CHICAGO – Rod Blagojevich's attorneys launched his defense Wednesday in his corruption retrial, summoning Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to testify briefly that they did not know of any arranged deals with the ousted governor over President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.
Testifying for less than five minutes, Emanuel leaned to one side, sometimes looking bored, as he told jurors with a one-word "no" that as White House chief of staff he never was asked directly by Blagojevich to help the then-governor get a top job in return for appointing someone to the Senate.
Jackson, on the stand only about 30 minutes, testified that he never authorized anyone to tell Blagojevich that his supporters could raise money for the former governor if he made Jackson a senator.
But in their cross-examination, prosecutors took advantage of Jackson's appearance to ask about an unrelated incident that could prove damaging to Blagojevich in the jury's eyes.
Under questioning, Jackson confirmed that Blagojevich had once considered Jackson's wife for a position as head of the Illinois lottery. But Jackson told prosecutors that his wife didn't get the promised appointment after Jackson refused to give Blagojevich a $25,000 campaign donation.
Jackson said when he met with Blagojevich in 2003 after someone else got the job, Blagojevich apologized that the appointment didn't pan out but made it clear the donation was at least part of the reason why.
"In classic Elvis Presley fashion, he snapped both fingers and said, 'You should have given me that $25,000,'" Jackson said, pantomiming a pose from the governor's idol.
"It became increasingly clear to me that the governor of Illinois was trading..." Jackson said before being cut off by an objection from Blagojevich's attorneys.
Previously, jurors had heard testimony about a supporter of Jackson who allegedly offered millions in donations if the governor named Jackson to the seat. But, asked by defense attorney Aaron Goldstein if he ever offered to raise money in return for Blagojevich naming him, Jackson said firmly, "No I did not."
"I've never directed anyone to raise money for any politician in my life, other than myself," Jackson said.
Jackson, a Chicago Democrat, is not accused of any wrongdoing in the case.
Emanuel made his brief appearance right after Jackson. Prosecutors did not ask him any questions in cross-examination, and the mayor left the courtroom as briskly as he'd come in.
After Blagojevich and jurors went home Wednesday, the judge and attorneys discussed what new FBI wiretap recordings might be admissible should Blagojevich take the stand.
The defense has said there's a good chance Blagojevich would speak directly to jurors, and Judge James Zagel appeared to believe that would occur Thursday.
Zagel sounded agitated when he ruled out multiple tapes that defense attorneys say supports their contention that Blagojevich was trying to cut a legal deals on the Senate seat.
"You are talking about a deal that — insofar as I know — existed in the mind of your client and nowhere else," Zagel snapped at one point.
In rejecting another tape that featured Blagojevich, Zagel told the defense, "Let him speak for himself. He'll do a better job."
Prosecutors, all of whom have devoted years to the case, would salivate at the prospect of being able to grill Blagojevich on the stand.
The sight of a sitting Chicago mayor and a congressman who is the son of a civil rights leader on the witness stand has heightened the drama of a case that had been shaping up as an accelerated but less theatrical version of the first trial last summer.
A crush of people tried to get into the courthouse Wednesday. Lines with dozens of people snaked through the lobby. Many people asked reporters if anyone had seen Emanuel.
, who denies any wrongdoing, faces 20 charges at his retrial. Among the other allegations is that he attempted to shake down Emanuel's Hollywood agent brother to raise political contributions for him. In court, the mayor said he was never asked by Blagojevich to have his brother raise money.
In Blagojevich's the first trial, his attorneys rested without calling a single witness. The jury later deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts, but convicted Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich's attorneys had suggested earlier that they wanted to call the two elected officials to help them argue that the former governor's actions and conversations were merely part of the normal give-and-take of politics, and not crimes. Both Emanuel and Jackson have been under subpoena in the case since before Blagojevich's first trial.
Emanuel, who's also not accused of any wrongdoing in the case, was involved in communicating to Blagojevich's team the preference of the White House on potential Senate nominees, and Blagojevich's attorneys say the governor eventually wanted Emanuel to help broker a legitimate deal to fill the seat.
Karen Hawkins can be reached at: www.twitter.com/_khawkins. Michael Tarm can be reached at: www.twitter.com/mtarm.
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