CHICAGO (AP) – Rod Blagojevich said he would need “political cover” to appoint himself to President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat, and considered blaming failed talks with a legislative leader over health care and other items, a government witness testified Tuesday at the former governor’s corruption trial.
Former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris said Blagojevich considered appointing the daughter of state House Speaker Michael Madigan, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, to the seat in exchange for the elder Madigan’s cooperation on health care and jobs bills.
But Harris said Blagojevich expected talks with his rival to fail and that he could then appoint himself using the excuse that he was “trying to get things done for the people of Illinois.”
Harris was on the witness stand for the sixth day, and was being cross-examined by Blagojevich’s lawyers.
He testified that Blagojevich believed that U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was on Obama’s list of acceptable candidates to replace him in the Senate, but wasn’t sure how much confidence Obama and top senators had in Jackson’s ability to hold on to the seat in an election.
Harris said Blagojevich told him in early December 2008 – just days before Blagojevich’s arrest – to call future White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to verify that Jackson would be acceptable.
Defense attorney Sam Adam Sr. theorized that Blagojevich was trying to create the false impression that he was about to appoint Jackson in order to prod other lawmakers to help him get a deal to appoint Lisa Madigan, who Democrats believed would have an easier time holding the seat.
Adam also asked Harris about a meeting between Blagojevich and Jesse Jackson Jr. the day before federal agents swept into Blagojevich’s home at dawn and arrested him.
Harris, who was also at the meeting, told jurors the three sat around a coffee table in the governor’s Chicago office and talked about Jackson’s qualifications.
“Did (Blagojevich) say anything about money?” Adam asked Harris, his voice rising.
“No, sir,” Harris responded. He added that Jackson also did not broach any issues of money.
On Monday, prosecutors played secretly made tapes that showed that Blagojevich warmed to the idea of picking Jackson, someone he had been heard on tape earlier as calling “a bad guy, a really bad guy.”
Harris testified that Blagojevich told him a “third party” with ties to Jackson had visited the governor and dangled the possibility of a $1.5 million campaign contribution. Harris did not address that person’s identity in testimony Monday.
Blagojevich 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to get a high-paying job or a massive campaign contribution for appointing someone to the Senate seat. He also has pleaded not guilty to plotting to use the powers of the governor’s office to launch a racketeering scheme.
His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat and illegally pressuring a campaign contributor.
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