Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Blago Lawyers Get Turn to Question Harris

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The defense on Thursday could get their first chance to cross examine Rod Blagojevich's former chief-of-staff John Harris after a blistering two days on the witness stand.

    So far Harris has painted a picture of an Illinois governor obsessed with a single question: "What's in it for me." It's part of a new prosecution strategy designed to drill home a single point, that the Barack Obama senate seat was a "golden ticket" that Blagojevich hoped to use as the entry to a better life.

    Harris acted as the jury's guide as they listened to a series of undercover tapes. On those recordings, Blagojevich describes the deep depression he went into on the night he was re-elected governor, his knowledge that he faced almost certain impeachment and a series of schemes surrounding the Obama senate seat that were so unlikely they seemed almost comical.

    On the tapes, Blagojevich openly discusses what he can get for granting Obama's wish to have Valerie Jarrett appointed senator. At several points, he hopes to be appointed secretary of Health and Human Services; he speculates about landing a position as ambassador to the United Nations, India or the Court of St. James; he hopes to muscle a national labor union with Obama ties into letting him run its national political organization; he even comes up with an idea for a political advocacy organization, which he hopes the new president himself will help fund.

    "I mean he's got his whole network of contributors," Blagojevich observes on one tape, mentioning names like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. "Why not just get them turned on to do something like that?" Blagojevich described a scenario where the billionaires would pony up millions of dollars for an organization Blagojevich would control, and Obama would get his first choice as senator.

    But at the same time, the embattled governor bristles at the thought of simply "giving Obama what he wants," without getting something in return. "So we now know they aren't willing to give me anything but appreciation?" he asks Harris incredulously. "(Expletive) them!"

    At one point, Blagojevich concedes that the Obama forces are probably leery of the corruption baggage he might bring to a cabinet position, especially the ties to convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko. But speaking about the president-elect, he quickly adds, "I'm more pristine on Rezko than him!"

    For the government, the trial strategy is crystal clear. Gone are the ponderous witnesses who trooped to the stand in the first trial, spinning confusing tales about the arcane world of state boards and commissions. For the second trial, the government gave their audience, the Blagojevich jury, exactly what they were expecting: the alleged sale of the Barack Obama Senate seat, as a lurid Act One.

    Harris was arrested along with Blagojevich in December 2008. He is testifying under a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors.