Will Blagojevich backpedal on vow to testify at corruption trial? Decision to come quickly

Will he or won't he testify?

That was the question hanging in the air about former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as his corruption trial was set to resume Wednesday.

The impeached governor's attorneys dropped a bombshell at the end of the day Tuesday when they said they could rest their case without calling a single witness — including Blagojevich, who has loudly insisted for months on television, radio and even to bystanders outside the courthouse that he would speak directly to jurors. Allegations against him include charges that he sought to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

After court adjourned Tuesday, Blagojevich's attorney Sam Adam Jr. said a final decision would be announced Wednesday.

Asked what about the prosecution's five-week presentation of evidence made Blagojevich's attorneys rethink putting their client on the stand, Adam said: "Their entire case." Adam said calling Blagojevich might appear to lend credence to charges that prosecutors haven't come close to proving.

But not calling Blagojevich to the stand would seem to contradict the fiery attorney's pledge to jurors in his opening statement last month.

"I'm telling you now, he's going testify," Adam thundered, pacing the floor in front of the jury and then poking fun at himself. "He's not gonna let some chubby, four-eyed lawyer do his talking for him." Pointing at the witness box, he added dramatically, "he's going to get up there and tell you exactly what was going on."

As of Tuesday afternoon, there appeared to be some disagreement among Blagojevich's attorneys, with Sam Adam Jr. leaning toward putting him on the stand and his father, the defense team's senior member, Sam Adam Sr., leaning against it.

"My position is that he should not go on the stand because I don't think that the government has proven their case," Adam Sr. said.

As recently as Monday, the former governor went out of his way to say he would testify.

As he approached spectators outside the courtroom, he said loudly, "Show of hands: Anyone here planning on testifying?" He then thrust his own hand high in the air, smiled and walked into court.

But asked several times during trial breaks on Tuesday whether he would testify, he only smiled or shrugged his shoulders.

It is rare for defendants in federal trials to testify in their own defense, as the former governor's brother and co-defendant, Robert Blagojevich, did this week.

On FBI wiretap recordings prosecutors played for jurors, an often profane Rod Blagojevich was heard speculating on what he could get in exchange for Obama's former Senate seat — guaranteeing a grueling cross-examination.

It is far from unheard of, however, for defense attorneys to rest their case without calling a single witness.

Before allowing it, a judge usually questions the defendant closely to ensure that he knows what he is doing and is sure of the decision. Judge James B. Zagel most likely will do that Wednesday morning if Blagojevich returns to court determined to have his attorneys rest their case immediately.

Blagojevich's lawyers told Zagel on Tuesday that they had decided not to call any witnesses, but the judge told them to take the night to sleep on it, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. That person would speak only on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to divulge the information.

The former governor, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to trade an appointment to the Senate seat for a Cabinet post in Obama's administration, an ambassadorship, a high-paying job or a massive campaign donation. He also has pleaded not guilty to scheming to launch a racketeering operation in the governor's office.

His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., real estate entrepreneur, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged plan to sell the Senate seat and playing a role in a plot to squeeze businessmen illegally for campaign contributions.

Asked on Tuesday after his two days on the stand if he thought his brother should testify, Robert Blagojevich was noncommittal, saying, "I just want what's best for him."

But the Army officer-turned-businessman was clearer about what he hoped would be the end result of a sometimes grueling trial.

"I just wanna go home to Nashville," he said.


Associated Press Writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.