Former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich Called to Stand, Testifies in C - FOX 32 News Chicago

Former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich Called to Stand, Testifies in Corruption Retrial


After a biographical morning, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s testimony in his retrial turned Thursday afternoon to his political career, including his relationship with Jesse Jackson Jr., Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.

Complete Rod Blagojevich Trial Coverage >>

Key Points:

  • Blagojevich testified about meeting Lon Monk at law school and spent a great deal of time talking about Monk’s family, Monk's different (wealthy) background and how much he looked up to and trusted Monk. The lengthy testimony on Monk’s family and how they were “like the Brady Bunch” drew the first objection from the prosecution, spurring the judge to ask Blagojevich to move on.
  • Blagojevich’s testimony Thursday morning was largely biographical, covering his upbringing by immigrant parents in a working-class neighborhood, his odd jobs as a kid, his “disco-era” style in college (and his hairstyle today), his “almost catastrophic” first year in law school and the construction job he had one summer that earned him free Suave shampoo. Throughout his life, Blagojevich testified, he admired historical figures and was an avid reader, even having a “mancrush on Alexander Hamilton.”
  • The former governor spoke in a low voice, recalling his first hit in little league baseball and aspirations to play in the NBA. Some jurors seemed disinterested while others took careful notes.
  • Blagojevich also addressed his penchant for profanity on the recordings being played at the trial. The former governor said that when he hears himself saying things like “F***ing golden,” he thinks he’s “an effing jerk,” and he apologized to jurors. He said when he left for court Thursday morning, he got a kiss goodbye from his eldest daughter who told him, “Good luck; watch your language.”
  • According to legal reporter Larry Yellen, Blagojevich's attorneys seemed to be laying the groundwork for their defense when showcasing how Blagojevich applied to schools he knew he couldn't get into or thought he'd become a professional athlete even though his skills were subpar. They're strategy seems to be, ‘Just like I applied to Harvard Law and never had a chance, I just threw ideas out that I knew I'd never have a shot to do it. I knew I wouldn't get a cabinet seat. I knew I'd never get a top charity post.’
  • The defense filed a motion for a mistrial (PDF)  Thursday morning based on Jesse Jackson Jr.'s testimony. In it, the defense argues that the anecdote about Blagojevich punishing Jackson Jr. over not giving him a $25,000 donation was prejudicial and should not have been allowed into the record. The defense argues the conversation was discussed in sidebar prior to testimony and the defense carefully crafted its direct examination to not open the door to allow it. They say the court should declare a mistrial because the testimony is inadmissible.
  • Wednesday, Jackson Jr. testified he was asked to make a $25,000 donation to Blagojevich's first campaign for governor but did not. Later, after his wife did not get a job that Blagojevich had offered to help her get, he met with Blagojevich in D.C. Jackson testified that Blagojevich apologized that it didn’t work out, and as he left the room, he stopped in classic “Elvis” fashion, snapped his fingers in the air and said “you should have given me that $25,000.”
  • Throughout Blagojevich's later testimony, the judge repeatedly stopped him from going off on tangents, forcing him to just answer the question. Blagojevich would often respond with, "I'm sorry, judge," or, "My fault, I'm sorry." The judge warned attorneys during a break that they should ask their questions quickly to limit their witness' long answers.


UPDATE:  5:22  p.m.
After a break, the lawyers and the judge resumed going over which tapes the defense can play while Blagojevich is on the stand. They focused first on tapes that will be pertinent to testimony Friday morning. Zagel denied three recordings and said three others might be played depending on Blagojevich’s testimony.


UPDATE:  4:31  p.m.
Blagojevich testified in order for a bill to become law, the governor can sign it, or if you wait for 60 days no a bill passed by the General Assembly, it automatically becomes law.

After the Senate and the House pass the legislation, Blagojevich said, there is a process that happens and then the bill is sent to the governor’s office. Once there, aside from budget bills, the governor can sign the bill, making it law; the governor can veto the bill, sending it back the legislature; or the governor can add an amendatory veto, allowing the governor to rewrite the law. After the veto, the law goes back to both chambers, where they can approve the changes and make it law, or they can reject the changes and override the veto, passing the original law.

The defense turned to the Recapture Bill, which Blagojevich became aware of in 2008.

“Rod, did you ever shake down Johnny Johnston?” the defense attorney asked. “No” Blagojevich said. Blagojevich testified he never held up the bill to get campaign contributions from Johnston.

Blagojevich testified he knew the Johnston family since 2001 or 2002, and they raised a lot of money for his campaigns both in personal contributions and in widening Blagojevich’s network of contributors. Johnston owned two racetracks: Maywood and Balmoral.

Blagojevich attended events with Johnston, he said, including a fundraiser hosted by George Steinbrenner at a Yankees playoff game where Blagojevich met Donald Trump for the first time. Blagojevich said the Johnstons were among the most generous and frequent contributors to him. He estimated they raised several hundred thousand dollars for him from 2002 to 2008, and got other individuals to contribute to him in addition to that.

Blagojevich said the governor has a home in DuQuoin, Ill., where there is a horse racing track, and the Johnstons would come over for dinner.

Blagojevich testified he would speak with John Johnston frequently. Blagojevich said he understood Johnston was very helpful to him and others as a fundraiser.

From 2002 to 2006, Blagojevich testified, Kelly was in charge of collecting money from Johnston, and Monk eventually took over the role. In late 2006 and into 2007, Monk did not have much of a relationship with Johnston, as far as Blagojevich knew. Blagojevich testified after being Blagojevich’s campaign manager in 2006, Monk turned down a job with Blagojevich as chief of staff again. Monk then went into the private sector to become a lobbyist, and Blagojevich said he became aware not long after that that Johnston was one of his clients.

The judge then dismissed the jury for the day and said court would resume Friday morning at 9:30 a.m.

After a brief sidebar, Zagel said the lawyers would resume discussing tapes the defense wants to play during Blagojevich’s testimony.


UPDATE:  4:14  p.m.
Blagojevich testified his campaign fund was called Friends of Blagojevich (FOB), and fundraising was important to him because the “realities of politics in America is if you want to be competitive politically, you have to have campaign resources to take your message to the people.”

Blagojevich said it was important to him to fundraise as governor, because if you’re in a strong political position like governor, it gives you the independence to lose friends and even political allies if you want to do something they don’t agree with.

Blagojevich testified he set deadlines for fundraising for a few reasons. First, because twice a year, the law requires governors to file reports on their campaign contributions, on June 30 and Dec. 31. Blagojevich said they typically became public knowledge about a month later. Blagojevich testified he set campaign fundraising deadlines based on the reporting deadlines.

Blagojevich said in an election year, the June date is more important, but in a primary, the Dec. 31 deadline is more important. Blagojevich testified in 2008, he had an end-of-the-year deadline for fundraising “in the spirit of disclosing to the public” who was giving campaign contributions and where they were coming from, and Blagojevich said it would disclose to the political community how strong a candidate you might be. Blagojevich said in this time, it was important to him to signal to the political community that he might be running for a third term, because even though he wasn’t, he didn’t want to be seen as a lame duck.

Blagojevich said in 2008 he was aware of an ethics bill that was passed that was designed to prohibit businesses that did business with any state office in the executive branch for more than $50,000 from donating to politician’s campaigns. Blagojevich testified he believed it would take effect the first of the new year.

Blagojevich said when a bill is signed, it doesn’t “literally” come to his desk; rather, his staff gets the bill and they review the legislation first. Blagojevich said he was not for the ethics bill as it was constructed because it didn’t go far enough, since it didn’t apply to the legislative branch, and he wrote an amendatory veto to the bill. Blagojevich said essentially, he wrote into the bill that it should apply to the legislative branch equally and added more reforms in there.

The defense then published the ethics legislation into evidence. Pointing to the portion of the evidence that was the amendatory veto message, the defense asked Blagojevich if it was what he had just been testifying about. Blagojevich said yes and that he liked that portion.

Blagojevich said the veto he wrote would not have struck him from the parties subject to the bill. Blagojevich testified before he made the veto, he worked closely with Senate President Emil Jones and his staff to write the veto, and Jones agreed with Blagojevich that he should amendatorily veto it and should make the bill broader and promised to not override it when it came to the Senate.

Blagojevich said, ultimately, the Illinois Senate took up the issue and Jones ended up betraying the agreement. Blagojevich said he found out when a sheepish Jones called him to tell him the veto would be overridden, knowing Blagojevich would use “some of the language I’ve apologized for.” Blagojevich testified Jones explained to Blagojevich that he received a call from presidential candidate Barack Obama and Obama asked Jones to call the bill because his opponents were running campaign ads against him in Pennsylvania about the bill.

The bill became law without Blagojevich’s veto, and he understood it would take effect Jan. 1, 2009, Blagojevich testified.

The bill meant after Jan. 1, many businesses and contractors who did business with Blagojevich’s branch of government, who previously had donated to Blagojevich, would no longer be able to donate to him, Blagojevich said.

Once the bill passed, Blagojevich testified, his intent was to fully comply with it, whether he liked it or not. Blagojevich testified as he understood it, there were no prohibitions on any of these individuals donating to Blagojevich before the first of the year.


UPDATE:  3:54 p.m.
Blagojevich testified he met John Wyma when he was a congressman, when David Axelrod gave Blagojevich several names of people who might make good chiefs of staff. Wyma was Blagojevich’s chief of staff in Congress in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Blagojevich said Wyma never worked for him when was governor, that Wyma became a lobbyist. Blagojevich testified they had a good relationship.

Blagojevich testified he asked Wyma to ask Rahm Emanuel to ask his brother, Ari, to have a fundraiser for him in May or June 2006 when he was in L.A. on his own fundraising push.

Ari Emanuel is a Hollywood agent who represents TV and movie stars, Blagojevich said. Blagojevich said he was in L.A. on his own fundraising efforts, and Wyma told him he should go to Ari Emanuel’s house to support a fundraiser Ari was having for Rahm. Blagojevich said he went to the fundraiser, where he met Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld, and he enjoyed talking to him. The judge cut him off as he began to tell a story about something they had in common.

“It was a thrill to meet Larry David. It’s not like meeting Elvis, but it was pretty good,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich testified he was too busy with David to talk to Wyma at the fundraiser, but they spoke outside the home afterward. Blagojevich said they were talking and Blagojevich said something like, that was a great event, can you see if Ari Emanuel will have one for me?

Blagojevich testified he told Wyma Rahm Emanuel had a lot of fundraising going on on his own, so they should act quickly.

Blagojevich testified the Chicago Academy grant was not remotely on his mind at the time, and he never told Wyma that the fundraiser had to happen for the school grant to be released. Blagojevich said, given the way he operates, he thinks he got to Wyma very quickly afterward to find out what the answer was. Blagojevich said Wyma told him that Emanuel wasn’t able to have a fundraiser at that time, which Blagojevich said was not an unexpected answer.

Sometime in that period, Blagojevich testified, Rahm Emanuel wanted to be helpful, so Emanuel wrote a letter for Blagojevich to send to potential donors supporting Blagojevich and highlighting the work he had done on health care. Blagojevich testified Emanuel was a national figure at that time, and a letter from him “had some pizzazz.”

The defense entered into evidence the letter of support from then-Congressman Emanuel on Friends of Blagojevich stationary touting Blagojevich’s record of accomplishments.

Blagojevich testified he could not recall about what time he received the letter, except to say it was during the campaign season in 2006, probably during the summer.

After he was turned down by Ari Emanuel for a fundraiser, Blagojevich testified, he never asked again, nor did he ask for it in exchange for the school grant.

Blagojevich said he thinks he was the one to tell Rahm Emanuel the grant had finally been handled, after playing phone tag with Harris and his staff. Blagojevich thinks it was in late Aug. 2006, but wasn’t sure.

Blagojevich said he imagines he only had one conversation with Rahm Emanuel about the grant. Blagojevich said the school got the money and the football field was built. To his recollection, Blagojevich said, once he told Harris to get the money to the school as the bills came in, that was the last he heard of it.

The defense attorney asked Blagojevich again if he held up the grant for a fundraiser or contributions, and Blagojevich said no.


UPDATE: 3:40  p.m.
After a short break, the defense had Blagojevich reiterate that he did not know Monk was taking cash from Rezko. Blagojevich said he would not have approved of it had he known, because “it’s wrong.”

“Did you ever hold up Chicago Academy school grant to get campaign funds?” the defense attorney asked. Blagojevich said, “No.”

Blagojevich testified he first met Rahm Emanuel in 1996 in Washington D.C. when David Axelrod had arranged for Blagojevich to go to the White House, where Emanuel had a prominent position with the Clinton administration. Blagojevich said Emanuel showed him the Oval Office, which is much “smaller than you see on TV.”

Blagojevich testified he considered Emanuel a political ally when he was governor. Blagojevich said their political relationship began to develop when Emanuel ran for Congress in the congressional district Blagojevich vacated when he ran for governor.

Blagojevich testified he had a “vague” recollection that Emanuel asked Blagojevich for a school grant for a school in his district, although at the time Blagojevich could not recall which school it was. Blagojevich said when the issue was brought up to him again, he had it in his head that it was the Coonley School.

Blagojevich said he wanted to help Emanuel and he directed somebody -- probably Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk -- to find the money for the school.

Blagojevich said in Aug. 2006, John Harris raised the issue of the Chicago Academy school grant with him. Harris told Blagojevich that Tusk had come to him saying he was getting calls from Emanuel or his staff that the grant for a school in his district hadn’t gone out yet.

Blagojevich said his recollection was that he told Harris something like, “What do you mean? I approved a grant a long time ago. I thought that he got the money.”

Blagojevich said he wasn’t sure what grant Harris was referring to, and he may have followed up with Harris or Tusk to see if it was the same grant, or perhaps Tusk had acted before getting Blagojevich’s permission to give an additional grant. Blagojevich said his only recollection was that there was a school grant Emanuel had asked for some time ago, which was of no great importance to Blagojevich, and he thought it had already happened.

Blagojevich testified he told Harris to look into it and get back to him. Blagojevich testified he did not tell Harris to hold the grant up nor did he tell Harris he was holding the grant up.

Blagojevich said Harris was a professional and he thinks that Harris likely followed up with him very shortly after.

Blagojevich said in Aug. 2006, he was in heavy campaign mode and would have been all over the state campaigning for governor. In mid August, Blagojevich said he would have probably been at the Illinois State Fair, and in late August, he was likely at a governor’s estate in downstate Illinois.

In this busy time, Blagojevich said the grant Harris told him about was “nowhere on the radar screen,” in terms of how important it was to Blagojevich.

Blagojevich said he wasn’t sure, but he thinks on a state plane, Harris got back to Blagojevich about the grant and filled him in that the school grant was committed to Emanuel and it was for Chicago Academy. Blagojevich said once he realized it was for Chicago Academy, he understood what the grant was, and he had been helpful to Chicago Academy as a congressman for the district himself.

Blagojevich testified he was not aware there was a press conference announcing the grant in fall 2005.

Blagojevich testified Harris told him the school had incurred expenses for the construction expecting the grant. Blagojevich testified he then told Harris to pay it out, but his feeling was that it could have been a second grant, so he told Harris to pay the grant as the bills came in.

Blagojevich never saw the invoices, he said, because it was not his job. It was something he delegated to one of the thousands of people working for him. Blagojevich testified he told Harris to pay the grant as they came in because he wasn’t sure where the grant had come from, whether it was a second grant or something Tusk had committed without asking him. Blagojevich said when taxpayer money was involved, if something didn’t jive with his memory, he just wanted to be careful.

Blagojevich said in the past, there were grants from time to time that didn’t go where they were supposed to go, and he had to have some accountability.

Blagojevich said it wasn’t unusual for him to handle situations this way when something came to him that seemed to have some strange circumstance attached to it.

Blagojevich testified he had no recollection of talking to Tusk about the grant at all. Blagojevich testified he never told Tusk to hold up the school grant, nor did he tell Tusk he was holding up the grant to have a fundraiser. Blagojevich said he wanted the school to get the money they were hoping and expecting to get.

Blagojevich said he would talk to Tusk, who was his deputy governor, several times a day at that time, although when he was campaigning downstate, Blagojevich would talk to Tusk a lot less.

Blagojevich testified he didn’t remember any conversations with Monk about the grant, and said he never told Monk he held up the grant for a fundraiser. The former governor testified he never told Monk or Tusk that to get the grant, Emanuel or his brother, Ari, would have to hold a fundraiser for him.


UPDATE: 2:56  p.m.
Blagojevich testified he won his campaign for governor and was sworn in Jan. 2003. Blagojevich said the oath of office he took meant to him that he needed to help people in the state of Illinois and work for the people.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’ve certainly made mistakes and governor, but I believe in my heart that I followed that oath,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich testified he picked Monk, who had no political experience, to be his first chief of staff because he was one of Blagojevich’s best friends in his life and he trusted him completely. Blagojevich said he felt both he as governor and Monk as chief of staff would get “on-the-job” training.

Blagojevich testified in 2006, he was elected governor again and took the same oath of office again. He said his feelings about the oath were the same in Jan. 2007 as in 2003.

In 2007, Blagojevich testified, his relationship with the state legislature was “okay,” although they had some “struggles in the first term.” Blagojevich testified at the time, House Speaker Mike Madigan was aligned with the Republicans against Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones over the state budget.

Blagojevich said he and then-Chief of Staff John Harris foresaw problems with the legislature in his second term and prepared for ways to deal with Madigan blocking Blagojevich’s agenda.

Blagojevich testified he and his staff designed a strategy, a somewhat “war of attrition,” in which Blagojevich would use his powers as governor to force the legislature to stay in session until they passed health care for everybody. Blagojevich testified he understood this tactic might hurt his relationship with the legislature.

The judge stopped Blagojevich to tell him to carefully listen to the question and answer it accurately, because his answers were getting off-topic.

Blagojevich testified he never had meetings with Rezko, Kelly and Monk in which Rezko stood at a chalkboard and talked about ways they could make money off the state.

“I never had any meeting in California or anywhere where I talked about making money off state action with those guys. Never, ever,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich testified he never had conversations with anyone about making money off state action.

The defense asked Blagojevich what his concerns were at the time.

“I wanted to be the best governor I could be. I wanted to have a record of accomplishment in a number of areas, obviously health care was my biggest priority,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich said he might have wanted to run for higher office some day, but felt then was not the time to mount a campaign for the presidency.

Blagojevich testified he did not know Monk was taking cash from Rezko and testified he never took any money from Rezko.

The jury was excused from the room for a short break, but the judge held Blagojevich to talk to him about what came up in sidebar with the attorneys. Judge James Zagel told Blagojevich that when he’s asked a question, he answers the question in the first sentence, pauses, then keeps talking.

Zagel said it was the job of the lawyer to jump in during the pause to ask the next question, because the jury might see the witness as “running on to no end.” Zagel asked the defense attorney to make sure to ask his questions quickly, because the witness was giving his lawyer the opportunity.

During the break, the prosecution said it wasn’t proper form for the defense to ask Blagojevich questions about the validity of testimony from other witnesses. The defense said Monk’s answer on the topic of taking cash from Rezko changed slightly from the first trial to the second, and argued the defense has a right for the governor to explain why he would not have approved of Monk taking the money.

Zagel said it is not allowable to ask a witness to comment on testimony of another witness, but it is allowable for a witness to contradict another witness’ testimony. Zagel said he would sustain the objections and urged the defense to not ask those types of questions, but offered a way the defense could phrase the question to avoid the objection.

Zagel said he wanted to give Blagojevich and his attorneys a chance to get on the same page, because the judge believes Blagojevich is waiting for his lawyer to ask a question, then going on with his answer to fill the void.

UPDATE: 2:39 p.m.
Blagojevich testified he was in Congress for 6 years, then decided to run for governor.

“If you’re in public office and you want to get things done for people, you can do so much more for people as a governor than you can as a congressman,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich testified he spoke with Monk about running for governor, and people were doubting Blagojevich’s changes. Blagojevich said no one with a name as long as his had ever won statewide. He began to talk about his long odds at becoming governor, but the judge cut him off again.

“I’m sorry judge,” Blagojevich said, and the defense redirected him to working with Monk.

Blagojevich testified he asked Monk to be his campaign manager. Blagojevich said Monk’s “most attractive quality” was that he had no political ties and experience in Illinois and that he would be a friend and “loyal” to Blagojevich alone.

Blagojevich said he had to fundraise, and his campaign began to pick up steam.

Tony Rezko helped Blagojevich fundraise, he testified. They met when Blagojevich was a state representative running for Congress and Blagojevich hired a firm to help him raise money. Rezko’s name was given to Blagojevich by the firm as a potential Democrat that could help Blagojevich.

Rezko had helped Mike Madigan and a number of other major political figures at the time, Blagojevich understood. They became friends and Rezko became an important fundraiser for Blagojevich, he testified.

Chris Kelly was also a friend and fundraiser for Blagojevich, he testified. Blagojevich met Kelly in 1995 at a fundraising event for an alderman at the Hunt Club, when he went up to Kelly and introduced himself as a candidate for Congress. Blagojevich testified that was the beginning of what became at one time a very close friendship.

Blagojevich said he learned that Rezko and Kelly were very active in raising money for other candidates, although the prosecution objected when Blagojevich said Kelly raised a lot of money for Mayor Daley. Blagojevich testified Rezko and Kelly were two very important fundraisers among many for Blagojevich.

Blagojevich testified in the beginning of his career, Gerry Krozel was more important to his fundraising than Kelly and Rezko were.

As Blagojevich began testifying about the importance of how much money a politician had in his campaign fund to that politician’s power, an objection from the prosecution prompted the judge to pull attorneys into a sidebar conference.

UPDATE: 2:27 p.m.
Blagojevich said while in the Congress, he and Jesse Jackson Jr. developed a friendship, and testified he really like Jackson Jr. at first. He testified he and Patti would have meals with Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi.

Blagojevich said he was naturally drawn to Jackson Jr. and they became close friends. Blagojevich testified the relationship became very close in 1999, when he and Jackson Jr,.’s father, Rev. Jesse Jackson went to Blagojevich’s family’s native home of Serbia, where the U.S. was bombing because of an ethnic cleansing campaign that was being waged in the area.

Blagojevich testified Rev. Jackson wanted to go to Serbia to help get soldiers out of the area, and Blagojevich worked with David Axelrod to help Rev. Jackson to go. Blagojevich said he was approached with the opportunity by others because he was the only Serbian-American in Congress. Blagojevich said he approached Jackson Jr. to see if Rev. Jackson would want to go with Blagojevich to Serbia, and Jackson Jr. was very excited and said “absolutely, call the reverend.”

After Blagojevich and Rev. Jackson’s trip, he testified, Blagojevich and Jackson Jr. were very close. Blagojevich said he thought Jackson Jr. could be Barack Obama, or had the skills and abilities to be a rising star.

The defense attorney asked Blagojevich about Jackson Jr.’s testimony from Wednesday, asking if Blagojevich had spoken to Jackson Jr. before a Dec. 8, 2008 meeting. Jackson Jr. testified for the four years previous to that meeting, they hadn’t spoken, but Blagojevich said they spoke “not infrequently” about political issues.

Blagojevich testified at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Jackson Jr. was very emotional and talking to Mayor Daley about how he wanted the party to come together.

The defense entered into evidence a 10 second videotape of Jackson Jr, and Blagojevich at the 2008 convention.

The defense attorney asked Blagojevich about the anecdote Jackson Jr. told on the witness stand Wednesday about the “Elvis” snap.

Blagojevich testified he did not request a campaign contribution from Jackson Jr., since “like he said, he never gave campaign contributions to others.” Blagojevich testified in 2003 -- when Jackson Jr. testified the meeting took place -- he must have been in D.C. on an Illinois delegation.

Blagojevich testified he does not remember Jackson Jr. ever asking Blagojevich to help his wife Sandi be the director of the Illinois Lottery. He began to tell a story about the woman he did appoint, but the judge cut him off for going off the point.

Blagojevich said he doesn’t remember anything “remotely like” telling Jackson Jr. he should have given Blagojevich $25,000 after “snapping like Elvis.

UPDATE: 2:03 p.m.
Before the jury was let back in the room after lunch, the prosecution asked the judge to tell the defendant to not give “narrative answers’ and be more focused in responses to the questions. The judge said at this part of his testimony, the narrative answers were allowable because they were background and about Blagojevich’s life story, but if Blagojevich were going so long on questions about the charges, the answers might get into argument and the judge will sustain objections then, if necessary.

The jury was then let back into the courtroom and Blagojevich resumed his testimony. Before lunch, Blagojevich was choking up while talking about meeting his wife, Patti. The defense attorney said they wanted to take a step back to Blagojevich’s legal career, and he clarified although he did no federal corruption cases, he did help out on some immigration cases, though it never brought him to this building.

Blagojevich testified he met Patti in 1988. He said it was a Sunday night at a fundraiser for her father (Ald. Richard Mell (33rd)), and she was wearing red dress. Blagojevich said he fell in love with Patti, and met her at a difficult time in his life. Blagojevich testified his father had a stroke that year, and Patti was tremendous comfort and soul mate to Blagojevich in addition to being very good to Blagojevich’s mother. Blagojevich said with his father being in a nursing home, Patti being so good to his mother was part of why he fell in love with her.

Seeming to choke up again, Blagojevich began talking about when he got the call that his father wasn’t able to breath well, and after they left the nursing home, he got another call at home from the doctor.

“He said your father has expired, I’m sorry to tell you,” Blagojevich said, saying he always felt a sense of guilt that he wasn’t with his father when he passed like he was with his mother.

Blagojevich testified during this time, he was still very close friends with Monk, and he talked to Monk about his feelings for Patti. Blagojevich testified he was 32 when he got engaged and had been single for a while, so he wanted Monk’s insights before making the decision to get married. Blagojevich testified he went to meet Monk in D.C., where he worked in the sports industry, and spent time talking over the decision.

Blagojevich said after that, he bought a ring for $5,000 at Marshall Fields. He said he went to an event with Patti’s parents, where he saw Rahm Emanuel for the first time, and after the event pulled Patti’s father aside to ask if he could come by the next day to talk to him.

Blagojevich said he went to Mell the next day not to ask him permission, “because I would have done it anyway,” but to give him a heads up that he was going to ask Patti to marry him, which he did later that night.

Monk was in the wedding, reading Psalm 23, and Blagojevich’s brother was his best man.

The defense entered into evidence a picture of Monk and Blagojevich at the wedding.

Blagojevich testified he asked Monk to be in his wedding because Monk was one of his two best friends in life.

UPDATE: 12:27 p.m.
Blagojevich said before he passed the bar exam, he was given a job offer by Ald. Ed Vrdolyak to work in a law firm. Vrdolyak’s office had helped him get the job he had the summer before, Blagojevich said, and when he tracked down Vrdolyak to thank him, Vrdolyak told Blagojevich, “we could use a kid like you.”

Blagojevich said in the job he got documents signed, delivered envelopes and got cheesecake for a man in the office.

“I didn’t do a lot of law,” Blagojevich said. “They didn’t think much of my skills.”

Blagojevich said after he flunked the bar, he asked if he could stay on, and they told him he could. After Blagojevich passed the bar, Blagojevich said “Fast Eddie pulled a fast one” and didn’t stay true to his word to get him a job.

Blagojevich said Vrdolyak told him he couldn’t offer Blagojevich a job, but Vrdolyak said he could help Blagojevich get a job in the State’s Attorney’s Office. Blagojevich said that didn’t come through, but eventually he got a job in the office through a friend of a childhood friend.

Before that, Blagojevich took a job in a small, two-man law firm and began to grow a business doing mostly real estate closings and some traffic law. Blagojevich began to go on a tangent about another man he worked for, and the judge asked him to move on.

Blagojevich said he worked in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in the 80s, at which time Mayor Daley was the State’s Attorney. Blagojevich said he never saw Daley, though, because was “way down” in traffic court. After eight months, Blagojevich went to the branch courts, one in his old neighborhood, where he prosecuted gun cases and misdemeanor battery cases.

After that, Blagojevich moved around the city and prosecuted other types of crimes, like prostitution cases and domestic violence cases.

In the domestic violence court, Blagojevich said, his court partner was Anita Alvarez, who is now the Cook County State’s Attorney. Blagojevich said when she was elected, he called her to congratulate her and “may have” offered to help her fundraise to retire her campaign debt.

Blagojevich said later he worked in a law office with his current defense attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, as a defense attorney in state courts. Blagojevich said he never handled a federal criminal case, a federal wire fraud case, a federal extortion case or a federal bribery case.

Blagojevich started to choke up as he talked about meeting his wife Patti and the judge suggested they break for lunch. (Blagojevich, unable to speak, was pointing at his wife as she sobbed, wiping away tears.)


UPDATE: 12:17 p.m.
After the admonishment from the judge, the defense turned back to Blagojevich’s law school time in London. Blagojevich said he got a 96 percent in the “law of the sea,” and got much better grades thanks to the smaller class size. Blagojevich said he and Monk became close friends and decided to be roommates for their third year.

Blagojevich said he remembers a moment with Monk very clearly, because it was like when you tell a friend “a dirty little secret,” that’s a close bonding experience. Blagojevich said he told Monk he wanted to see him and tell him a very close secret, so they went to a Cubs-Dodgers game (which was the first time he ever say Ryne Sandberg) and at an Italian restaurant, Blagojevich told him he was worried he might flunk out of school and swore Monk to secrecy. Blagojevich said he will never forget how supportive Monk was.

Blagojevich said the summer after his second year, he got a job law clerking in the torts division for the City of Chicago, and Monk took an hour and a half trip to Malibu for Blagojevich to find out his grades for him.

Blagojevich said Monk “let out a little yelp of cheerfulness for me” in finding the grades were good enough, and Blagojevich said it was a very important moment for him in his friendship with Monk.

“There are friends that you love in a real friend way -- you know what I’m talking about -- and Lon was that for me,” Blagojevich said.

“Did you trust Lon?” the defense attorney asked.

“Infinitely,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich said Monk was in his wedding and recalled his graduation from law school, the only ceremony his father was able to attend and which was a very special moment.

Blagojevich said he flunked the first bar exam he took when he returned to Chicago, so he took it again in a “do or die” scenario and passed after studying methodically. Blagojevich gave a number of very detailed descriptions of his studying habits, including the Greek restaurant he went to and the University of Chicago library where he studied.

The night he found out he passed, Blagojevich said, he went to Rush Street to celebrate and saw Keith Hernandez, the Mets first baseman who was in town for a Cubs game.


UPDATE: 12:04  p .m.
After a short break, the defense returned to Blagojevich’s father’s Laundromat. Blagojevich testified he and his brother would help out on the weekends, and the neighborhood was changing racially very quickly in 1968.

“Dr. King as assassinated on Thursday April 4, and that Saturday, Chicago, like a lot of other cities, were experiencing rioting,” Blagojevich said. “The Laundromat at Madison and Central was in a neighborhood that was changing from a white Italian neighborhood to a black neighborhood. And I’ll never forget what it was like to stand outside the Laundromat that Saturday afternoon watching the fire trucks go east and west to put out fires.”

Blagojevich said his life was shaped by both his historical reading and his experience growing up in a changing neighborhood. Blagojevich quoted what Bobby Kennedy told the audience he was speaking to when King was assassinated and recalled a few months later when Kennedy himself was assassinated, doing a Kennedy impression while quoting him to explain how the historical events Blagojevich experienced in his life influenced him and his political views.

The defense turned back to Blagojevich’s law school experience and his second year at Pepperdine. Blagojevich said Pepperdine started a new program that year that would allow him to go to London, England to study law for the same cost of attending school in Malibu. Blagojevich said he felt he could study law more there because it was a more historical environment, acknowledging it sounded “ridiculous.”

Blagojevich testified in London, he met Lon Monk at the age of 24. Blagojevich said it was on a double-decker bus on a tour to the Tower of London, where Blagojevich recognized him as another student and said hello.

“It didn’t take long, while we were in London -- it was the beginning of a very long friendship,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich testified there were only 13 students in the group, and so they became close as Americans in a foreign country.

“Lon came from a very different background from me,” Blagojevich said. “He told me how his father was a very successful obstetrician-gynecologist. I was very impressed when he told me his father delivered the tennis star Tracy Austin.”

Blagojevich testified Monk taught him about tennis and impressed him by knowing an eighth-ranked player in the world, where before Blagojevich had only played basketball, baseball and boxing. Blagojevich said they watched a famous boxing match from America while in London, and another student (“who may have flunked out”) stood up in the place they were watching and yelled something negative about England, which Monk thought was a bad idea.

Monk was more thoughtful and responsible than Blagojevich, he testified, and Blagojevich thought of him almost as an older brother. Blagojevich said he looked up to Monk tremendously and was very appreciative of his family for taking Blagojevich under their wing.

“I have a certain vain quality – under oath – there’s a certain narcissism,” Blagojevich said, commenting he ran a lot in London to stay in shape. Blagojevich testified Monk’s father had run marathons and his mother ran, which fascinated Blagojevich because he hadn’t known parents who ran before, so they bonded over running. Blagojevich said Monk’s mother would host a 5k every year in California, and when Blagojevich was invited the next year, he set a record on a 10k.

Blagojevich testified Monk’s older brother went back out to the course and re-measured it, finding the course to be just short of 6.2 miles, so Blagojevich didn’t break his record.

Blagojevich went on to describe how the time he spent with Monk’s family influenced him. Blagojevich said he offered to run the Chicago Marathon with Monk’s father and was surprised to find Monk’s father took him up on it. He said he scrambled to train for the race, and clarified (since he was under oath) his time was unofficial because he took his number off as he crossed the finish line, but said he ran the race in 2 hours, 55 minutes, 30 seconds, which would have been 12 seconds over the world record.

Blagojevich said the family, which was like the Brady Bunch, would often have him over to their home, which had peacocks in the back yard. The judge then asked Blagoejvich to move on on an objection from the prosecution.


UPDATE: 11:24  a.m.
The defense asked Blagojevich how important it was for him to go law school. In halting sentences, Blagojevich said his parents worked so hard for him to succeed, and they paid for the vast majority of his college and law school.

Blagojevich went on an aside about a job he had where he got to celebrity spot, dropping names of celebrities he saw, including Farrah Fawcett and Olivia Newton John.

“It was a very different place, and for me, evidently, it wasn’t a very conducive place to studying law,” Blagojevich said.

The defense asked Blagojevich how his first year went, and he said, “Almost catastrophic.” Blagojevich said he was homesick and had a hard time getting up the desire to read the “musty” law books. Blagojevich said at Pepperdine, they tended to take almost anyone who applied, but the first year, the bottom 20 percent were eliminated from the class, so there was tremendous pressure to not flunk out.

Blagojevich said he would be reading history books, but couldn’t get to his law books. Blagojevich said he liked lectures where you furiously scribbled notes, but that was the era of the movie Paper Chase, and the professors enjoyed a Socratic method where students were called on to debate.

Blagojevich said after the holidays, he was flunking out, getting a 61 in civil procedure and 64 in torts. Blagojevich said he was right under 70 after the first semester, which was the cutoff to staying in school. Blagojevich said in his second semester, he inched himself above the cut off, but he was on academic probation after his first year, which he was very ashamed of. He said he felt like he let his parents down.

Blagojevich said it wasn’t the Malibu lifestyle that did him in, it was that he couldn’t stop reading the history books.

Blagojevich said that first summer, he came back to Chicago to work painting porches with mostly Polish immigrants for a company owned by a friend of his father. Blagojevich said the painting was in the area near Wrigley Field, which was just starting to be gentrified.


UPDATE: 11:13  a.m.
Blagojevich said he still reads history books and considers them road maps for how to live life.

Blagojevich said he has to be careful because sometimes when he talks about his favorite historical figures, the press says he was comparing himself to Winston Churchill or Gandhi, and Blagojevich said he wasn’t doing that, but he considered these figures as examples for how he lived his life. Blagojevich said Churchill lived his life to always try to have good ideas, and Lincoln read out loud to hear his arguments.

Blagojevich said he even likes some Republicans, like Ronald Reagan, whose policies led to the collapse of Communism.

Blagojevich testified his wife, Patti, is a lot smarter than him, but she makes fun of him for the books he reads because she finds them “not relaxing.” Blagojevich said even though the books are long and thick, they are therapeutic and inspirational and have guided him to who he is.

Blagojevich once again said his parents put him through college and that he greatly appreciated that, but said they didn’t have enough money for him to go law school right away, so after graduating from Northwestern, he took some jobs to earn money for law school. He said one of the jobs was to post documents at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office, for which he hand-wrote documents. Blagojevich said he also worked part time as a court interpreter for Serbians and Croatians who couldn’t speak English. Blagojevich said he and his brother were bilingual, speaking English with his mom, who was Americans, and Serbian with his dad, who was from the “old country.”

Blagojevich joked if his mother wasn’t American, his first name would be as hard to pronounce as his last name, naming him and his brother Rod and Robert. His real Serbian name is Milorad, which means happy worker.

Blagojevich said during this time, he also delivered pizzas and did construction work. Blagojevich said while doing the construction work for Helene Curtis, he got free Suave shampoo that smelled like strawberries. Blagojevich said one of the people he knew in this time later held a high-priced fundraiser for him when he was running for office, which wasn’t in exchange “for anything.”

Blagojevich said he applied to several law schools and took the LSATs, which are very important standardized tests. Blagojevich said his wife, Patti, is usually in the top 90th percentile on those tests, but he was below the 50th percentile. Blagojevich testified he took the tests again and it was marginally better, but still “comfortably under” the 50th percentile.

Blagojevich said he applied to Harvard and the defense attorney interrupted to ask him, with his scores “what made you think you could get into Harvard?”

Blagojevich said he thought maybe he could persuade them in the essay section and he always thought to reach as high as possible.

“I like to say I sent my application in on a Monday and got my letter of rejection back on a Tuesday,” Blagojevich said. “I’m not literally saying that because I’m under oath, but I got rejected pretty quickly.”

Blagojevich said he applied to a lot of the top schools, including Northwestern, University of Chicago and east coast schools where George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin and others walked the streets.

Blagojevich said he got a book that told him where he had a good shot of getting in, so he started lowering his expectations and applying to places he good get in. He testified he eventually got into John Marshall Law School in Chicago and Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

Blagojevich said he thought Pepperdine might give him a bigger life experience and a chance to try new things.


UPDATE: 10:57  a.m.
The defense attorney asked Blagojevich about the tapes and his swearing in them, asking if he talks like that a lot.

Blagojevich testified as he left for court this morning, he asked his daughters to kiss him goodbye and his elder daughter said “Good luck, watch your language.” Blagojevich said he wanted to apologize to the people of Illinois for his language.

“When I hear myself on tape swearing like that I’m an ‘effing jerk,’ and I apologize,” Blagojevich said.

After talking about graduating from Northwestern, he interrupted his attorney asking, “Can I say something?” to talk about being a pretty good student at Northwestern and what he liked to study.

“I had a mancrush on Alexander Hamilton,” Blagojevich said.


UPDATE: 10:53 a.m.
The defense turned back to Blagojevich’s college experience. Blagojevich testified he originally followed his older brother, who went the University of Tampa with baseball aspirations, although his brother ended up winning a military position and serving for six years, then in reserves for 14 years.

Blagojevich testified his mother instilled in him a love of reading and books, and said he had a set of World Book Encyclopedias growing up. Blagojevich said he always knew his parents wanted him to go to college and while his parents watched what they wanted to on TV, he would read the encyclopedias. The former governor also said he fell in love with history when his parents got him books as a young kid about historical figures like President George Washington, President Abe Lincoln and even Clara Barton.

Blagojevich said he fell in love with history, and when his baseball and basketball dreams dried up, he thought perhaps he could be like the historical figures he grew up admiring.

Blagojevich talked about studying Teddy Roosevelt, who went to Harvard and took up boxing “just to test himself and shape his character,” which inspired him to take up boxing. He said the first time he got his name in the paper was when he got his golden gloves.

“I wouldn’t recommend boxing as a long-term career for anybody, it’s a very brutal sport,” Blagojevich said, but it is a good experience for shaping character.

Blagojevich went into an “aside” about a boxing match in which he got knocked out, but politicians were passing out the awards and he met Richard Daley.

Back to his college experience, Blagojevich testified he spent two years he loved at Tampa as a history major. He said he got good grades, “mostly A’s,” and got to take interesting classes.

Blagojevich said he only worked during the summers -- the first summer at the Alaska pipeline and the second in Philadelphia at a meat-packing plant that made the hot dogs for Phillies games. Blagojevich said that was the Summer of Sam and the summer Elvis passed away (Aug. 16, 1977, it really affected him).

Blagojevich said his father always had a dream that he would go to Northwestern, but Blagojevich said he couldn’t get in after high school because his grades and ACT scores weren’t good enough. Blagojevich said after his good grades at Tampa, he applied again to Northwestern and was accepted. Blagojevich said he transferred there because he wanted to go law school and though Northwestern would help his chances.

Blagojevich said he was active in school in Tampa and a pretty good student and he liked being away from home, but he left “all that” to go to Northwestern. Blagojevich said his family did well enough to not qualify for scholarships, but not well enough for him to live on campus. Blagojevich said he lived in a six-room apartment with his parents and his aunt Helen.

Blagojevich said he was delivering pizzas and going to school, but it wasn’t an ideal situation. Blagojevich talked about a Shakespeare class he took in which he really liked the teacher and how sad he was when he found out much later she had passed away of cancer.

Blagojevich said he didn’t interact much with Northwestern students, but he made some friends his senior year. Blagojevich said he “thought he was fashionable,” and it was the disco era. He said he bought his clothes in the city and had the look of Saturday Night Fever. Blagojevich said the students at Northwestern were poorly dressed in his opinion, wearing khakis and “shirts with little alligators on it.”

Later, Blagojevich said, “you are who you are, but I started wearing less polyester.”

“You talked about this being the disco era -- are you still in that era in terms of your hair?” the defense attorney asked. Blagojevich said that yes, he is a product of the disco era and that hasn’t changed.


UPDATE: 10:39 a.m. 
Blagojevich said one summer he took a job in a manufacturing plant at a low wage, and said he had to join a union to get the job.

Blagojevich said when his dad was in his 60s, he couldn’t make enough money at his job, so his dad went to the Alaskan pipeline to work as a janitor because the wages were good.

Blagojevich said it taught him that parents would do anything for their kids, and he knew his parents wanted him and his brother to go to college. Blagojevich said after graduating high school, he left his high school sweetheart to get a job on the pipeline. He testified there was a high demand for the jobs, and you had to go to Alaska, get on the union list then wait for a job. Blagojevich said he worked at a car wash place in Fairbanks while he waited to get called up for a job.

Blagojevich said there was a policy in his father’s part of the company that you couldn’t work in the same camp as family members, so eventually he went back home and got a job. The next summer, after his first year of college, Blagojevich said he got a job in Alaska on the pipeline.

“When I met Sarah Palin about a week before I was arrested, I told her all about my experience and she knew all about it,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich testified he took the job to help pay for college and contribute to his family.

Blagojevich said after her clerical work, his mother worked for the transit system passing out transfers.

Blagojevich said his father was an immigrant who fought in World War II and a prisoner of the Nazis, and after the war, he waited in a refugee camp in Yugoslavia because he didn’t want to go back to his communist state for three years until Congress passed a law “that allowed people with long and hard-to-pronounce last names like ours to come to America,” Blagojevich said.

Blagojevich said testified he watched his father try to have success at various endeavors, but invariably he would have struggles. Blagojevich’s father tried to open a Laundromat, Blagojevich said, but failed to see how coin-operated machines were the future and it failed.

The defense asked Blagojevich how watching his parents influenced his life. Blagojevich said it didn’t directly affect his world view, but seeped into his psyche and shaped his life experience. He said it gave him a “certain sense of values and a certain sense of people helping others.” He also testified he picked up his dad’s propensity to dream.

Blagojevich said his father never lived to see him take office, which would have been wonderful for him to see, but he got to be “governor of the fifth largest state,” and, with Blagojevich choking up, he testified he knew his parents would be happy from heaven.

Blagojevich described when his parents passed away and how it affected him.


UPDATE: 10:24  a.m.
Rod Blagojevich was called to the stand and introduced himself.

“I used to be your governor, and I’m here today to tell you the truth,” Blagojevich said. When asked how if felt to be there, Blagojevich said, “It’s a mixed feeling. I’d rather be somewhere else, but I’ve waited two years to be here and tell me story.”

Blagojevich grew up in the neighborhood around Cicero and Armitage, a working class neighborhood in the 1960s and an ethnically diverse neighborhood. Blagojevich said he and his brother were products of the Chicago Public School system.

Blagojevich and the defense attorney joked about him failing drafting class and Blagojevich’s aspirations to play in the NBA.

The defense showed Blagojevich a picture of his family from when he was about 15 years old, and he described his family life growing up.

The defense and Blagojevich talked about his aspirations to play baseball and his failed attempts to make the team. Blagojevich said his older brother, Robert, was much better and had the opportunity to play some in college. Blagojevich said his failures at baseball led him to his basketball aspirations, because you could get better by yourself whereas with baseball, you needed a team to practice with.

Blagojevich said the summer before his junior year of high school, he went everywhere wearing ankle weights and practicing basketball. He said when he got to Foreman High School, he wasn’t as good as he thought he would be, especially at defense, and he never made it off the bench. He said it was a reality check and he realized he wasn’t going to go to the NBA or get off the bench, so he decided to take a job.

He said the first job he got was at 9 years old with his brother as a shoe shine boy where his mother worked. She was a clerical worker at a factory near home, where she would come every day to make lunch. Blagojevich said it was a learning experience because it taught him how to work.

The defense attorney asked Blagojevich if the lessons he learned on the job as a kid shaped who Blagojevich was today. Blagojevich said it was an important lesson for a kid to learn that if you do a good job, you can earn tips.


UPDATE: 9 :31 a.m.
Blagojevich arrived at the Dirksen Federal Building, but did not confirm whether or not he would testify.  He was carrying a briefcase and binder of transcripts.


Rod Blagojevich Plans to Testify at Trial   | Originally reported by:

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