Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to testify at his corruption retrial, possibly as soon as Thursday, but he and his lawyers may still have reason to feel queasy about the prospect.
Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig told The Associated Press late Wednesday that the former governor planned to testify but it wasn't clear when defense attorneys would call him to the stand. The defense is set to resume its case Thursday.
Blagojevich could be a formidable witness if he's well prepared and maintains his cool, but he's sure to face a blistering cross-examination from prosecutors. During his first trial last year, Blagojevich's attorneys rested without calling a single witnesses -- including Blagojevich.
Judge James Zagel is considering requests from the defense to play new FBI wiretap recordings while Blagojevich is on the stand to supplement his testimony. Zagel ruled on some recordings Wednesday, at one point telling his lawyers that Blagojevich could speak to jurors about some issues far better than the tapes.
"Let him speak for himself -- he'll do a better job," Zagel said. Citing Blagojevich's successful runs for governor as proof he could hold his own on the stand, Zagel described Blagojevich as "someone who has persuaded people into believing him on two occasions."
But the former governor could have second thoughts before stepping into the witness stand. Federal prosecutors are likely to replay FBI wiretaps that captured his blunt and profanity-laced talk, and their adeptness at using at least one defense witness to hurt him could also give Blagojevich pause.
In their cross-examination of U.S. Rep Jesse Jackson Jr., prosecutors asked him about an unrelated incident, previously reported by the AP. Jackson confirmed Blagojevich had once considered Jackson's wife for a position as head of the Illinois lottery. Jackson said his wife didn't get the promised appointment after Jackson refused to give Blagojevich a $25,000 campaign donation.
Jackson claimed Blagojevich later apologized the appointment didn't pan out but made it clear the donation was part of the reason.
"He snapped both fingers and said, 'You should have given me that $25,000,'" Jackson testified, pantomiming a pose from the governor's idol, Elvis Presley.
Another high-profile witness to take the stand Wednesday was Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Emanuel testified that, in his former job as chief of staff to President Barack Obama, he knew of no deal in which Blagojevich had asked for a top job in exchange for appointing Obama's preferred candidate to the president-elect's vacant U.S. Senate seat in 2008.
Some of the 20 charges filed against Blagojevich involve allegations that he tried to sell or trade the seat to benefit himself. Blagojevich's initial trial ended largely deadlocked, with jurors agreeing on just one charge and convicting him of lying to the FBI.
There's always the chance that defense attorneys could make a game-day decision that Blagojevich should not testify, possibly if Zagel rules out recordings that defense attorneys consider key.
Zagel sounded agitated as he ruled out several tapes that defense attorneys said supported their contention that Blagojevich was trying to cut a legal political deal where he would appoint Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat if her father, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, would push through legislation favored by Blagojevich.
"You are talking about a deal that -- insofar as I know -- existed in the mind of your client and nowhere else," Zagel snapped at one point.
Blagojevich's testimony also could carry other pitfalls. In federal court, if a defendant who testifies in his or her own defense is convicted, that testimony could be considered perjury -- a finding that could add months or years to a sentence.
If convicted on all counts, Blagojevich faces a maximum prison term of 350 years. Federal guidelines would dictate that he get far less, though federal judges can consider multiple factors in sentencing, including a defendant's willingness to accept responsibility.