Will Blagojevich Testify? His Lawyers Aren't Sure

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich holds a dummy newspaper page. i i

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich holds a dummy newspaper page that promises, "And now ... the rest of the story." However, Blagojevich's attorneys are debating whether to allow him to testify at his corruption trial. Charles Rex Arobogast/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Rex Arobogast/AP
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich holds a dummy newspaper page.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich holds a dummy newspaper page that promises, "And now ... the rest of the story." However, Blagojevich's attorneys are debating whether to allow him to testify at his corruption trial.

Charles Rex Arobogast/AP

He has been saying for months that he wants to tell his side of the story, but the former governor of Illinois may or may not testify when his corruption trial resumes in a federal courtroom Wednesday. Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich disagree on whether the ousted governor should take the stand or whether they will call any defense witnesses at all.

The Blagojevich case has been full of drama — ever since he was arrested at his home in December 2008 and charged with fraud, racketeering and attempted extortion and accused of trying to sell the U.S. senate seat vacated by President Obama to the highest bidder. After he was ousted from office, Blagojevich repeatedly proclaimed his innocence on talk shows, to reporters, to just about anyone who would listen — as he did just last week in the lobby of the federal courthouse.

"Over a year and a half, I've had to sit back and wait for an opportunity to begin the process of proving my innocence," he said. "Now the process to prove my innocence begins, and I will testify."

Lawyers Disagree

There was plenty of anticipation Tuesday when it was time for attorneys for the former governor to present his defense. Instead, the jury was sent out of the room, the judge and lawyers huddled in a hushed conversation, and the trial ended for the day. The Blagojevich attorneys were at odds over whether their client should take the witness stand, and by some accounts were ready to rest their case. Attorney Sam Adam Sr., speaking outside the courthouse, said there was no reason for Blagojevich to testify because he believes the government has no case.

"They made these allegations about him selling the Senate seat," Adam said. "They made these allegations about him putting everything in the state up for sale, and they've proven nothing."

Adam said government prosecutors failed to bring forward some of the witnesses they said they would. However, in the opening statement, his son Sam Adam Jr. said the former governor would testify, and he says now it may be risky if Blagojevich does not.

"There's always that danger. We have to weigh the issues and we'll come to an understanding tonight and go forward," he said. "The ultimate decider on this is the governor."

And, he said, whether or not Blagojevich takes the stand, his client is innocent: "The man hasn't done anything but try to be a good governor. Stupid mistakes certainly. Criminal mistakes never."

Not Uncommon

Northwestern University law professor Albert Alschuler says defendants often charge the government has not proven its case so this "will he or will he not testify" dilemma is not as surprising as it might seem.

"If the governor were to testify, the cross-examination would go on for days. It would be a brutal process," Alschuler said.

The government's case is based on hours of secretly recorded audiotapes of conversations between Blagojevich and his aides, a few of whom testified against him. And, Alschuler said, prosecutors would want to lead the former governor through every piece of evidence.

There has already been a Blagojevich on the witness stand, though — co-defendant Robert Blagojevich, the former governor's brother, was the head of the Blagojevich fundraising committee. He pleaded not guilty to charges of illegally pressing for campaign contributions, and he testified, sparring with government prosecutors for several hours.

"Do I feel beaten up? Absolutely not," he said.

But, he said, he couldn't advise his brother whether or not to take the witness stand: "Who am I to give him advice? He doesn't listen to me. You should know that by now."

Robert Blagojevich's attorney, Michael Ettinger, said whether or not jurors get a chance to hear the former governor testify should have no effect on his client.

"They have a separate case," he said. "He testified. We rested. Let's go."

What "go" means in this case is still up in the air and won't be certain until Blagojevich attorneys announce their next move in court Wednesday.

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