It’s like deja vu all over again. Former Illinois governor and TV reality star Rod Blagojevich will be back in a federal courtroom soon.
As potential jurors filled out questionnaires for Blagojevich's retrial, it is expected to look a lot like the first trial, but without the flamboyant defense attorneys, and maybe some surprising new witnesses taking the stand who could have some impact on President Obama’s campaign for re-election. The timing could be interesting.
Obama’s name is expected to come up as lawyers battle over FBI wiretap recordings used to indict Blagojevich.
Defense attorneys want the notes from the FBI’s conversation with Obama.
“He is going to take any opportunity to bring President Obama into this narrative and to say that he was playing a part, that Rahm Emanuel was playing a part, and to try and blow up the case on the basis of political horse trading with very big players who don't want to be involved in a case in the city of Chicago” said Republican strategist Chris Robling.
This is the second criminal trial for the former Illinois governor, who’s accused of trying to sell or barter Obama’s former Senate seat. Despite 24 counts against him, the first trial ended with Blagojevich being convicted on just one count of lying to federal agents.
The retrial began Wednesday, with potential jurors filling out questionnaires at the Federal Courthouse in Chicago.
This time there are just 20 counts against Blagojevich because prosecutors streamlined some charges in order to make them less confusing to jurors. Attorneys on both sides haven’t disclosed whether they plan to call former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to the witness stand. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., who may have also been interested in the Senate seat, could testify. There’s speculation that Blagojevich himself may take the stand this time around.
“I want to tell my story” he said, although the always talkative former governor won’t confirm or deny plans for his testimony.
Hours of recordings made in Blagojevich’s office and home are being used as evidence. “Play the tapes!” has been Blagojevich’s battle cry since he was first arrested, claiming that if all the tapes were heard by the public it would prove his innocence.
“I'm the one who wants all the tapes played. I'm the one who is saying, don’t just release them to the public, play them in court, but beyond that let the public see everything that has happened here, all the FBI interviews, every one of the tapes, and we'll see who is telling the truth” he said, in a press conference outside his home last week.
Blagojevich also talks about a phone call from Emanuel just 24 hours before Blagojevich was arrested, in which Emanuel used President Obama’s name in talks about who the former governor should appoint to the open Senate seat.
Speaking on WLS radio Blagojevich said: “They suggested (Obama senior adviser) Valerie Jarrett to me, I didn't go to them and in addition, these conversations relating to that, they didn’t arrest me until a month later. They didn’t think those were crimes. When they arrested me it was because they saw that this guy is an honest guy. He's not doing anything wrong and holy cow, if Obama says Rahm Emanuel can make this deal, he's probably going to make the (Illinois Attorney General) Lisa Madigan deal and get jobs and health care and no taxes and we'll never be able to get this guy, so get him before he does this, and if I'm wrong, why won’t they release the evidence and let you see what happened in the days and weeks leading up to the arrest.”
Blagojevich has been warned by Federal Judge James Zagel about talking too much about the trial to the media, but that hasn’t stopped him from doing a barrage of TV, radio and newspaper interviews in the days leading up the retrial. Some speculate he’s seeking media attention in trying to win the hearts and minds of potential jurors.
“I'm an innocent man, I'm seeking vindication,” Blagojevich said.