Defense Begins To Present Its Case in Rod Blagojevich Trial; Julie and Rob Blagojevich Testify
They [Rod and Patti Blagojevich] said that to their knowledge the federal investigation was behind them.”— Julie Blagojevich
He [Rod Blagojevich] had a situation where there were a few people he could trust. He said he knew he could trust me.”— Rob Blagojevich
Bottom line for me was never condition any fundraising request …on a governmental action. A contract, a favorable policy action, I was told never to tie the two, and I never did.”— Rob Blagojevich
It's not about money. That's something that's not gonna happen.”— Rob Blagojevich, speaking to Jesse Jackson Jr. supporter
Rod's going to do what's best for Illinois. Nothing else matters.”— Rob Blagojevich
When Rod Blagojevich walked into the courthouse this morning, he took off his belt for security. He held it while looking at the media from afar, pretending to hit someone with it: "if I'm bad," he said.
Upstairs in the courtroom, Julie Blagojevich, the wife of brother Robert Blagojevich, has just wrapped up her brief testimony as the defense's first witness.
Before taking the stand, Julie sat in the front row of the courtroom. Her son, Alex, sat next to her with a comforting arm around his mom.
In her testimony, Julie said her family and Rod and Patti were not close; they saw each other once a year and talked a few times a year. Rod asked Robert over the July 4, 2008 holiday if he'd help with his campaign.
Julie said she went out to dinner with Rod and Patti and asked about the swirling federal investigation.
"My impression ... To the best of their ability, to their knowledge, the federal investigation was behind them," she said.
The defense in the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich kicked off this morning with testimony from Julie Blagojevich, who told the jury that her husband, Robert, agreed to oversee his brother’s campaign fund only after the governor and first lady promised the federal investigation into their finances was behind them. She said Rob also made the decision when he was reminded of a deathbed promise he and his brother made to their mother.
Rod Blagojevich offered the position to Robert on July 4, 2008, but he was hesitant to accept. Robert had a job managing multi-family dwellings in Nashville and did not want to give up his life there, Julie Blagojevich testified.
Robert Blagojevich, dressed in a dark suit and red and blue tie, took the stand a little while ago. At beginning of his testimony, he was asked if he had any siblings. "I have one brother. Rod," he said.
The words rang loudly in the courtroom, where his brother sat just feet away at the defense table, looking right at Robert with a slight smile on his face.
Robert's attorney, Michael Ettinger, asked with a smile whether there was a stipulation to identity.
Blagojevich testified he helped his brother’s re-election campaign in 2006. He canvassed neighborhoods, placed signs in yards and helped with phone calls.
He testified he also helped raise money by targeting ethnic groups such as Serbs, Greeks and Nigerians.
“I was asked to target ethnic communities that had showed some support in the past,” Robert Blagojevich testified.
Still, Blagojevich said he was "flattered" and "surprised" when the then-governor asked him to oversee the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund in July 2008. With members of his inner-circle under indictment or investigation, Rod Blagojevich said he needed someone he could trust to run the campaign fund.
Robert Blagojevich continued to portray himself as a neophyte in the world of Illinois politics and fundraising, explaining he had to be taught the laws of fundraising and how it worked.
Before taking the job, Robert Blagojevich met with the state's general counsel, William Quinlan, who told him the proper way to conduct fundraising and what lines not to cross. He also got advice from others close to his brother, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, including many who have found themselves embroiled in the corruption investigation such as Alonzo “Lon” Monk, John Harris and John Wyma.
Friends of Blagojevich was not faring well when Robert Blagojevich came to Chicago to help with the governor's fund-raising in summer 2008, Robert testifies. Of a $2.5 million goal, the campaign had only reached the $700,000 mark.
The campaign got turned down often for contributions. "We got more 'no's than 'yes'es," Robert said.
Robert's attorney, Michael Ettinger, asks Robert if he was ever present for a political meeting at the Thompson Center or the governor's mansion in Springfield between Aug. 1, 2008 -- when he came to work for FOB -- and Dec. 9, 2008 -- the day of the arrests.
"No," Robert says. "I think (Rod) made it a deliberate point to keep it separate from that."
Robert Blagojevich testifies that he did call Children's Memorial CEO Patrick Magoon to ask him to hold a fund-raiser in October 2008, but maintains it had nothing to do with his brother's actions to increasing Medicaid reimbursements for the hospital.
Attorney Michael Ettinger starts by rehashing an Oct. 9, 2008, voice mail that Robert left for former Blago fund-raiser John Wyma. On that tape, Robert is heard asking Wyma his plans for soliciting a contribution from Magoon.
"I know that you're going to be following up with Children's Memorial ... just wanted to know what the next steps are and kind of what we're trying to accomplish there," Ettinger reads Robert's words from the transcript.
Robert says he felt it was his duty to follow up with Wyma about the request, but said there was nothing underhanded about it. Ettinger then asks Robert about a later conversation he had directly with Magoon.
Ettinger: Were you told to seek the contribution in exchange for government action? Robert says no.
Ettinger: "Would you have done that?"
Robert: "Absolutely not."
Before breaking for lunch, Robert Blagojevich's defense team focused on knocking down accusations that the ex-governor's brother was involved in the alleged shakedown of Children's Memorial Hospital and its CEO, Patrick Magoon.
Robert testified that he was completely unaware that his brother was considering hiking pediatric doctor rates at the same time he was calling Magoon to ask if he'd host a fundraiser for the governor.
As his testimony continued this afternoon, Robert Blagojevich did his best to try to distance himself from his brother’s alleged attempts to bargain to get something for himself in exchange for his power to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.
Robert Blagojevich said he never spoke to Rod Blagojevich’s team of advisers about who could be named to succeed Obama and that his talks with the governor were just general in nature.
“I guess he was sharing with me as a brother what was going on,” Blagojevich testified.
Attorney Michael Ettinger asked Robert Blagojevich about a fundraiser he attended on Nov. 12, 2008. The governor had talked about his strategy for naming someone to the Senate seat.
“He talked at length about his desire to break the logjam in Springfield,” Robert Blagojevich testified. “He had a capital bill he wanted passed and a health care agenda he wanted passed and to keep income taxes in place. He believed one way to do that was to make overtures to Michael Madigan about his daughter possibly being appointed to the Senate.”
Robert Blagojevich testified that when he told his brother about being approached with an offer of fundraising in an exchange for an appointment of U. S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the vacant U.S. Senate seat, they both dismissed it.
"We thought it was a joke," Robert Blagojevich said. "Outrageous."
Blagojevich said Indian businessman Rajinder Bedi had brought up the topic with him. At a later fundraiser, Raghu Nayak, another prominent businessman in the Indian community,
explicitly offered to raise $1.5 million, Blagojevich testified.
Robert Blagojevich's lawyers have played a portion of a secretly recorded conversation not before heard by the jury. In it Blagojevich and Indian businessman Babu Patel discussed fundraising for the Blagojevich campaign in exchange for an appointment to the U. S. Senate.
Blagojevich could be heard telling Patel about an approach by Indian supporters of Jesse Jackson Jr. agreeing to raise money in exchange for Jackson being appointed to the vacant seat.
"Rod's going to do what's best for Illinois. Nothing else matters," Robert Blagojevich said on the recording.
He later adds: "Money is not going to be a factor. Money not going to be factor. Make that clear."
Robert Blagojevich was distracted, annoyed, and just trying to enjoy a cup of coffee in a noisy Starbucks with his wife, who was recuperating from foot surgery, when federal investigators caught him on tape discussing the Senate seat appointment with his brother, Robert has testified.
The Dec. 4, 2008 tape -- in which Rod asks Robert to set up a meeting with fund-raiser Raghu Nayak about a potentially lucrative Jesse Jackson Jr. appointment -- is key to the government's case against Robert, who is charged with this scheme in the indictment.
But Robert testifies he was only half-paying attention and thoroughly annoyed since the two had talked numerous times that day and had also attended a fund-raiser.
"I was put out," Robert Blagojevich says of his brother's phone call. In the courtroom, Robert smiles. Rod is looking over at his brother, smiling too.