Blagojevich seeks interview notes with Obama
Rod Blagojevich asked a judge Monday to order the government to hand over notes of any FBI interviews with President Barack Obama about the ousted Illinois governor's corruption case, a request that comes less than three weeks before Blagojevich's retrial is set to begin.
The request for the notes related to Obama, who has never been accused of any wrongdoing in the matter, came in a motion filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago. Presiding Judge James Zagel rejected a similar request before Blagojevich's first trial last year.
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges, including allegations that sought to sell or trade an appointment to Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash. Jurors at his first trial deadlocked on all but one count, convicting him on a lone count of lying to the FBI. His retrial is scheduled to start on April 20.
In the motion, the defense says the notes could "go directly to the heart of testimony of several government witnesses," particularly that of Chicago-based union leader and longtime Obama ally Tom Balanoff. He told jurors during the first trial that he talked to Obama about the Senate seat on the eve of the 2008 president election.
Balanoff testified last year that Obama told him he preferred that family friend Valerie Jarrett continue to work with him in the White House but that she wanted to be senator and had the qualifications.
"I thanked him and I said I was going to reach out to Gov. Blagojevich and speak on Valerie's behalf," Balanoff testified.
Defense attorneys claim Balanoff's testimony about the call appeared to contradict some other accounts and that Obama interview notes could help clarify the issue.
A message left for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago early Monday morning wasn't immediately returned.
The defense motion contends that the notes "would almost certainly have been disclosed if the interviewee was anyone other than the president."
Balanoff also testified that he was startled days later when, in discussing Jarrett's interest in the seat with Blagojevich, the then-governor broached the possibility of becoming the secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration. Under cross examination by defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky, Balanoff conceded Blagojevich never said explicitly he wanted to trade the appointment to the seat for a top job.
Zagel has repeatedly denied defense efforts that could put a spotlight on Obama.
In a sidebar during the cross examination of Balanoff, for example, Sorosky told the judge he wanted to ask Balanoff if the FBI focused its questions on Obama when agents interviewed Balanoff.
"I think we have a right to bring that out," Sorosky told the judge.
"No, you don't," Zagel shot back.
The sidebar discussions between Zagel and attorneys were out of earshot of the jury, spectators and journalists in court, but official trial transcripts released later included them.
A report from Obama's incoming White House staff several weeks after Blagojevich's Dec. 9, 2008, arrest concluded that neither Obama nor any of his confidants ever did anything inappropriate regarding Blagojevich and the Senate seat.