Joseph Cari, Former Democratic National Fund-raiser, Testifies to Shakedown by Rod Blagojevich

Former Democratic national fund-raiser Joseph Cari -- who once was presidential candidate Al Gore's top fund-raiser -- is back on the witness stand this morning.

He's discussing a New York fund-raising trip he helped arrange for then-Gov.-Blagojevich in 2003, as well as the alleged shakedown of an East Coast investment-banking firm, JER Partners, in 2004.

Prosecutors are using Cari's testimony to try to show jurors how Blagojevich and his top fund-raisers were trying to control consulting fees tied to state teacher-pension investments in exchange for campaign contributions and kickbacks.

Cari revisited many of the same interactions with Blagojevich insiders he spoke of while testifying in 2008 at the corruption trial of Antoin “Tony” Rezko, a top fundraiser for the former governor.

Cari recalled a fundraising trip he took with Blagojevich and others to New York in the fall of 2003. The main event took place at the Harbor Club. Cari said he was pulled off to a corner of the room by political fixer Stuart Levine, a corrupt member of two state regulatory panels who had been drawn into Blagojevich’s orbit. Cari testified that the “quid pro quo” was clear.

Over the next several months, Cari said, Rezko and Kelly reached out to him and asked him to head a national fundraising operation for Blagojevich who was already harboring presidential ambitions even though he was new to the governor’s post.

Before Democratic Party fundraiser Joseph Cari left the stand, Michael Gillespie, one of Blagojevich’s lawyers, pointed out some significant caveats in his testimony.

Cari may have been threatened with the loss of a state pension investment if he didn’t play ball, Gillespie noted during cross-examination, but that threat came from political fixer Stuart Levine, not Blagojevich.

Gillespie also focused on a private conversation that Cari testified he had with Blagojevich en route to a fundraiser in New York in the fall of 2003. On Wednesday, Cari said that Blagojevich at the time had talked about how sitting governors were well positioned to use their offices to raise campaign cash for presidential runs.

A Chicago attorney told Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial Thursday that he warned an asset management firm it had to hire a consultant recommended by one of the former governor's top fundraisers or lose $80 million in business with a state pension board.

In his second day on the witness stand, Joseph Cari testified that he delivered the warning to the Virginia-based JER Partners under pressure from disgraced attorney Stuart Levine.

In one wiretap tape played in court, a highly agitated Levine was heard talking to Cari about yanking the $80 million commitment of state pension funds to JER because it hadn't hired the consultant recommended by the fundraiser, now-convicted political fixer Tony Rezko.