Rod Blagojevich returns to the witness stand Thursday morning, with a warning from Judge James Zagel still ringing in his ears.
“I’m putting the jury in the box at 9:30,” Zagel warned the defense team. “Don’t be late!”
The judge had accused Blagojevich’s lawyers of stalling, repeatedly asking virtually the same question and getting the same answer. And he threatened to interrupt the defense if things didn’t speed up soon.
“I’m inclined to give the government a chance to start its cross examination,” Zagel warned.
It was a bad day for Blagojevich, who, along with his lawyers, repeatedly clashed with the judge. At one point Zagel accused the former governor of attempting to “smuggle” in testimony the judge had previously branded off-limits.
Earlier in the day, the former governor and his lawyers attempted to demonstrate that he had relied on the lessons of history as he wheeled and dealed on the Obama Senate seat. With the jury out of the room, the defense team offered a dress rehearsal of what they hoped to ask officially on the record.
Blagojevich started out by saying he never felt he had done anything illegal.
“Did you honestly believe that the idea of exchanging the Senate seat for Health and Human Services was legal?” he was asked. “Yes I did,” Blagojevich replied.
Blagojevich said he had not only relied on the counsel of advisors, but also his own voracious knowledge of American politics. He noted that Gerald Ford had once offered everything from cabinet positions to an ambassadorship, to dissuade Ronald Reagan from running for president. California Gov. Earl Warren, he recalled, accepted a promise of a Supreme Court nomination for supporting Dwight Eisenhower. Hillary Clinton negotiated a $10 million dollar gift from Barack Obama to retire her campaign debt, and she supported him for President.
“That I would land in a legal place was always on my mind,” Blagojevich said. “These discussions were brainstorming, because I felt this was a unique opportunity.”
Zagel refused to let the former governor articulate his ideas in front of the jury. The historical references, he ruled, were not analogous to his case. And he ruled that while the governor could say that he was acting in good faith, he could not say that he thought a swap of one thing for another was legal.
It was par for the course on a day where the judge’s demeanor betrayed patience which had apparently been exhausted. At one point, he became furious when Blagojevich suggested that a tape transcript had omitted language favorable to his case.
“I said something there,” Blagojevich said. “But it’s not there now.”
Zagel was furious. He cleared the room and raked both the governor and his lawyers over the judicial coals.
“This is a deliberate effort by this witness to suggest that something that was good was eliminated,” he said. “This is not fair!”
Noting that Blagojevich had questioned a section of the transcript where asterisks denoted conversation which had been deemed irrelevant, Zagel said, “He’s going to obey my order, where he is never to refer to those asterisks again!”
Adding insult to injury, at day’s end, a weary Blagojevich acted confused during the playing of one tape, asking his lawyer, “I don’t know what I’m saying here. Who am I talking about?”
Looking forlorn, he listened to one tape, where he had told advisors that even the ambassadorship to Macedonia did not appear to be in his future.
“Another stupid idea that was going nowhere,” he said, with more than a hint of wistfulness in his voice. “Tiny little Macedonia. There was no place for me, even there!”