Testimony from Ex-Rod Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris Con - FOX 32 News Chicago

Testimony from Ex-Rod Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris Continues in Retrial


Testimony from a star witness in the retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich continued Wednesday. Former Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris testified the governor was seeking well-paid positions for himself from the Obama administration in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate.

Complete Rod Blagojevich Trial Coverage >>

Key Points :

  • Blagojevich's wife, Patti, came up in Harris' testimony Wednesday.  Harris testified Blagojevich wanted Harris to find Patti a position with financial firms that do business with the state.  The prosecution also played a tape in which Patti looks up some potential salaries for Blagojevich with the SEIU, and he curses at her, telling her they would be creating the position anyway so it didn't matter.
  • Prosecutors moved Harris to the top of the witness lineup in an apparent effort to bolster their case. Harris was the fourteenth witness at the first Blagojevich trial, and he was on the stand for six days.
  • With Harris on the stand Tuesday, prosecutors played tapes in which Harris and Blagojevich repeatedly discussed Blagojevich getting a cabinet post or an ambassadorship from President Obama in return for appointing Jarrett to the Senate.
  • In one conversation, Blagojevich told Harris how desperate he was to leave his job as governor. “I'd like to get out, the f*** outta here,” Blagojevich said in the recording. “Yeah, the objective is to, to get a good gig over there.” In a recording played Wednesday, Blagojevich said he was depressed from election night when he said that to Harris.


UPDATE:  4:54 p.m.
In the call, Harris says Blago would run the 501(c4) in two years but he wants it set up now so he could take it over in two years or less to ensure he'd benefit from appointing Jarrett to the Senate seat.

Harris says he cautioned Blagojevich to consider a Senate seat appointee who is in the best interest of the people of Illinois and not someone Blagojevich would later benefit from.

Later in the call, Harris says Blagojevich is back to seriously considering Emil Jones for the Senate seat but then Blagojevich asked Harris what he thought about either Jones or Jarrett for the senate seat.

Judge Zagel stopped the prosecutors’ questioning.

Court is done for the day, and will resume Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. when prosecutors will continue questioning Harris for a third day.

UPDATE:  4:23 p.m.
The prosecution begins playing a call from 7:40 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2008 , while John Harris was driving to Midway Airport on his way to Springfield for a legislative session.

In the call, Harris and Blagojevich discuss a news story about Valerie Jarrett a taking cabinet position at the White House. Harris told Blagojevich he doesn’t believe the story. He said the news story contradicts John Wyma's call to Harris about the Senate seat, saying it the Obama administration would appreciate Jarrett’s appointment to the seat.

Harris and Blagojevich talked about who might potentially donate to the 501(c4) that Blagojevich would set up and head after he's out of office. Blagojevich keeps mentioning Warren Buffet and Bill Gates as possible donors.

In the call, Blagojevich said he could set up the non-profit right away and have someone else run it until he's ready to take over. That’s when the foundation would become "a major player." according to Blagojevich.

Harris said if they can’t get the Obama Administration to donate to the 501(c4), then they are not having good faith discussions about the Senate seat.

Blagojevich asks Harris if he would still appoint Lt. Gov. Luanner Peters to the Senate seat even if the Obama Administration doesn’t balk at her possibly being appointed.

Harris asked, “Who is your second choice?”

In the call, Blagojevich said he cant believe what Jesse Jackson Jr. is telling him about the Senate seat; that it’s more substantial than what the Obama Administration was saying. Blagojevich said he doesn’t like Jackson Jr., because he's a bad guy he doesn’t trust.

Blagojevich then mentions Eric Whittaker and Ken Duncan as possible choices. He then mentions Ricky Hendon, Emil Jones and Peters as possible Senate appointees. Blagojevich asked Harris which pick would be the most maligned.

In the call, Blagojevich talked about how the Obama administration will be appreciative and grateful compared to Emil Jones.

The prosecution finished playing the tape and questioned Harris about it.

In his testimony, Harris reiterated how he told Blagojevich that he didn’t believe the CNN story that Jarrett was no longer interested in the Senate seat, and therefore took a White House cabinet position.

Harris testified that Blagojevich wanted a 501(c4) endowed with $10-15 million by friends of Obama. He wanted a place he would head up in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.

When discussing this story with Blagojevich, Harris testified that he didn’t want to get into a big fight with Blagojevich when heading to Springfield with a full agenda to handle. If they fought now, he testified, he knew Blagojevich wouldn’t be talking to him for the next few days, and there was too much to do to not be on speaking terms with Blagojevich.

UPDATE:  4:07 p.m.
The prosecution begins playing call sessions from Nov. 11, 2008 between John Harris and Rod Blagojevich.

In the call, Harris relayed John Wyma’s message from Rahm Emanuel to Blagojevich about appointing Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.

“(Wyma) said he was tryin' to get a hold of you, but he hasn't been able to get through to you,” Harris is heard saying on the tape. “That Rahm asked him to deliver the message that president-elect would be very pleased if you appointed Valerie and he would be, ah, ‘thankful and appreciative’. Those are the operative words.”

Blagojevich replied, “So, um, yeah we got the message and we know what he wants.”

He then asked Harris about setting up a 501(c) non-profit for kids insurance and having friends of Obama, like Warren Buffet, donate to it. Blagojevich could then head it up at a later time.

Harris and Blagojevich then discuss Deputy Gov. Louanner Peters as a safety net.

“We have to factor in the, the reality of (impeachment)…” Blagojevich said. “You put Louanner over there (in the Senate seat). I mean we can count on Louanner if things got hot to give that up and let me parachute over there.”

Harris asked, “Um, stepping down and then filling the vacancy? Yeah I think we can count on Louanner to do that.”

“She’d be the only one I would count on to do that,” Blagojevich said, saying she’s his pick, but that he wants something more than appreciation.

In the call, Blagojevich told Harris to leak to Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed that Jesse Jackson Jr. is being added to the mix of possible Senate seat replacements.

Then the prosecution finished playing the tape and began questioning Harris about it.

Harris testified that Blagojevich was determined to make a deal for the Senate seat one way or another -- whether for campaign contributions or a new job.

Later in the call, Blagojevich said he's not taking any action on the Senate seat until he hears back from Tom Balanoff, but still wanted to plant the Jesse Jackson Jr. info in a Michael Sneed column to send a message to the Obama Administration – even though, Harris testified, Blagojevich was not considering Jackson Jr.

Harris testified he saw a news story the next day about Valerie Jarrett taking a cabinet position at the White House.

Prosecutors then began preparing to play another tape.


UPDATE:  3:50 p.m.
After a short break, the prosecution begins asking Harris about a phone call he received from John Wyma on Nov. 10, 2008.

Harris said Wyma told him he had a message from Rahm Emanuel about the Senate seat to give to Blagojevich, but couldn’t reach Blagojevich to give it to him. So they called Harris to pass it along.

The prosecution asked was the message was.

Harris said Wyma told him Barack Obama would be thankful and appreciative if Blagojevich would appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat.

Harris said he understood and would deliver the message. He also said that he did relay that message to Blagojevich.

UPDATE:  3:31 p.m.
The prosecution continues playing a call from 4:11 p.m. on Nov. 7, 2008 between Harris, Blagojevich and Yang. Blagojevich says he has to consider his family because, he says, “financially we’re hurtin.’” Blagojevich tells Yang that he and Harris talked about ambassadorships, but ultimately decided that wasn’t a likely request.

Yang tells Blagojevich that there might be a number of low-profile positions that don’t require Senate confirmation he might be appointed to, and that they pay $190,000. Blagojevich says he makes close to $170,000 as governor and the small positions don’t appeal to him because he wants to “make money.”

Harris and Blagojevich tell Yang about their idea to make Blagojevich the national director of the SEIU’s Change to Win campaign and the three talk about it like a “three-way trade” in baseball, in which Balanoff and Andy Stern would give Blagojevich the SEIU position and Blagojevich would appoint Jarrett.

Harris says in the call that it would give Obama the ability to have a buffer, so there would be no obvious “quid pro quo for Valerie.” Yang says that’s a “great thing.”

In the recording, Blagojevich says they would have to ask the SEIU to create the position, and, he says, “for me to give up governor for that, that would have to pay a lot more than what I'm gettin' paid now.”

Blagojevich, Harris and Yang talk about how good an idea the Change to Win position is, with Yang marveling that it was Harris’ idea since it was so good. They talk about the ability for Blagojevich to stage a political comeback later by building relationships with donors and working class voters through the SEIU. Blagojevich also asks Yang if he thinks $250,000 to $300,000 would be reasonable.

Blagojevich brings up whether he should mention appointing himself to Senate, and Yang agrees he could suggest it if there are no better options and if he promises to not run for re-election. Blagojevich agrees, but also says that he could change his mind and run for re-election after all.

The prosecution aksed Harris if he talked about the “Change to Win” idea for the Blagojevich campaign. He said he did, and that he learned it was designed to help get certain candidates elected to office. Based on various discussions, Harris says Blagojevich would be paid approximately $125,000 in a “Change to Win” position and that he was disappointed when he found out.

In the call, Blagojevich then says he did some research and found other congressmen had wives who lobbied in D.C. He asks Yang if Patti could come out to Washington and lobby as well, and Yang told him it wouldn’t be a bad option.

The prosecution asked Harris if it was true that Blagojevich researched that other politician's wives were paid lobbyists in D.C., and he confirmed that it was.

Yang tells Blagojevich he should say the SEIU position is his number one choice, tell the Obama administration he wasn’t likely to run for governor again and mention the Lisa Madigan option again.

Later in the call, Blagojevich says “I'd have to figure out a way though where this would give me some financial, an opportunity for upward mobility financially over there in these wilderness years, you know.”

The prosecution asked Harris if Jesse Jackson Jr. was discussed as an inappropriate choice to fill the Senate Seat. Harris said Blagojevich was not considering him.

Court then took a 15-minute break.


UPDATE:  2:27 p.m.
Court was called back into session after lunch break. The prosecution began questioning Harris on a Nov. 7, 2008 phone call with Harris, Blagojevich, Mary Stewart and Fred Yang , a political consultant Blagojevich had hired to conduct election polls for him.

In the call, Blagojevich fills Yang in on the conversations he’s been having with Balanoff regarding appointing Jarrett to the Senate. He tells Yang that he told Balanoff he didn’t want to be stuck in Illinois and that if Blagojevich could get the Health and Human Services Secretary position, he would be able to appoint Jarrett.

Blagojevich tells Yang that Balanoff made it seem like Obama was worried about Blagojevich’s Rezko ties and didn’t want to bring him to Washington, so Blagojevich planted the idea that he might take the senate seat himself.

In the recording, Harris tells Yang that they want their “ask to be reasonable and rather than make it look like some sort of selfish grab for a quid pro quo.”

Harris testified it was clear to him that Blagojevich asked Balanoff for the Health and Human Services position in exchange for appointing Jarret to the senate seat.

Yang tells Blagojevich he thinks the answer from the administration will be no, and he, Blagojevich and Harris discuss what their “fallback positions” are. Blagojevich said he would likely not appoint Jarrett if the position for him falls through, and thinks the administration would want him to appoint Emil Jones. Harris says in the recording that they believe appointing Lisa Madigan is a real threat for the administration, whereas Jones is not.

In the call, Blagojevich says he thinks Jarrett has the mayor’s support and Dick Durbin’s support in addition to Obama.

“No, she'd be the consensus pick. The only thing, speaking selfishly one second, is that there doesn't seem to be anything in it for the governor,” Yang said in the recording.
“Nothin',” Blagojevich replied.

Blagojevich goes on to say that Jones really “f***ed” him in supporting the state’s ethics legislation at Obama’s request. Harris, Yang and Blagojevich discuss several potential picks for the Senate and which would benefit the governor the most.


UPDATE:  12:39 p.m.
Harris testified Blagojevich told him the request to be Health and Human Services Secretary was made and both Obama and Jarrett knew that Jarrett would be appointed to the Senate if Blagojevich was appointed to HHS.

Blagojevich said Lisa Madigan getting a cabinet post wouldn’t satisfy him, that he wanted to get out of Illinois and be in the cabinet, Harris testified.

Blagojevich wanted to know the deadline for him to make the senate appointment, Harris testified, because he was concerned the Illinois General Assembly could possibly try to take the power away from him. In that case, Harris said Blagojevich mentioned appointing himself to Senate.

Blagojevich was happy to that Jarrett knew of the deal he offered, saying she could possibly influence Obama to make it happen, Harris said.

In the last recording, Harris testified Blagojevich asked him to talk to Emil Jones to make sure no one was moving legislation to strip Blagojevich of his power to fill the senate seat.

Court then broke for lunch.


UPDATE:  12:05 p.m.
Harris testified Blagojevich asked Balanoff for the Health and Human Services seat when Blagojevich met with him on Nov. 6. Blagojevich said Balanoff thought it was a great idea in exchange for appointing Jarrett.

The prosecution played a recorded conversation from 10:46 a.m. on Nov. 7, 2008 between Rod and Patti Blagojevich and Harris.

In the call, Blagojevich tells Harris he got word from Doug Scofield on behalf of Balanoff that he wanted to meet, that Obama wanted Jarrett appointed and was going to resign his seat soon. Blagojevich says that when he brought up the issue of Lisa Madigan, it was suggested the Obama administration could put her in the cabinet.

Blagojevich tells Harris he thinks the Obama administration wants an African-American in the senate seat and seemed to be operating under the assumption that Blagojevich would run again, which Harris testified he had no intention of.

Blagojevich says in the recording that Giannoulias called him, but tells Harris not to meet with Giannoulias. He says he wants to “run this clock a little bit” so that “no one can take the power of, of this appointment away from me.” Harris testified Blagojevich was concerned because Giannoulias was a close friend of Obama's and Blagojevich didn't want to lose control of what was happening with the senate seat.

Blagojevich and Harris talk in the recording about how to handle the suggestion that the Obama administration bring Lisa Madigan to Washington. Blagojevich says he should make it clear to them that he wants to leave Illinois if they want Jarrett appointed. The two discuss how to best play the conversations with Balanoff and how they think it's going so far.


UPDATE:  11:53 a.m.
The prosecution played a recorded conversation from 12:13 p.m. Nov. 6, 2008 between Patti and Rod Blagojevich.

In the call, Rod tells Patti that Alexi Giannoulias had contacted him about the senate seat and about being Illinois treasurer. Rod tells Patti what he talked about with Giannoulias, then explains to her his idea to ask to run the SEIU’s “Change to Win” campaign in exchange for the appointing Jarrett to the senate seat.

Patti looks up the campaign and its public filing, telling Rod the organization has net assets of $11 million a year, but that none of the employees or directors had salaries.

Rod replies in the recording to not worry about it, that he’d negotiate “a four-year contract for a million a year or somethin',” or perhaps 750,000. He snaps at Patti, saying none of it “f***ing means a thing” because they are going to create the position and tell them what they want. Rod notices something is off with Patti and asks about it, and she says she was trying to be helpful and he jumped down her “f***in’ throat.”

At the end of the call, Blagojevich says he has to stop wearing and Patti agrees he’s a “total gutter mouth.” 

While this recording was played in court, Blagojevich put his hands over his eyes and sort of smiled, presumably trying to show the jury that he didn't really mean what was on the tape.


UPDATE:  11:32 a.m.
In the previous call, Blagojevich also mentioned whether his wife, Patti, could take a position with Change to Win in Illinois if he was the national leader. Harris testified Blagojevich had asked Harris to find Patti a job.

Harris testified Blagojevich told him Patti’s real estate business suffered because of the investigation into him and said the family was suffering financial hardship. Blagojevich also talked about putting Patti on the state Pollution Control Board, a position that paid $100,000 per year, Harris testified.

Blagojevich told Harris to prepare an appointment to the board for Patti if she couldn’t find work elsewhere, Harris testified, but Harris told Blagojevich he didn’t think Patti was qualified and the senate confirmation process might be embarrassing for Blagojevich.

Harris said Blagojevich did not seem concerned, pointing out others without the proper background had served on boards.

Harris testified he told Blagojevich he thought putting Patti on the board was a bad idea.

Harris testified Patti was securing a Series 7 license, since her real estate career "wasn’t working out,” which would allows her to work as a securities broker. Harris said in early to mid 2008, Blagojevich wanted a list of financial institutions that do business with the state to identify prospective employers for Patti.

Harris testified he had John Filan put the list together for Blagojevich, although he told Blagojevich Patti couldn’t work for a firm that did business with the state. Blagojevich then asked Harris to help Patti network with people on the list, Harris testified, which he did.

Harris said he had Patti meet with a senior VP at Citibank, but told the man that it was not the expectation to offer her a position. Another investment head, on Harris’ request, recommended a firm that didn’t do business with the state that Patti might be able to work with. He testified he learned the recommended firm, Northstar Financial, sponsored Patti for her Series 7 exam, but she was not interested in working for them.

Harris testified Patti was upset she wasn’t offered a job with Citibank, and Blagojevich was upset with both men for not offering her a job. Harris testified Blagojevich thought their companies should no longer get state funding.


UPDATE:  11:15 a.m.
After questioning Harris on the first part of the call, the prosecution continued to play the recording they began earlier in the morning.

In the recording, Blagojevich asks Harris, practicing for Balanoff, how any of the appointments help him. They talk about how nonprofits are mostly family run and wouldn’t allow Blagojevich to take over, but Harris suggests that Blagojevich could run the “Change to Win” campaign for the SEIU.

“I tell ya, it's f***ing a great idea. It's a great idea,” Blagojevich said in the recording, noting that he could also build grassroots support for 2016 while in the position.

Blagojevich tells Harris he doesn’t necessarily want to “get the f*** outta here,” that he was depressed on election night, but that he does want to earn some extra income. The two talk about whether Blagojevich could sit on a few boards or teach part-time, then go back to the Change to Win campaign idea.

Blagojevich asks Harris how much he thinks it would pay, how replies it should probably be similar to what Balanoff makes.

“Well he lives on the North Shore, you gotta think he makes more than the governor, right?” Blagojevich asks Harris in the recording. Blagojevich also notes that the position would probably involve fundraising, so you could “develop donors.”

Blagojevich tells Harris to talk to Doug Scofield and find more about the Change to Win campaign, but he says to not tell Balanoff yet. Then the call ends.


UPDATE:  10:21 a.m.
The prosecution played another recorded conversation, this one from 9:25 a.m. on Nov. 06, 2008 . In it, Blagojevich and Harris discuss how to handle conversations with Tom Balanoff, who was handing discussions for Blagojevich and the Obama administration about Jarrett and the senate seat.

In the call, Blagojevich asks Harris if they should bring up Emil Jones as an option to Balanoff, and he suggests to Harris that they ask Balanoff what to do about Lisa Madigan, who seemed to also want the seat.

Blagojevich, practicing for Balanoff, tells Harris that he needs help with House Speaker Mike Madigan, and appointing Lisa Madigan was a way to deal with the “immovable object.” Then Harris, in the recording, tells Blagojevich he should say, “But how does this choice help the unfinished business or my family?”

Blagojevich again asks Harris about how to get the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services from the Obama administration in exchange for appointing Jarrett. He also suggests Transportation Secretary and Housing and Urban Development Secretary.

In the call, Blagojevich reiterates to Harris that they have to make the possibility of Lisa Madigan’s appointment seem credible and that appointing Blagojevich himself was also a credible alternative.

Harris testified Blagojevich was not actually considering appointing Madigan, but they were role-playing in the recording to practice for his conversations with Balanoff.


UPDATE:  9:53 a.m.
Court was called into session and the prosecution continued questioning Harris about a recorded conversation played at the end of testimony on Tuesday . The call, from Nov. 5 2008 , was between Harris, Blagojevich and Deputy Governor Bob Greenlee. In it, they discuss what type of nonprofit foundation Blagojevich could work for and how much he would make.

In the call, Blagojevich mentions possibly appointing himself to the senate seat if he can’t strike a good enough deal with the Obama administration to appoint Jarrett. Blagojevich asks if an ambassadorship or high-level job with a nonprofit organization would be better, and Harris and Greenlee agree it’s the nonprofit position.

Harris testified Blagojevich told Greenlee to research some nonprofits for him to head, but Greenlee found out that many of the organizations were run by family trusts, so the families would be unlikely to step aside and let Blagojevich run the organization.

Later that day, Harris testified, Blagojevich held a press conference stating he was going to execute a search for a replacement for the senate seat by setting up a search committee, and Blagojevich said he was going to be slow and deliberate in his search efforts. Blagojevich said in the press conference he would announce his decision after interviewing select candidates.

Harris testified the public comments did not accurate reflect the actual process that was underway to fill the senate seat. Harris also testified Blagojevich said at the press conference he was not considering himself for the seat.


UPDATE:  9:22 a.m.
Blagojevich arrives at the Dirksen Federal Building.  As usual, he went upstairs to court without saying anything to the media.


UPDATE:  9:07 a.m.
Blagojevich leaves his house in a Nissan SUV, driving himself and his wife, Patti, to court.


Rod Blagojevich Scandal: More Key Players

Visit the "Who's Who" page to learn more about the former Illinois governor , his co-defendants, inner circle, the legal team and what people like President Obama , Sen. Dick Durbin and other high-profile people have to do with the case. >>

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