It may be a lie to you, but to a politician, it’s a “misdirection play.”
Thus was delivered the parsing of the political language by Rod Blagojevich, as prosecutors pounded him in his first day of cross-examination.
It came during a cringe-worthy moment every defense lawyer dreads: a defendant forced to admit that he had lied. Jurors are left with the impression that the witness has just told them, essentially, that he not only lied once, but there might be others they haven’t discovered.
One of those was obvious: the outcome of Blagojevich’s first trial.
“Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, right?” asked prosecutor Reid Schar. The former governor was forced to admit that he was, since that was the lone count on which he was convicted.
After that, Schar pounded away at other untruths, some of which Blagojevich fought, others he was forced to concede.
“Is it fair to say, sir, that as a politician you lied to the public?” Schar asked.
“I’ll object to that!” Blagojevich declared. Sometimes it was hard to tell who was objecting to what, they were flying so frequently. At one especially confusing moment, when his lawyers rose to their feet while he was still answering, Blagojevich, acting startled, said, “You can’t object to me!”
“I try to be as truthful as possible,” Blagojevich told Schar. “Politics is a difficult business.”
But Schar forced Blagojevich to admit that he had planted a phony story about the Senate selection process with Sun-Times columnist Michel Sneed.
“That was a lie,” Schar said.
“That was a misdirection play in politics,” Blagojevich corrected.
“It was a lie,” Schar fired back.
“I don’t see it that way,” Blagojevich countered. “It’s the quarterback faking a hand off and throwing long. It’s part of the political business.”
Attorneys estimated the cross-examination will stretch well into Tuesday, maybe longer, if the courtroom histrionics cannot be maintained. After the jury left the room for the day, Judge James Zagel threatened to impose sanctions on Blagojevich, if he couldn’t confine his answers to the actual questions Schar was asking.
At the end of Thursday’s testimony, the government raised the issue of oily Blagojevich financier Tony Rezko. Blagojevich admitted that he had told aides he was worried that Rezko was talking to the FBI. And he conceded that he had likewise informed them, he would hold his announcement of a Senate pick until safely after Rezko was sentenced.
“I was concerned about published reports that you were trying to make Mr. Rezko lie about me, and President Obama," Blagojevich declared.
The day delved into the bizarre earlier, when the Blagojevich defense team elicited that the former governor had told aides he was considering taking the senate seat himself, so he could go to Afghanistan to hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Prosecutors objected and the story ended there.
But the defense strategy was clear that in Rod Blagojevich’s world, the weird and wacky were sometimes everyday occurrences. That’s exactly the impression they hoped to leave with the jury: that Blagojevich was a governor who sometimes shot from the hip and sometimes “brainstormed” some zany ideas, but in the end was a benevolent governor who always had the people’s best interests in mind.
For a play-by-play of the day's activity, read our live blog.