High Drama Ahead in Blago Trial

A mayor, a congressman and a sitting governor who was arrested in his pajamas. They're all about to testify in a federal criminal case.

Stop rolling your eyes at the second Rod Blagojevich trial, Chicago. It's about to get really good.

If all goes according to defense plans (and these plans have changed abruptly in the past), Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on just his ninth day in office, is expected to be the first defense witness.

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who was the subject of much speculation surrounding the Barack Obama senate seat, has been asked to report to the Dirksen Federal Building as well, and could be witness No. 2.

Before Blagojevich himself takes the stand, the jury will leave the courtroom while lawyers hash out which tapes will be permitted during the former governor's testimony. That could be a lengthy argument, and a Blagojevich appearance in the witness box is not expected Wednesday.

Just how the mayor helps the Blagojevich defense isn't clear. While still a congressman, he was the point person for president-elect Barack Obama, in discussions with Blagojevich over who would be appointed as Obama's successor in the Senate.

It is known that after first expressing a preference for Valerie Jarrett, an appointment for whom he said Obama would be "grateful and appreciative," Emanuel offered a list of other "acceptable" names, which included Tammy Duckworth, Dan Hynes, Jackson and congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

Blagojevich is accused of attempting to pressure the Obama transition team for a cabinet post, in exchange for granting their senate picks. It is also alleged that he hoped the president-elect would fund a private foundation, which he might have "parachuted into" after his time in office. Whether those offers ever reached Emanuel's ears has not been established.

Emanuel could also be asked about a purported Blagojevich scheme to offer the senate seat to Lisa Madigan, in hopes of currying favor with her father, the powerful speaker of the Illinois House. Blagojevich has insisted that was his real plan in hopes of securing promises from Madigan that Illinois citizens would not have to face a tax hike. But no evidence was presented that any concrete steps were ever taken to advance that plan.

Congressman Jackson, on the other hand, actually met with Blagojevich to present his credentials during the vetting process. He made no secret of the fact that he wanted the job. On undercover tapes, Blagojevich is heard calling the idea of appointing Jackson a "repugnant" thought. Later however, he seemed to warm to the idea, after Jackson intermediaries allegedly offered over a million dollars in fundraising.

Neither Jackson nor Emanuel has been accused of wrongdoing.

It will all be high drama, with an awkward interruption for the long Memorial Day weekend. If Blagojevich follows the current plan and takes the stand himself, however, it also comes at considerable risk. Despite his considerable personal charms, the former governor would be exposed to potentially withering cross examination. It is expected that judge James Zagel would give prosecutors wide latitude

During his first trial last summer, Blagojevich vowed repeatedly to testify. But in the end, his defense team rested without calling any witnesses.

Contact Us