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Obama Phone Call Derailed Blagojevich Senate Deal

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Obama Phone Call Derailed Blagojevich Senate Deal

Former governor Rod Blagojevich had a deal with former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones to nominate Jones for President Obama's Senate seat, the prosecution's star witness said today -- but Obama's own political calculations undermined the plan.

Retaking the witness stand this afternoon, Blagojevich's former roommate Lon Monk said that Blagojevich had a deal with Jones that he would kill an ethics bill which was going to limit Blagojevich's ability to raise money if Blagojevich agreed to appoint him to Barack Obama's senate seat when/if Obama won the presidential election.

It looked like they had an agreement, Monk said, but Obama called Jones and asked him to call the bill to a vote in order to help his presidential chances.  Jones agreed.  The ethics legislation went into law, and the deal was off to make Jones the U.S. Senator.

Emil Jones did not return repeated calls for comment.

The bill made it illegal for individuals or companies getting state business to make donations, said Monk. Blagojevich issued an amendatory veto on the legislation which softened some of the restrictions, but the House overrode the veto, and the Senate did the same. The legislation went into effect January 1, 2009, and the prosecution contends that it forced Blagojevich to increase his illicit fundraising activities in 2008 before it took effect.

As for Jones, it has long been suspected that either Jones or Jesse Jackson Jr. was the person known as Senate Candidate #5 in the criminal complaint against Blagojevich.

That Blagojevich had a possible deal with Jones could be politically embarassing for the president. Jones, after all, was Obama's guide through the intricacies of the Illinois legislature. He's often been referred to as Obama's "godfather."

Jones gave Obama entre to key decision makers in Springfield, appointing him early on to a bipartisan task force that drafted ethics legislation, helped him work on establishing a state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, and helping him work with Republicans on softening state welfare restrictions.

And when Obama was gearing up for a presidential run, it was Jones who courted support among Illinois' black Democrats.

Earlier Today:

One, two, three, four.

That simple sequence of numbers was at the heart of former governor Rod Blagojevich's money-making schemes, according to his former roommate Lon Monk, who retook the stand today to testify for the prosecution.

Monk, looking calm and composed and once again not meeting Blagojevich's stare, testified that the quartet of chums -- he, Rezko, Christopher Kelly and Blagojevich -- referred to each other as 1-2-3-4 during meetings in which they discussed ways to make money off state action. In the meetings, they would hold up fingers to symbolize that.

"If you're ever asked about this," Blagojevich said, according to Monk, "don't talk about it." Blagojevich then raised each finger slowly before running a single finger across his throat as a warning , Monk said.

Blagojevich recoiled at that characterization and appeared to say something under his breath. 

Monk also testified about how two of the friends, Rezko and Kelly, submitted lists of who they wanted in influential positions on state boards and commissions -- despite the fact that neither had any role in state government. Monk said these individuals were almost always big donors, and Blagojevich called them "ambassadorships."

"They ought to donate money if they were going to be in these spots," Monk said, paraphrasing Blagojevich.

In one case regarding the Illinois Finance Authority, Rezko especially wanted  one of his people, Ali Ata to be executive director, Monk said. Blagojevich was required by law to submit two names to the board for consideration.  He eventually submitted Ata and a person they didn't even talk to who wasn't qualified, so Ata would be chosen, Monk said.

Through two days of testimony, Monk hasn't once looked to his left in the direction of Blagojevich. The former governor, meanwhile, has rarely stopped looking at Monk, save to shake his head.

Those head shakes got him in trouble with Zagel earlier in the day.

Prosecutors complained this morning that Blagojevich repeatedly expressed his disgust in ways the jury could see and hear during Monk's testimony Wednesday.

"It's not proper for decorum and it's clearly distracting," said prosecutor Reid Scharr, asking Judge Zagel to direct Blagojevich to stop. The judge agreed. 

"Both defendants are advised not to express views by gestures or facial expressions," he said.

But Blagojevich couldn't help himself once Monk took the stand.

Prosecutors also advised the judge that some testimony today would involve Patti Blagojevich and asked that she be excluded from the courtroom, because she is expected to testify later in the trial.  Patti Blagojevich left the court at the end of lunch, parting with a kiss on the cheek from her husband.

For the first time since the trial began, Blagojevich did not speak to reporters when he arrived this morning.

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