It's been pure theater inside the federal courtroom of Judge James Zagel as our former governor is put on trial for allegations of corruption -- most notably, trying to sell the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. If the trial has been a bit too much to keep up with, worry not: We've got you covered with this wrap-up of what's gone on so far.
The trial really got under way with opening statements on June 8, after the jury had been whittled down from a pool of nearly 90 people. Rod Blagojevich greets reporters and spectators outside the Dirksen Federal Building with his usual smiles and declarations of innocence. Inside the courtroom, Zagel bans tweeting. A jury of 11 women 7 men (13 white, 4 black, 1 Asian) is seated. Prosecutors announce that Blago's theme song was, "What About Me?" as he was auditioning potential senators to fill Obama's vacant seat. Defense for Rod's brother, Robert, tries to distance him from the ousted governor. Robert not to be reported on again. Rod's defense counters, saying the ex-governor was just an insecure guy who would say pretty much anything, although he didn't really mean it.
And we're off ...
Prosecutors begin the process of calling their witnesses on June 9, a process which will take the rest of the month. The key players are:
- Daniel Cain, an FBI veteran, is first on the stand. He testifies about how the wiretaps were done.
- Alonzo "Lon" Monk, Blago's friend and former chief of staff, who's already pleaded guilty to bribery charges, takes the stand next. He's trying to cut a deal to reduce his prison time by testifying against Blagojevich. Over several days, he lays out a series of money-making schemes he says were masterminded by four men: Blagojevich, Tony Rezko, Christopher Kelly, and himself. Monk says they even used secret sign language and referred to each other as 1, 2, 3 and 4 during their covert meetings. As his close friend and college roommate testifies, Blagojevich alternates between squirming and sending Monk a deadly glare. Defense attorneys paint Monk as a liar out to save his own skin who played the governor for a fool.
- Joseph Armanda, an associate of convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko, testifies that he took part in money-making opportunities, in which he split the profits with the Fantastic Four (Blago, Rezko, Kelly and Monk), including an alleged $600,000 kickback scheme.
- Joseph Cari, a former national Democratic fundraiser, testifies he was approached by Blagojevich donor Stuart Levine about a deal where the governor would give state contracts to people he'd later shake down for campaign cash. Cari says if he played ball and raised money for Blagojevich, Levine told him his personal business would benefit.
In a memorable, if unbelievable, moment outside the courtroom, Cari dramatically falls to the ground and flails after a little bump from a cameraman.
- Jill Hayden, the director of Boards and Commissions under Blago, testifies Rezko had a lot of influence over who was put on boards.
- Ali Ata, a Rezko associate, testifies he gave Blago a big campaign donation in exchange for an appointment to a $126,000 a year job.
- John Johnston, a racetrack owner, testifies he was shaken down for campaign contributions to Blagojevich in exchange for the governor's signature on a bill that diverted casino proceeds to racing venues -- sending $9,000 a day to Johnston's tracks.
- Bradley Tusk, Illinois' Deputy Governor under Blagojevich, testifies about an alleged extortion attempt against Rahm Emanuel. Tusk says the governor threatened to withhold grant money from a school in Emanuel's congressional district until he got a campaign contribution.
Meat & Potatoes
Prosecutors reach the heart of their case, calling former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris to the stand on June 21. Harris testifies for seven days, laying out the insider schemes central to the charges against Blagojevich. Harris says the governor was serious when trying to get Tribune editorial board members fired, and Blagojevich tried to withhold state business from firms who refused to hire his wife. The secretly recorded conversations between Harris and Blagojevich show off a vulgar, demanding governor who was scheming to get out of Illinois by cashing in on the what he saw as a valuable appointment to the U.S. Senate. The phone calls include talk of a plan to appoint Oprah to the Senate, or, more reasonably, putting Valerie Jarrett in the spot -- who Blago believed was Obama's choice -- in exchange for an ambassadorship, or presidential cabinet post.
- Doug Scofield, a senior advisor to the governor, is up next. The taped conversations now play like a greatest hits, including the infamous "bleepin golden" conversation. On the tapes, the brainstorming sessions escalate as the governor tries to find a way to make the most out of the Senate appointment. Scofield testifies he was only half-listening to the governor at the time.
- Tom Balanoff, the president of the SEIU, testifies Blagojevich was clearly out to benefit himself. Balanoff plays a connecting role between the Obama administration and Blagojevich, allegedly playing the middle man between the two. The secretly recorded phone calls get weirder, with Blago saying he'd appoint Jan Schakowsky to the Senate if she could prove her ancestors came over on a slave ship.
They Did It All For Fashion
- Shari Schindler, an IRS agent, testifies about the financial mess the Blagojevich family was in. For years, they spent more than they earned, including a whopping $400,000 on clothes since he took office. On the same day, an accountant testifies Patti was paid by a company owned by Rezko for doing absolutely nothing.
The trial continues on July 6.
*** WEEK THREE ***
Thursday, June 24 Journal -- "Appreciation? F*** them!"
*** WEEK TWO ***
*** WEEK ONE ***