Blagojevich's retrial moving faster than the first
Prosecutors at Rod Blagojevich's retrial Wednesday showed their determination to move through witnesses at a faster clip than at the impeached Illinois governor's first trial last year -- part of an apparent bid not to clutter their case or confuse jurors.
In a matter of hours, the government flew through some testimony that took days at the first trial, including the testimony of former officials about how Blagojevich allegedly considered appointing U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
The truncated government presentation of evidence helped prompt the defense to ask for a mistrial as proceedings got under way on Wednesday, a request that Judge James Zagel flatly rejected.
"The government is asking witnesses a condensed amount of questions ... it completely obliterates our ability to ask anything meaningfully," Blagojevich attorney Lauren Kaeseberg told the court.
Kaeseberg also noted constant prosecution objections during cross examination -- nearly 150 for one witness alone earlier this week.
"The defense is being cut off at the knees," Kaeseberg said, adding that objections and the judge agreeing to nearly all of them made them look bad in jurors' eyes. "We're looking like buffoons who don't know what we are doing. We do know what we're doing."
In denying the motion, Zagel said the grounds were too general, noting that the defense will have a chance to put on its own case once the prosecution rests.
Defense attorneys in Blagojevich's first trial last summer didn't present a single witness. That trial ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one charge. They convicted him of lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich faces 20 charges this time around, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Asking fewer questions and getting to key evidence faster has been only part of prosecutors efforts to simplify their case after hung jurors at the first trial complained proceedings were overly complicated and convoluted.
Among the witnesses whose testimony has been abbreviated is Bob Greenlee. Blagojevich's former deputy governor testified for a little more than a half a day Wednesday before the prosecution told the judge they were finished with him. At the first trial, he was on the stand for several days.
Greenlee and another witness who testified Wednesday, former state official Rajinder Bedi, both spoke about Jackson, a Chicago Democrat.
Greenlee described how Blagojevich seemed increasingly attracted by the prospect of naming Jackson to Obama's old Senate seat once Obama's preferred candidate, Valerie Jarrett, took a job with the White House.
His change of heart about Jackson was two-fold, according to his conversations on the tapes: Jackson's backers had pledged to raise money for him if he appointed Jackson; he also thought appointing Jackson would strengthen his support among black voters.
Blagojevich calls Jackson "the uber African-American" and says the congressman could help him build coalitions with other black leaders. At one point, Blagojevich gleefully declares "bring on those white people."
Jackson himself isn't accusing of any wrongdoing.
Greenlee was on the witness stand Wednesday as the recordings were played. As the burly, boy-faced Greenlee sat down in the witness box, Blagojevich shook his head in apparent disapproval as his former close confidant.
In another recording played Wednesday, prosecutors offered up what they consider the hand-in-the-cookie jar moment.
In nearly all other recordings made over five weeks before his arrest, Blagojevich is variously foul-mouthed, bombastic and blunt. One thing he isn't over all that time is -- at a loss for words.
But that dramatically changes when an aide calls him late at night on Dec. 4, 2008, to tell Blagojevich the FBI has apparently been secretly recording him.
A shell-shocked Blagojevich falls silent for 10 seconds -- the silence broken only by the governor's heavy breathing through the receiver as he struggles to process what he just heard.
"Recordings," an incredulous Blagojevich finally asks in a hush, his voice halting, "of me?"
Five days later, agents arrested Blagojevich at his home, leading him away in handcuffs.