Prominent Blagojevich witnesses have pros and cons

Rod Blagojevich's attorneys have said they will call prominent people to testify in their defense of the former governor in his corruption retrial.

Rod Blagojevich's attorneys have said they will call prominent people to testify in their defense of the former governor in his corruption retrial.

The cryptic remark set off a guessing game over who will take the stand: Blagojevich himself? Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel? White House adviser Valerie Jarrett? U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.? Dozens of people received subpoenas from the defense before the first trial last year.

The former governor faces 20 charges, including trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a high-profile job. He has denied any wrongdoing.

There are pros and cons in calling each of the high-profile witnesses. Here are some of them:

— Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich

If he does take the stand, Blagojevich's attorneys hope the twice-elected governor will turn on the charm that helped him win the governor's office twice. But the onetime contestant on TV's "Celebrity Apprentice" also has made some big gaffs.

By putting him on the stand, Blagojevich's attorneys would be able to raise issues they couldn't get at while cross-examining government witnesses. Namely: What was Blagojevich thinking while appearing to talk on FBI wiretap recordings about profiting from his decisions as governor? He has said previously he had no criminal intent and was merely thinking about how his constituents could benefit.

But he also would face cross-examination by government prosecutors, who are anxious to question him about excerpts from the FBI wiretap tapes of his profanity-laced phone conversations.

— Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

The defense has suggested Emanuel expressed willingness days before Blagojevich's 2008 arrest to help him forge a deal to legally name someone to Obama's Senate seat.

By calling the former White House chief of staff, the defense may try to make a point they've made often to the media: That Blagojevich was merely wheeling and dealing like all politicians do. The judge has said repeatedly that the defense isn't allowed to make that argument to jurors, but defense attorneys may be able to bring it up in questioning Emanuel and then just let prosecutors object.

The pitfall is that Emanuel, who left his White House job to run for mayor, also is described by prosecutors as a Blagojevich shakedown target. The government says Blagojevich tried to get Emanuel's brother to use his ties to Hollywood hold a fundraiser for him by withholding a $2 million grant in Emanuel's district when he was a congressman.

Emanuel is not accused of any wrongdoing.

— White House adviser Valerie Jarrett

Blagojevich allegedly offered to appoint Jarrett, Obama's longtime adviser and friend, to the president's old Senate seat if Obama gave him a top administration post.

Witnesses testified that Obama wanted the now-White House adviser named to replace him. But there's no evidence Jarrett, Obama or anyone else around Obama tried to engage Blagojevich in deal-making. On the contrary, when word reached Blagojevich that Obama was willing only to offer him "appreciation" in exchange, Blagojevich is heard cursing on the FBI wiretaps.

The defense could try to get Jarrett to say she never saw herself as a victim of a political scheme to back up its claim that there was no crime because there were no victims.

But Judge James Zagel would likely shoot down such an attempt. When the defense sought to employ similar reasoning earlier, he noted that an attempted bank robbery is still a crime, even if a teller doesn't know it took place.

— U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Testimony surfaced in the trial that supporters of the son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson allegedly offered to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations for Blagojevich if the then-governor named him to Obama's Senate seat.

Blagojevich's attorneys have wondered aloud why, if Blagojevich was arrested for allegedly trying to trade the seat, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. hasn't been charged for trying to get it. The implication is that Jackson wasn't charged because he didn't do anything wrong — and they say neither did their client.

But using Jackson to make that point to jurors would be a challenge. The congressman hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing.

— Convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko

The defense has claimed that federal agents put enormous legal pressure on longtime fundraiser and wheeler-dealer Tony Rezko — now behind bars — to lie about Blagojevich's actions as governor. Blagojevich's attorneys might believe his testimony would garner sympathy for the former governor.

Prosecutors considered calling Rezko, believing he could provide damning testimony against his former benefactor, but ultimately they didn't.

Since his arrest and subsequent conviction in 2008 for fraud, money laundering and bribery, Rezko has become a symbol of corrupt politics in Illinois. He may not be a desirable witness for either side.

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