Blagojevich May Testify At Trial Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich might take the stand as soon as Tuesday as he begins to defend himself in his federal corruption trial. Legal experts and criminal defense lawyers say putting the former governor on the stand is a risky strategy but add that Blagojevich's own testimony may be the only realistic way he can counter the words the jury has already heard come out of his mouth.

Blagojevich May Testify At Trial

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Rod Blagojevich has been proclaiming his innocence to anyone who will listen. Today, the former Democratic governor of Illinois could begin telling his story to the 12 people who matter most - the jury in his federal corruption trial. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER: Though they initially said it could take up to four months, prosecutors presented their evidence against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in just six weeks, methodically going through each of the 24 counts against him and using Blagojevich's own voice, secretly recorded by FBI wiretaps, to suggest he hated his job...

(Soundbite of tape recording)

Mr. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Former Illinois Governor): I'd like to get the (bleep) out of here.

SCHAPER: ...that he wanted something that paid a lot better...

(Soundbite of tape recording)

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: You know, now is the time for me to put my (bleep) children and my wife first, for a change.

SCHAPER: ...and that he was looking to trade the appointment of a U.S. senator to get it.

(Soundbite of tape recording)

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: I mean, I've got this thing and it's (bleep) golden. And I'm just not giving it up for (bleep) nothing.

SCHAPER: Prosecutors showed Blagojevich and his wife to be deep in debt after spending $400,000 over seven years on clothes. The prosecution alleges Blagojevich was desperate to raise campaign cash and illegally tried to squeeze highway contractors, the horseracing industry, and the CEO of a children's hospital for contributions.

And when some of his advisors suggested there would be a public backlash if he appointed himself to the Senate when his public approval rating was crashing, Blagojevich is caught on tape saying this about the people he was elected to serve.

(Soundbite of tape recording)

Mr. BLAGOJEVICH: Only 13 percent of y'all out there think I'm doing a good job, so (bleep) all of you.

Mr. ANDY SHAW (The Better Government Association): They painted a picture of a shameful and shameless chief executive who cared about campaign cash, personal favors for himself and his wife, and a future job much more than taking care of the business of the people of Illinois.

SCHAPER: Andy Shaw is executive director of the corruption-fighting nonprofit the Better Government Association and is blogging on the Blagojevich trial.

Mr. SHAW: That doesn't mean that they've proven guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a complicated case.

SCHAPER: Shaw says the defense will show that Blagojevich never got any of the gains he sought in his alleged schemes. And Blagojevich attorney Sam Adams, Sr. says the defense will also show a lack of willfulness on the part of the former governor.

Mr. SAM ADAMS SENIOR (Attorney): Willfulness is that you intended to commit the act. If you didn't know that it was a crime, you didn't intend to commit it.

Professor RICHARD KLING (Chicago-Kent College of Law): Not intending to do it, however, doesn't necessarily get you off the hook.

SCHAPER: Veteran criminal defense attorney Richard Kling, who is also a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, says the defense will also have to show that while Blagojevich has a foul mouth, he was involved in nothing more than common political horse trading.

The defense also plans to argue that Blagojevich was never told by his advisors, most of whom were lawyers, that his plan to get a high-paying job or cabinet post in exchange for the Senate seat might be illegal.

To bolster their case, defense lawyers plan to play more recordings of Blagojevich that the prosecution did not play. And they say they plan to put Blagojevich on the stand to refute the allegations.

Again, Richard Kling.

Mr. KLING: He's a charismatic character that a lot of people thoroughly believe in. He's charming. He could look you in the face and say various things. Whether the jury believes it is a different issue.

SCHAPER: Kling and other legal experts say it's a risky strategy that could backfire during cross-examination. But others argue Blagojevich has nothing to lose. He could take the stand later today, once his brother and co-defendant Robert Blagojevich finishes testifying.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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