As he spent a second day on the witness stand, Rod Blagojevich presented jurors with an alternative theory to the government’s accusation that he attempted to shake a horse racing executive down for a big campaign check.
Blagojevich is charged with holding favorable racing legislation hostage as he allegedly squeezed track owner John Johnston for a $100,000 campaign contribution.
On the witness stand Friday, Blagojevich insisted he was merely being careful. He had learned, he said, that his old friend and former fundraiser Chris Kelly, was leaning on the well-connected Johnston for help in getting a presidential pardon for his tax troubles. Johnston knew George Steinbrenner who knew Jeb Bush who could get then-President George Bush to pardon Kelly.
"It was a big red flag for me," Blagojevich said.
He said he feared that if he met with Kelly, federal investigators would think he signed the bill to advance the fundraiser’s questionable agenda.
"I’m for the bill," Blagojevich tells an aide on a tape played by the defense. "I’ll do it on my time. I don’t want him contaminating it by talking to me."
The defense presented little other evidence to bolster the Kelly scenario. But Blagojevich insisted he was shocked by Kelly’s sudden interest in speaking to him, and that he wanted to follow the letter of the law.
"I didn't want to get caught up in something that was wrong," the former governor said.
But that wasn’t all. Blagojevich also said he feared House Speaker Mike Madigan might have poisoned the bill with language limiting his powers as governor. He said his legal staff carefully scrutinized every bill, even the ones the administration favored, before he added his signature, calling the speaker’s actions, "Madigan shenanigans."
He insisted he had always intended to sign it into law.
"Were you holding up this bill so you could get a campaign contribution?" asked defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein.
"No, I was not," Blagojevich said. "My intention was to follow the law, and not cross any lines."
Indeed, the defense team replayed several tapes, in which they insisted Blagojevich was being careful to advise former aide Lon Monk, not to associate fundraising with the signing of the bill, as he solicited Johnston’s check.
Throughout his testimony, the former governor casually slipped in the accomplishments of his administration, like free rides for seniors, and greater access to mammograms for women.
And he offered an aside about the fundraising practices which had at one time served him very well.
"This is the system we have in America. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it's protected by the First Amendment. I think it’s a very imperfect, flawed system."
And in the same self-effacing style he offered in his first day of testimony, the former governor apologized for his well-known tendency to sometimes shoot from the hip.
"My words sometimes outpace my ideas, and my good judgement."
Testimony continues at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.