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updated: 5/27/2011 5:47 PM

Blagojevich finishes second day of testimony

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  • In this courtroom sketch, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, takes the witness stand in his second corruption trial, Thursday

      In this courtroom sketch, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, takes the witness stand in his second corruption trial, Thursday
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

Rod Blagojevich, testifying Friday for a second day, switched his focus from a virtual monologue about his wholesome youth to describing a rough-and-tumble political world where even his best friends were scheming behind his back.

A less-animated Blagojevich offered details to jurors in his corruption retrial about the legislative process and the necessity of political fundraising. Gone were the gestures, laughs and tears that punctuated his first-day testimony about his upbringing, meeting his wife and his early career.

Blagojevich, 54, once again did not get to the most explosive allegation -- that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. He is set to return to the stand Tuesday after the Memorial Day holiday, and his attorneys said they may not address the Senate seat charge until late next week. Prosecutors could cross-examine him for days afterward.

All of Blagojevich's testimony Friday centered on allegations that he tried to shake down racetrack executive John Johnston for a $100,000 campaign contribution by withholding his signature on a bill that benefited the horse-racing industry.

As he did on Thursday, Blagojevich frequently veered off-topic. While Judge James Zagel let him stray into tangents a day earlier, he frequently stopped Blagojevich on Friday when testimony dealt with the charges.

"See if you can answer a question yes or no," Zagel, exasperated, told Blagojevich at one point.

"Sorry, sorry your honor," Blagojevich responded.

One of Blagojevich's two daughters, 14-year-old Amy, listened to her father's testimony Friday as she sat with her mother's arm around her. Blagojevich faced criticism for bringing his daughters to court at the first trial, but Blagojevich has said they should not be shielded from the reality of his legal predicament.

In addressing the race-track allegation, the twice-elected governor conceded he had been eager to secure what he said was an already-promised a contribution from Johnston. But when his attorney, Aaron Goldstein, asked if he was refusing to sign the bill in order to squeeze Johnston for money, Blagojevich denied it.

"No, I was not," he said, his voice firm. "My intention was to follow the law ... and be careful not to cross any lines."

Urging donors to follow through on advance commitments was critical for politicians as they planned far in advance for hard election fights, he told jurors. It is an "imperfect and flawed system," he added, but, "This is the system we have in America."

He said the blame for what he called the false accusation that he was trying to shake down Johnston lay, at least, in part with two of his oldest friends, both of whom were also top advisers during his governorship -- Lon Monk and Chris Kelly.

Monk took the stand for the government during the prosecution's three-week case. Kelly, once a top fundraiser for Blagojevich, committed suicide in 2009 just days before he was to report to prison to begin a term on tax and mail fraud convictions.

In explaining why he was so slow to sign a bill he had supported, Blagojevich pointed the finger at Kelly and offered a sometimes-convoluted account that involved players from former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar to then-President George W. Bush.

Blagojevich said he became suspicious in 2008 that Kelly was "meddling" with the bill as a way to curry favor with people with supposed connections to Bush. Kelly's aim, he told jurors: To get someone to ask Bush to grant Kelly a pardon and keep him out of prison.

Blagojevich said that, and not any shakedown, was his reason for delaying his signature on the race-track bill.

"I don't want anyone to say I am signing the bill because I am part of some scheme with Chris," Blagojevich told jurors.

He added that he was nervous about any perception of wrongdoing because, indicating federal prosecutors across the room, "I was very aware that the ladies and gentlemen at that table were investigating me."

Blagojevich didn't offer proof of any such scheming by Kelly, saying only that "a thought crossed my mind" during a Thanksgiving Day phone conversation with his friend.

When it came to Monk, Blagojevich noted several times in his testimony that it was his old law school buddy, not him, who went to Johnston to press him for money.

Prosecutors are likely to challenge any claim that Monk, or anyone else, acted on anything but Blagojevich's behalf. They have said that in order to believe Blagojevich's claims of innocence, someone would have to believe everyone else involved is lying.

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