Blagojevich Trial Continues With One Less Juror
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Updated 05/27/11 – 6:05 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Rod Blagojevich was back on the stand on Friday in what turned-into a family affair as his oldest daughter Amy attended the trial, but that wasn’t the only change in the courtroom. One of the 18 jury members was no longer in court.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov has learned that there was one less juror listening to testimony on Friday and it’s been that way for the past couple of days as Blagojevich himself was on the stand.
No one would say why that juror is now, apparently, off the case and nothing has been said about it in open court.
It’s not clear if that missing juror was a regular juror. But there would still be 12 jurors and five alternates left.
But it certainly raises questions about what happened right before Blagojevich began testifying.
Blagojevich has not spoken to the media about the case since he began testifying. His wife, Patti, said the U.S. District Judge James Zagel told them not to say anything, so he’s leaving the talk for the stand.
On Friday, his 14-year-old daughter Amy listened as he told a jury he was actively involved in fundraising, but never broke the law.
Jury consultant Alan Tuerkheimer said that, in order for Blagojevich to win over the jury, “he does have to connect with them.”
“He has to convey this sense of ‘This happens and I got caught up in it. I feel bad for it. It’s nothing criminal and I apologize, I’m contrite, and I don’t want to waste your time,’” Tuerkheimer added.
That was clearly the focus on Friday as Blagojevich’s defense team honed in on one allegations against him; that he held up signing legislation to benefit Illinois’ horse racing industry while waiting for a $100,000 campaign contribution from racetrack owner John Johnston.
Prosecutors contend that Blagojevich was sitting on the legislation in an attempt to leverage the campaign cash from Johnston, because every day the bill went unsigned, Johnston’s racetracks missed out on $9,000 in funding from the casinos.
But Blagojevich offered a couple different reasons for the delay: his long-running political feud with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and fears that a key fundraiser, Chris Kelly, was trying to pressure him to sign the bill for Kelly’s own benefit.
What was unsaid in the new defense that Kelly was trying to pressure Blagojevich on the racing bill was that Kelly is now deceased and can’t be called to refute his old friend’s claim.
Blagojevich has conceded he was seeking $100,000 in campaign cash from Johnston, but said it had nothing to do with the racetrack legislation.
“One has nothing to do with the other,” Blagojevich said. “My intention was to follow the law and not cross any lines.”
Blagojevich explained that the reason he didn’t immediately sign the racetrack legislation was that he was worried Madigan had inserted “poison pill” language in the legislation to undermine the governor’s authority.
“Madigan’s a very effective, crafty legislative leader,” Blagojevich said.
At the time, Madigan and Blagojevich had been in a longtime political feud.
Blagojevich claimed he feared Madigan and other lawmakers would try to sneak language into legislation that would have eliminated a state program mandating free public transit rides for senior citizens or to cut back on his health care initiatives.
“There was a chess game going on between me and Mike Madigan,” Blagojevich said. “I was concerned if I didn’t review bills calmly and carefully, I might find hidden language that would take away things that we were trying to do for people.”
For example, Blagojevich said he feared Madigan might slip in language to take away a program Blagojevich had initiated to provide free public transportation to senior citizens, or might cut back on the governor’s health care initiatives.
“I wanted a chance to look at those bills carefully to look for hidden language,” Blagojevich claimed. “I need time to sort that bill out with all the other bills to see whether there were any Madigan shenanigans in that particular bill.”
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Friday was an unusual day for jurors to be in court for the trial, so U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel kept them there for only half a day. Blagojevich brought his 14-year-old daughter, Amy, with him to court for the day’s proceedings.
Later, Blagojevich also claimed that another reason he was wary about signing the racetrack legislation when it came to his desk in November 2008 was because of an unexpected call from his longtime friend and fundraiser Chris Kelly on Thanksgiving Day.
Kelly had been indicted for income tax fraud at the time, so the two hadn’t spoken for about a year, but when Kelly called, he began talking about trying to get a presidential pardon.
During the call – which was not played for the jury – Blagojevich said Kelly talked about his friend, former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar, who lived in Florida and was close to then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. According to Blagojevich, Kelly said he thought Kosar could help convince Jeb Bush to approach then President George W. Bush about a pardon.
Blagojevich said it wasn’t until a few days later that he thought that Kelly might be trying to pressure him into signing the racetrack bill. He testified that he feared Kelly was “meddling behind my back on that (racetrack) bill.”
He claimed he knew that Kosar was also close to the Johnston family, who had business dealings with late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. In Blagojevich’s mind, Kelly might be trying to get him to sign the racetrack legislation, which would make Johnston happy, and Johnston might then go to Steinbrenner, who would go to Jeb Bush, who would go to President Bush.
Blagojevich said he believed his fears were confirmed when his general counsel, Bill Quinlan, told him on a plane flight to Philadelphia that Kelly had talked to him about the racetrack bill.
“What Quinlan was telling me was that Chris was pressing him to get me to sign that bill and was angry that it hadn’t been signed yet,” Blagojevich said.
Blagojevich said he believed Kelly was trying to show the Johnston family that he could get Blagojevich to sign the racetrack legislation, in order to enlist their help in brokering a pardon from President Bush.
“Chris felt that he needed to show them that he could get this done,” Blagojevich said. “It was a big, bold red flag to be very careful with this bill.”
In an effort to back up Blagojevich’s claims, defense attorneys played a tape of Blagojevich and Quinlan talking about Kelly.
In the call, Quinlan said he had talked to Kelly again, but both Quinlan and Blagojevich speak evasively, never saying specifically what Kelly mentioned to Quinlan.
“It’s what I told you on the plane without a doubt,” Quinlan said, adding that Kelly was desperate to see Blagojevich for five minutes to talk.
Blagojevich said that made it clear to him that Kelly was trying to pressure him to sign the racetrack legislation.
“I really, really, really resent this guy right now, to ask to meet me on something like that,” Blagojevich said in the call.
Jurors also heard another wiretap recording of a conversation Blagojevich had with his longtime friend and former aide, Lon Monk, about the racetrack legislation, as well as how to finally get the $100,000 contribution from Johnston.
In the call, Monk and Blagoejvich talked about how to not make it sound like the contribution was linked to Blagojevich’s signature on the racetrack legislation.
Earlier in the trial, Monk testified that, even though he and Blagojevich were saying in that call that Monk would tell Johnston the campaign cash and the racetrack legislation were not linked, it was meant to be a subtle message that they were indeed tied together.
“I wouldn’t have had to say that otherwise,” Monk testified. “The purpose was to delay signing the bill so that we could get the contribution before the end of the year.”
But Blagojevich said just the opposite was true. He said he was telling Monk “I’m not gonna cross any lines and one has nothing to do with the other. One is not conditioned on the other.”
“Again, be careful, follow the law,” Blagojevich added. “Be careful how you convey it, be careful how you say it, follow the law.”
When Monk called Blagojevich back after meeting with Johnston, Blagojevich said “good.”
Defense attorney Aaron Goldstein asked what Blagojevich meant by that.
“Good,” he testified. “Sounds like you didn’t cross any lines.”
Blagojevich conceded that he was trying to get Johnston to raise $100,000 for his campaign, but insisted that his fundraising efforts began long before the racetrack legislation was on his radar, based on information from Monk.
He explained that Monk, who was working as a lobbyist for Johnston in 2008, had told him early in the year that the Johnston family had pledged to raise that much money for the campaign in 2008.
Blagojevich claimed that, according to what Monk told him, “It was due to arrive sometime before the end of October. … They always filled their fundraising commitments in the past.”
“My expectation was that the $100,000 commitment was going to arrive sometime in October, no later than the end of October,” he added.
That contradicted earlier testimony from Monk and Johnston, both of whom said that Johnston never committed to making any campaign contributions to Blagojevich in 2008. Johnston testified earlier at the trial that he thought it was “totally inappropriate” for Blagojevich to be asking him for campaign cash while also sitting on the racetrack legislation.
–Todd Feurer, CBS 2 Web Producer
The jury seemed to be paying attention and a few jurors even smiled at a few lighter moments in the courtroom.
Patti and Amy Blagojevich sat calmly, too, and the jurors didn’t really seem to pay any extra attention to Blagojevich’s daughter being in the courtroom.
–CBS 2 Web Producer Todd Feurer contributed to this report.