president-elect wanted his close friend Valerie Jarrett to finish his senate term and, as Illinois governor, Blagojevich had the power to make it happen. In return, he wanted a federal job that paid a lot of money or some sort of foreign ambassadorship that could lead to bigger and better things.Blagojevich tried to get a cabinet post or an ambassadorship in exchange for appointing President Barack Obama’s preferred candidate to his old U.S. Senate seat, according to the impeached Illinois governor’s top aide, who took the stand for the prosecution this week.In his second day of testimony Blagojevich’s onetime chief of staff (John Harris) delivered damaging testimony about the inner workings of his boss’s administration, painting the portrait of a crooked politician who abused his power to advance his career. Blagojevich is being retried on 20 corruption charges, including multiple counts of wire fraud, attempted extortion and bribery. Federal prosecutors say he tried to sell Obama’s old senate seat and secret government wiretaps seem to prove it.On Wednesday some of the recordings were played for the jury between Harris’s lengthy and often boring testimony. In the tapes Blagojevich uses profanity with regularity and he flat-out says he wants to leave Illinois. In fact, in one segment he reveals being “depressed” on the eve of his reelection as Illinois governor because that meant he’d be stuck there four more years.In another segment Blagojevich discusses appointing his wife Patti, a struggling real estate agent, to a state board that pays six figures or a lucrative job with a company that does business with the state. The bottom line is that Blagojevich was strapped for cash and he was determined to use his position to get some. “I want to make money,” he’s heard telling Harris on the tapes. Blagojevich also made clear that he wouldn’t accept a federal job from Obama if it only paid a measly $190,000 a year because he already made $170,000 as governor.The wiretaps were the highlight of the first trial, which lasted eight weeks and ended in jury deadlock on all but one count, and are expected to play a key role the second time. The FBI taped Blagojevich as part of a widespread investigation that he was selling the influence of his office, lucrative state jobs and contracts to the highest bidder. He faces decades in prison, though his cheerful, often arrogant demeanor shows no signs of it.
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