Shakedowns, bribery and coercion were the focus Monday at the corruption retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as prosecutors moved from claims that Blagojevich tried to sell the open senate seat to his alleged arm-twisting efforts to get campaign cash from organizations that receive funding or do business with the state.
Blagojevich's former chief of staff and close friend John Wyma was back on the stand, after extensive testimony last week. Wyma, who claimed he begrudgingly agreed to cooperate with the Feds in 2008, became a key source for the government in the undercover investigation of alleged shakedowns. "You elected to be a spy with the government against your friend, didn't you?" defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky asked him.
In one of the most lurid of all allegations, Wyma testified that Blagojevich made promises to Children's Memorial Hospital for state funding, while at the same time demanding campaign contributions. Wyma said there were also efforts to coerce contributions from other organizations. "If they don't perform, f*** ‘em!" Wyma claimed Blagojevich said to him. The comments triggered questioning from Sorosky about the term. "What does 'f*** em' mean?" Sorosky mused. Smirks could be heard through the courtroom.
In order to back up the claims, Children's Memorial Hospital president and CEO Patrick Magoon was next put on the stand. He testified about urgent requests he made to Blagojevich for access to funding in order to reimburse doctors for medical work, but Magoon said at first, he got no response from the governor. Blagojevich‘s brother Robert then got involved, according to Magoon and "strongly suggested" Magoon raise money for the governor from business associates, members of the hospital board and friends. Magoon said he "wasn't comfortable" raising money because it "clearly appeared to be an exchange" for his funding request.
Next, construction company consultant Gerald Krozel was put on the stand, to say he was being asked to raise money for the governor in what he thought was an exchange for a new multi-million dollar toll way program. Krozel said he raised cash from members of the construction industry for the defendant. Krozel claimed Blagojevich insisted that the fundraising happen quickly, before the state's new ethics law took effect at the start of the next year.
During a sidebar, Judge James Zagel pointed out to the defense that during closing arguments in the first trial Blagojevich's attorneys summed it up as saying there was "no harm no foul" involved with the governor, but when funding is promised and then delayed, "it's still harm".
Last Friday, the defense tried once again for the release of paperwork on the FBI's interview with President Obama about his former senate seat. The judge denied the motion, saying there is no indication Obama knew about the talk of possible replacements to the seat.
For Blagojevich's retrial on corruption charges, the prosecution has streamlined its case and has been moving along much more quickly. The prosecution's case is in its third week and is expected to rest in the next few days. This trial this time around is predicted to be several weeks shorter than the first one.