Judge Cautions Blagojevich About Media Interviews
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Updated 04/18/11 – 1:44 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Federal prosecutors accused Rod Blagojevich of “out-and-out fabrications” in recent media interviews, prompting the judge to advise the former governor “to restrain himself.”
During a hearing on Monday, prosecutors voiced their anger at statements that Blagojevich has made in the past several days about his upcoming trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar accused Blagojevich of “out-and-out fabrications” and “lies that he continues to perpetrate” in his TV and radio appearances.
Blagojevich has repeatedly accused prosecutors of trying to prevent him from defending himself and blocking him from playing tapes of secretly recorded conversations that he claims would exonerate him.
Schar contended that Blagojevich has falsely suggested that prosecutors have discretion as to which tapes that were taken from FBI wiretaps against Blagojevich will be allowed into evidence, and which ones will not. Prosecutors noted that the judge in Blagojevich’s case is the only person who can decide what evidence is admitted at trial.
Blagojevich defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said he hadn’t seen the latest interview Blagojevich did, and tried to defend the ex-governor by saying Blagojevich was paraphrasing what he understood the rules to be, and “perhaps he misspoke.”
But the normally subdued Schar interrupted Sorosky, angrily contending that Blagojevich is just trying to manipulate the potential jury pool.
“These are his talking points … this is not a mistake,” Schar said. He noted that, during the first trial last summer, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel specifically told Blagojevich in open court that he, not prosecutors, decide what tapes are admissible.
“This is just part of an attempt by [Blagojevich] to poison what’s going on,” Schar said. “At a certain point, enough is enough. If he continues to lie, he ought to be called out on it.”
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Zagel said “it would be distressing” if the governor were making statements about the trial that he knows are untrue.
“You can consider my remarks today as a red flag,” Zagel said.
He also suggested to Blagojevich’s attorneys that the former governor should watch what he says in media interviews, stopping just short of telling Blagojevich to stop such appearances altogether.
“I think under the circumstances, it would be wise for the defendant to restrain himself,” Zagel said.
The judge explained that by continuing such appearances, Blagojevich “could, if he has not already done so, step over the line.”
He also reiterated that he is the only person who decides what evidence attorneys are allowed to present.
“It is not the government that decides what is admitted, it is I,” Zagel said.
Zagel said the governor risks opening the door for prosecutors using his own media interviews against him at trial, as his statements outside of court “may be inconsistent with the defense in court.”
He also suggested that, if Blagojevich continues to make false statements about the case in public, he might allow prosecutors to use those statements against him in court.
Blagojevich’s attorneys declined to discuss the issue after court on Monday.
The former governor is scheduled to be retried on federal corruption charges beginning this week, with the first stage of jury selection slated for Wednesday.
He is charged, among other offenses, with trying to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama in 2008.
Blagojevich’s first trial last summer ended in the jury deadlocking on all but one of 24 counts against him. Prosecutors have since dropped three other charges in an effort to simplify a case that jurors said they found confusing.
CBS 2 Web Producer Todd Feurer contributed to this report.