Witness says Blagojevich was serious in considering ‘kingmaker’ Oprah Winfrey for Senate seatBy Mike Robinson, AP
Monday, June 28, 2010
Witness: Blago was serious about Winfrey in Senate
CHICAGO — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich seriously considered Oprah Winfrey as a candidate to fill President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, calling the talk show host a kingmaker who could influence voters, according to an FBI tape played Monday at his corruption trial.
“She made Obama, she’s up there so high nobody could assail this pick,” Blagojevich is heard telling his chief of staff, John Harris, who is now a prosecution witness.
Blagojevich had mentioned in TV interviews last year that Winfrey’s name had come up. Winfrey said then that she was “amused” and that she was unaware at the time that she was under consideration.
On the tape played Monday, Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, John Harris, says that selecting Winfrey would be “crazy” and he is “not sure what she stands for.” Blagojevich brushes such concerns aside, saying she was obviously a Democrat and her support in the 2008 election had “made Obama.”
But a few minutes later, Blagojevich complains that he needs more candidates. On the tape, he appears frustrated about who to pick after Obama friend Valerie Jarrett withdrew her name to take a White House job.
“We’re stuck in the mud,” Blagojevich tells Harris.
At one point, he mentions California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example of a politician with star power. And he erupts when Harris brings up former press secretary Cheryle Jackson, whom he calls “incompetent.”
The tapes also show that as time passed, Blagojevich warmed to the idea of picking Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., someone he had been heard on tape earlier as calling “a bad guy, a really bad guy.”
But Harris testified that Blagojevich told him a “third party” with ties to Jackson had visited the governor and dangled the possibility of a $1.5 million campaign contribution. Harris did not address that person’s identity in testimony Monday.
Blagojevich 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to get a high-paying job or a massive campaign contribution for appointing someone to the Senate seat. He also has pleaded not guilty to plotting to use the powers of the governor’s office to launch a racketeering scheme.
His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat and illegally pressuring a campaign contributor.
As the trial began its fourth full week, Blagojevich appeared tired, slouching in his seat, rubbing his eyes and staring blankly at the witness stand. Unlike most days, he didn’t take notes on the testimony.
Harris testified that on Dec. 8, 2008, Blagojevich met in the governor’s office with Jackson Jr., who had come to put forth his case for the Senate appointment. Harris, who was on hand, said the two men “buried the hatchet” and exchanged reminiscences about when they served in Congress together.
“I’m glad somebody is thinking about me and how they can help me,” Harris quoted Blagojevich as saying. He did not explain. Earlier in the trial, prosecutors played a tape on which the former governor talks excitedly about getting “something big” in exchange for appointing Jarrett to the seat.
The following morning, FBI agents arrested both Blagojevich and Harris. Blagojevich was impeached in January. Before he left office, he appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the Senate seat.
The cross-examination of Harris by Blagojevich’s attorneys was aimed suggesting the governor was more harmless than portrayed by prosecutors.
Prosecutors had said Blagojevich schemed to have Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired by threatening to withdraw state aide from the newspaper’s plan to sell Wrigley Field. But Sam Adam Sr. suggested Blagojevich was merely a hothead who made idle threats that weren’t carried out.
The indictment alleges that Blagojevich wanted a post such as secretary of health and human services, United Nations ambassador or ambassador to India in return for the seat.
“You could almost describe them as pipe dreams,” Adam said.
Blagojevich has said in his book, “Governor,” that his ultimate plan for the seat was to give it to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of state House Speaker Michael Madigan, who would then push through a package of the governor’s legislation.
Harris said Blagojevich strongly disliked both Madigans, but said the deal was so good that he might “go ahead and hold my nose and do it.” But Harris said he didn’t believe such a deal was possible.
“I didn’t think it was feasible,” he said. He also said he asked Blagojevich if he should find a go-between to start negotiations, but the governor never directed him to do so.
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