Chicago—Trading a U.S. Senate appointment for a personal benefit is perfectly legal and politicians throughout history have committed similar acts, according to Rod Blagojevich, who took the stand for a fourth day Wednesday in his corruption retrial.
As a recent example the impeached Illinois governor offered a deal brokered between Barack Obama and his then-rival Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential election. Obama offered to appoint Clinton Secretary of State in exchange for pulling out of the presidential race and gave her $10 million to settle her campaign debt.
This according to Blagojevich, who is charged with 20 crimes including attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. The most explosive charge involves a scheme to sell the senate seat left vacant when Obama got elected president.
Blagojevich’s defense has two parts; he truly didn’t think he committed any wrongdoing because his actions are commonplace in politics and that he was simply following the recommendations of trusted advisers. In a courtroom hearing outside of the jury’s presence, Blagojevich gave the judge (James Zagel) his spiel about politicians who have participated in similar schemes.
Gerald Ford offered Ronald Reagan two cabinet positions and an ambassadorship not to run for president, Blagojevich said, and Dwight Eisenhower offered Earl Warren a seat on the U.S Supreme Court in exchange for his support. Keeping with tradition, Blagojevich was determined to get something in return for his power as governor to appoint a senator.
“I’m not giving it up for nothing,” he testified, recalling how it all went down in the fall of 2008. “I knew it was a unique opportunity.” His key motivation was to help his constituents, he said. “Good stuff for the people of Illinois came first,” Blagojevich testified.
Throughout the day Judge Zagel admonished Blagojevich for rambling on about unrelated matters after most of his attorney’s questions. When jurors broke for lunch Zagel ordered the defense team to force Blagojevich to answer questions concisely, pointing out that many of his long-winded responses sound like a campaign speech. The excessive chatter is diminishing the jury’s attention span, the judge told defense lawyers.
Federal prosecutors are expected to begin cross examining Blagojevich on Thursday. It will be interesting to see it he’s as relaxed as he’s been while fielding defense softballs. Blagojevich smiles frequently and regularly interjects witty lines into his testimony.