Federal prosecutors called Rod Blagojevich a 'liar' on Monday, and a judge warned the ousted former governor to watch what he says to the media because some of his comments could be used against him at his upcoming corruption retrial.
Looking down sternly from his bench, Judge James Zagel cautioned Blagojevich's lawyers during a status hearing in Chicago held two days before the ex-governor's retrial is scheduled to start Wednesday.
"You can consider my remarks a red flag," Zagel said.
His admonishment came after lead prosecutor Reid Schar complained about Blagojevich accusations in recent media appearances that federal attorneys had tried to hide evidence that might clear the ex-governor.
The normally subdued, matter-of-fact Schar raised his voice and appeared visibly angry, telling the courtroom, "This is just an attempt by him to poison what's going on. ... At a certain point, enough is enough."
Prosecutors, Schar added, would like the opportunity to grill Blagojevich on the witness stand and "confront him with his lies." But he said it wasn't clear whether Blagojevich would testify.
"If we could put him on the stand and point out he's a liar . . . but we can't," he said.
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges at the retrial, including that he sought to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. Jurors at the first trial deadlocked on all counts but one, agreeing to convict Blagojevich for lying to the FBI about his involvement in fundraising.
Schar singled out comments Blagojevich made on television, in which the ex-governor claimed the government had the power to publicly release more FBI wiretap recordings. That power lies with the judge, Schar noted.
"We'd like some remedy for those fabrications that he's not being called on," he said.
Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky countered that Blagojevich, in his remarks about the FBI recordings, was merely offering his understanding of the rules, not purposely fabricating anything.
Blagojevich spokesman Glenn Selig also released a statement later Monday taking issue with the government's characterization, saying, "The governor will continue to be truthful, honest and responsible as he does everything he can to clear his name."
Zagel stopped short of saying he would order Blagojevich to keep quiet until the retrial ended, but he told defense attorneys that prosecutors "may very well" be able "to construct a rationale" to admit some of his comments as evidence.
"Under the circumstances, it would be wise for the defendant to restrain himself. . . he could step over the line," the judge said.
Blagojevich told The Associated Press in an interview at his home Saturday that he wants to testify, but that a decision would be made only during the trial. He said he has been preparing for that possibility by reading over witness and tape transcripts from the first trial.
The first order of business as the retrial gets underway is jury selection, with potential jurors filling out questionnaires to help weed out those with strong biases.
On Monday, Zagel said Blagojevich should be on "standby" to come to court on the off chance the judge begins to question potential jurors one by one. Last week, Zagel told defense attorneys that Blagojevich should show up in court Wednesday.