The time is fast-approaching when Rod Blagojevich must reveal his intentions. Will he take the stand to give his side of the story in his corruption trial in federal court? Or as he did last year, will he bypass a defense altogether, resting on a contention that the government has not proven its case?
The latter strategy almost paid off for the former governor in his first trial, with the government snaring a guilty verdict on only a single count. But this trial has featured a much different strategy from prosecutors. Some elements of the case have been stripped out completely, complicated counts have been simplified, ponderous witnesses on the stand for days have been relegated to a scant few hours of testimony.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that they are now down to their last few witnesses, and the timing they outlined for the judge suggests the government could rest its case by the end of this week. After that, Judge James Zagel will turn to the former governor and his legal team, and ask if the governor plans to mount a defense.
Tuesday, Blagojevich's lawyers tried to stage something of a dry run of the strategy they believe the jury should be allowed to hear. Construction executive Gerald Krozel had testified that he felt pressured to raise money for Blagojevich after the governor announced a massive renovation program for the Illinois tollway, which meant lucrative jobs for the roadbuilding industry.
With the jury excused from the room, defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein asked Krozel about his political donation history, a procedure known as an "offer of proof," where the judge can approve the questions and call the jury back in to hear them in live testimony.
During the exercise, Krozel admitted he had been very politically active for more than 20 years, a lesson he said he learned in 1982 from then-governor James Thompson. At the time, Krozel said construction executives were trying to convince Thompson to use concrete, instead of lower priced asphalt, to resurface sections of the Eisenhower expressway.
Krozel said Thompson told him bluntly, "You need to get politically involved." After that, he said his organization contributed to Thompson's political fund, and Thompson approved the paving project.
Goldstein argued that Krozel and other witnesses who had complained of being shaken down by Blagojevich were actually savvy political operators who had contributed heavily in the past.
"These are the same people who fundraise for other politicians," Goldstein said. "The only difference is we have a man here on trial."
"These are the same people who played the game," he told the judge. "They fundraise, and there is state action close to it. Nine hundred times before, it doesn't seem to be a problem."
Zagel denied Goldstein's request to let the jury hear Krozel's answers.
Later in the day, longtime Blagojevich friend Alonzo Monk, his former chief of staff, testified about the early days of the administration. Monk recalled meeting with the governor, as well as fundraisers Chris Kelly and Tony Rezko, to discuss ways of profiting from state government.
He said that in a strategy session at Rezko's office, the developer suggested eight to 10 ideas where the four could divide up the spoils of state government. But, as in the last trial, Monk seemed to have trouble remembering exactly what ideas Rezko suggested.
Monk said the money was to be held for Blagojevich until he left office, but the entire scheme fell apart when Rezko became the target of a federal investigation in 2005.