Lawyers for Rod Blagojevich were told today they should plan on calling their client at the earliest part of their case, not last, as many have expected. It appears the former governor could take the stand by the middle of next week. And White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel could make an appearance during the first week of the defense as well.
Thursday was a day off for the jury, but attorneys for both sides were in court, hammering out which tapes Blagojevich and his brother might use in their defense. Out of dozens they requested, only 10 more were granted today, with most rejected on hearsay grounds, or the judge's declaration that they are not relevant.
One tape which will be permitted is a December 4, 2008 conversation, which takes place between Rod Blagojevich and his attorney, minutes after Blagojevich learns he has been secretly recorded by the FBI. (Presumably he does not realize that this conversation is being recorded as well).
Blagojevich tells his attorney William Quinlan, that he may have been heard on tape talking to an aide about a request for fund-raising from the chairman of Children's Memorial Hospital. "You know, one is not for the other. We just did something for Children's Memorial. See if they can do something for me ... That's not a problem is it?"
The call is important for the defense, because Blagojevich is saying that he had already taken action to help the hospital, and only after the fact asked for campaign help. It is the government's position that the former governor not only asked for the donation, but then ordered aides to hold up the help for Children's, when the chairman of the hospital balked at raising money.
In most cases, Judge James Zagel was skeptical of the tapes the Blagojevich lawyers wanted to play. Describing one, he said, "Sounds like a conversation somebody would have if they thought they were being recorded."
Speaking about another recording, he said, "It is a mystery to me why under any circumstances you would want this." Zagel said on that tape the former governor sounded like "he wants to shut down state government and blame it on somebody else."
The defense asked for two tapes between Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris, and White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel. Both were rejected.
Another tape seemed of only marginal help for the former governor. On it, he reportedly speculated that a bill designed to help the Illinois horse racing industry should not go forward, because it had been "hopelessly contaminated" by his fundraiser, Christopher Kelly.
It is still unclear, how attorneys plan to proceed with witnesses as they begin the governor's defense. Tentatively, they described a scenario where former budget chief John Filan would testify, possibly followed by Robert Blagojevich, and his wife Julie. Rod Blagojevich, they said, would most likely take the stand Wednesday at the earliest.
But the lawyers held out the possibility that Rahm Emanuel could be called before the governor, if they could work out scheduling with the White House.