Blagojevich Corruption Trial May Call Obama Administration Officials As Witnesses
"My government is doing something very wrong to me and my family," Blagojevich told a radio audience in one of his most recent public pronouncements of innocence. "That will soon be over when we begin on Thursday."
Prosecutors see a chance to send a second-straight governor to prison in one of the biggest political trials ever in this corruption-plagued state. U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel's courtroom is expected to be packed with reporters, lawyers and simple curiosity seekers even as jury selection begins.
"This blows every other political story out of the newspapers and off the air," Roosevelt University political scientist Paul Green said.
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts including racketeering, wire fraud, attempted extortion and bribery. He and his co-defendant brother -- 54-year-old Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich -- deny scheming to sell or trade the president's old Senate seat for personal gains.
The former governor also is charged with plotting to turn his administration into a giant moneymaking operation with profits to be divided between himself and a circle of advisers and fundraisers after he left office.
The Democrat was impeached and ousted about seven weeks after his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest and has since pleaded his case to the public from radio to reality TV.
Now comes jury selection in a trial that is just the latest chapter in U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald's attack on corruption in a state where politics have long been awash in patronage and payoffs. Blagojevich's predecessor, Republican George Ryan, is serving a 6 1/2-year racketeering and fraud sentence in federal prison.
"The U.S. attorney is trying to bring about a sea-change in the political culture of this state," says DePaul University law Professor Leonard Cavise.
If convicted, Blagojevich faces a maximum of 415 years in prison and fines totaling $6 million.
Judge Zagel said he plans to question up to 34 jurors a day until a jury is seated. The final panel will consist of 12 jurors plus a thus-far unspecified number of alternates.
On Wednesday, attorneys close to the case said Blagojevich's defense has subpoenaed White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as a witness. The attorneys spoke on condition of anonymity because the subpoena had not been made public.
If Emanuel did take the stand, he might be asked about what effort if any the White House made to get Blagojevich to appoint Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat. Jarrett had been mentioned as a candidate but withdrew to become a presidential adviser. She also has been subpoenaed by the defense, a White House official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Neither Jarrett nor Emanuel is accused of any wrongdoing.
The indictment accuses Blagojevich of ordering an associate to pressure Emanuel, then a Chicago congressman, to get his Hollywood agent brother to raise campaign funds. It says the governor urged the associate to threaten to withhold a state grant for a school in Emanuel's congressional district. But nothing in the indictment suggests Emanuel ever was threatened.
Federal prosecutors have 500 hours of secretly recorded FBI wiretaps of Blagojevich and his associates. But Blagojevich's attorneys have said, if played in their entirety, the recordings would show he did not try to sell the Senate seat.
They say he planned to award it to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in exchange for a deal with her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, to get tax, health care and jobs legislation through the House. Prosecutors are expected to call that deal largely fiction.
Neither Madigan has been accused of any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors have lined up numerous key witnesses to testify at what could be a four-month trial. They include Blagojevich's former chiefs of staff John Harris and Alonzo "Lon" Monk.
Monk, Blagojevich's law school roommate who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to solicit a bribe in the form of campaign contributions from a racetrack owner, was with the governor at the outset of his administration and is guaranteed to be asked about alleged efforts to use the office to generate profit.
Harris, who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell the Senate seat, is guaranteed to be asked for full details.
Associated Press Writer Erica Werner in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.