Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Prosecution Deals Haymaker, Blago Brother Flounders

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Rob Blagojevich

    For most of his day, Robert Blagojevich hit the ball out of the park.

    The disgraced former governor's brother and co-defendant recounted an exemplary military record, a lifetime of charity work, and what would seem to be ultimate story of a self-made man.

    Then he came to work for his brother. But even that portion of brother Rob Blagojevich's story seemed impressive, as he deftly fended off links to the former governor's scandal with descriptions of how he walled his political role off from government.

    "Never condition any fundraising request on a government action," he said. "I was told never to tie the two, and I never did."

    Rob Blagojevich said he never even met many of the targets of his brother's alleged shakedowns, describing himself as the "scorekeeper" of the fundraising effort, not necessarily the person putting the arm on big time donors for cash.

    But when prosecutor Chris Niewoehner began his cross examination, he hit brother Robert with a quick haymaker at the very start, asking how he could justify suggesting that president-elect Obama kill the Blagojevich investigation here in Chicago, in exchange for getting his pick for a U.S. Senator.

    At first Blagojevich seemed to deny the conversation, but Niewoehner produced a transcript, where at one point, Blagojevich allegedly told his brother the governor, "Use any focus or influence you have, to get (Patrick) Fitzgerald out of your (EXPLETIVE) life!"

    It was an inauspicious end to what had been a powerful and impressive day on the stand.

    At one point, Blagojevich described how he told a group of Indian-American businessmen in no uncertain terms that he and his brother would not play ball with them on a pay-for-play move on the U.S. Senate seat. The two had offered to raise over a million dollars for the governor if he would appoint Jesse Jackson, Jr. But Blagojevich said he told them no, and could be heard later on an undercover tape declaring, "He's going to make a pick that he thinks is best for the state of Illinois. Money is not going to be a factor here!"

    In one odd moment, however, Blagojevich's own attorney played a conversation where his brother seemed to warm to the Jackson idea. Speaking about the incentives reportedly being offered, the governor urged his brother to make contact.

    "If in fact there's this, you know, this is possible, then some of the stuff's gotta start happening now!" he says. "Right now!"

    Asked to explain what his brother meant, in what was seemingly a clear conversation about money, Robert Blagojevich shrugged on the witness stand and said, "Not sure at that point."

    Robert Blagojevich returns to the witness stand Tuesday and what may be hours of grueling cross-examination at the hands of the government.  His brother, the star defendant, could take the stand by day's end.

    Blago Trial: Daily Journal 7/19