Nearly 18 months after his arrest in the dead of a Chicago winter, Blagojevich walks into the Dirksen Federal Building Thursday morning to become the star of one of the most highly anticipated corruption trials in recent history.
Like other shows Blagojevich has appeared on, this one features a star-studded cast, month's-worth of plot lines, heroes, villains and intrigue. But there's no charity contribution on the line: this time Blago's playing for up to 415 years in prison and $6 million in fines -- the maximum sentence if he's convicted on each of the 24 counts of fraud, conspiracy, bribery and racketeering of which he's accused.
Casting for the jury begins Thursday.
It will be critical factor in the drama, and the selection process will be carefully scrutinized by both sides.The defense and prosecution will be looking for different attributes.
"We're not looking for any special type of person," defense lawyer Sheldon Sorosky said. "Just anyone who can be fair and impartial."
The prosecution will likely be more choosy. Who are they looking for?
"Intelligent jurors who are not awed by celebrity," former assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Safer said. "(Jurors) who are rule followers, who are stable people, people who have been married for 30 years, live at the same address, same job. ... I believe if I'm the government, I have the goods. All I want is people who will play by the rules. And if they play by the rules, I win in a rout."
Judge James Zagel says he will call 34 prospective jurors per day, until a full panel has been selected. Zagel will question the potential jurors individually and the attorneys will not be allowed to ask questions directly.
The trial is expected to last at least four months, and will feature hundreds of hours of secretly recorded phone conversations taken from wire taps on phones in Blagojevich's political office and his home.
Former chief of staff John Harris and advisers John Wyma and Lon Monk are expected to act as the prosecution's tour guides for what the tapes represent. And because those tapes are expected to be a powerful tool for the prosecution, Blagojevich has vowed to take the stand to put them in context.
"The only way that you can combat a wiretap, is through your own testimony," Safer says. "How else do you say, 'well, what I meant was?' You can't do it, except through your own testimony."
Despite the power of Blagojevich's own testimony, the defense is banking on some high-profile witnesses to help tell their story.
Blagojevich's lawyers dropped an 11th hour bombshell Wednesday, revealing that they had subpoenaed White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel and Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett as possible defense witnesses.
Emmanuel and Jarrett are only the latest in a series of high profile politicians subpoenaed by the former governor as potential witnesses. Previously, Senators Richard Durbin and Harry Reid were subpoenaed, as was Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. It is not clear if any, or all, will actually testify.
One wild card in the case has been Blagojevich's seemingly insatiable need for attention since his arrest. He has appeared on almost endless series of interview shows, reality spectacles and comedy programs where he and the state of Illinois were the butt of the joke.
Surprisingly, the former governor did draw the line for one group of media: he almost never agreed to be interviewed by local reporters familiar with his case.
Hardest of all for Blagojevich to explain, will be the culture of sleaze which seemed to grow around him, already ensnaring former aides who have pleaded guilty and top adviser Tony Rezko, who was himself convicted in an earlier trial.
Before he was permanently banned from elective office by the general assembly which impeached him, Blagojevich had never lost an election. Now he faces the most crucial campaign of his career, and its outcome could mean decades behind bars.
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