This is it. The week we finally get to see, and hear, Rod Blagojevich's long-awaited defense.
Judge James Zagel and attorneys from both sides return to court Monday morning to hammer out a few details. Zagel has unrelated out-of-town business Tuesday, but on Wednesday, if the planets are aligned just so, the Blagojevich defense will begin.
Cynics, of course, are already bellowing, "We've heard that one before." And they have. Last year, last trial, Blagojevich promised everyone under the sun he would take the stand and testify.
Then he didn't, and no one else did either. It was a strategy which nearly paid off. The former governor was convicted on one lone charge: lying to the FBI. The jury failed to reach a decision on the remaining counts, paving the way for the drama now unfolding in Judge Zagel's walnut-paneled courtroom.
But this trial is a very different animal. It has been shorter, with fewer witnesses. More importantly, it has been much more focused. Instead of hopscotching through the evidence as they did in the first trial, prosecutors lumped most topics into five, easily understood buckets.
Bucket No. 1 one featured the allegations about the Obama senate seat. The second showcased the alleged shakedown of the head of Children's Hospital. Three was an allegation about an extortion attempt on road builders hoping to cash in on improvements to the Illinois tollway. No. 4 featured an alleged attempt to glean campaign contributions from a racing executive in exchange for favorable legislation. And No. 5 was the alleged shakedown of a northwest side school.
Just those five topics, with none of the associated isn't-Rod-a-jerk window dressing. Gone were the over-the-top details about the first couple's spending habits. Also missing, the attempts to find a position for wife Patti with Chicago financial firms, and allegations she had a do-nothing realty job. Ditto were the hardest-to-understand allegations of all, about financial hijinks associated with state boards and commissions.
The defense? Here it is: At the racetrack, the tollway and, yes, even Children's Hospital, all of the alleged shakedowns targeted seasoned political veterans who certainly knew how the game was played. Each was a wealthy executive who had given heavily in the past to politicians who had done similar favors for their respective industries. Follow this argument, and Blagojevich had a right to expect similar gratitude. (The jury heard virtually nothing about that giving, though. If the defense wants to bring it in, they will have to find a way to do it in their own case.)
But in the case of the alleged shakedown of the northwest side school, team Blagojevich had its moments. The allegation was that Blagojevich delayed a promised grant to the school, in an attempt to force then-congressman Rahm Emanuel to facilitate a fundraiser through his wealthy brother. On cross examination, the defense showed that the school did get its money without the fundraiser ever being held.
The one bucket with no explanation as of yet, is the Senate seat. And that's the one where the jury probably wants to hear from the governor himself. Thus, the decision, as of last week, to put him on the stand to try and dig the ball out of the Senate bucket.
Others on the witness list had sometime roles in the Obama Senate drama: Rahm Emanuel, Jesse Jackson Jr., Valerie Jarrett, Senators Dick Durbin and Harry Reid. But none of those witnesses, even all five, would offer much to negate the damaging undercover tapes played in court. The only person who potentially could attempt that, would be Rod Blagojevich himself.
If he does testify, and if he attempts to tell his version of the story, it will be the best show in Chicago. Never mind those 20,000 tickets to a certain TV star's farewell. Blagojevich on the stand, will be the must-see event of the year in Chicago.
The passes are free, but seating is limited.