Jurors in Blagojevich corruption trial hear famous ‘golden’ FBI tape

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Blagojevich jurors hear ‘golden’ FBI tape

CHICAGO — Jurors in the corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich have heard the best-known of the hundreds of hours of FBI tapes of the former Illinois governor and his inner circle.

In the tape, Blagojevich refers to his power to appoint a senator to replace President-elect Barack Obama as “(expletive) golden” and says he’s “not giving it up for (expletive) nothing.”

Prosecutors played the excerpt right before court adjourned Tuesday and it’s likely to come up in testimony again Wednesday.

The comments appear in a federal affidavit that was filed in December 2008 the day Blagojevich was arrested and has been quoted in news accounts often since then.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges including scheming to get a job or a massive campaign contribution for appointing someone to the Senate seat.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

CHICAGO (AP) — Rod Blagojevich brought up the possibility of a Cabinet post almost immediately after an emissary for Barack Obama urged the Illinois governor to appoint a close friend of the president-elect to the U.S. Senate, a union leader testified Tuesday at Blagojevich’s corruption trial.

Tom Balanoff, an official with the Service Employees International Union, said he told Blagojevich of Obama’s interest in seeing Valerie Jarrett take the vacated seat right after the 2008 election. Blagojevich, he said, countered by suggesting he wanted a position as secretary of health and human services.

Balanoff said he understood Blagojevich to be saying that if he got the job, he would appoint Jarrett to the seat.

“That’s not going to happen,” Balanoff recalled telling Blagojevich. Blagojevich, he said, responded by saying, “Is that because all the investigations around me?”

Balanoff said Blagojevich also brought up the possibility of a foundation job or a post with a labor union.

The testimony from Balanoff, a political insider and close ally of Obama, was at the heart of the most prominent charge in the 24-count indictment against Blagojevich — that he schemed to get a payoff in the form of a major job or a massive campaign contribution in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat that Obama left to move to the White House.

Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1, followed former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris to the witness stand. Harris had testified earlier in the trial that Blagojevich told him he had sent a message to Obama that he would trade the Senate seat for the Cabinet appointment.

Blagojevich stared at Balanoff as his one-time political ally delivered some of the strongest testimony to date at the trial.

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade the Senate seat and to plotting to launch a racketeering operation within the governor’s office. If convicted, he could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though he is sure to get much less time under federal guidelines.

His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the seat and to illegally pressuring a campaign contributor for money.

Harris testified earlier Tuesday that Blagojevich talked about trying to get Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan to make a deal under which his daughter, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, would be appointed to the Senate.

Harris testified that Blagojevich was using the supposed deal as “political cover” that would make him look less self-serving if he appointed himself to the Senate seat.

Blagojevich has long said that he wanted to appoint Madigan to the seat in a deal under which the elder Madigan would push through legislation on health care, public works and no new taxes. Harris said the package the governor spoke of also included an agreement there would be no effort to impeach him.

Harris said he never considered the Madigan deal realistic, especially if it contained such “poison pills” as the no-new-taxes and no-impeachment provisions.

Harris also said Blagojevich tried to create a false impression — that he might name U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., to the Senate seat. Harris said Blagojevich believed that Jackson was on Obama’s list of acceptable candidates to replace him in the Senate, but wasn’t sure how much confidence Obama and top senators had in Jackson’s ability to hold on to the seat in an election.

Balanoff testified that Obama called him on the eve of the election, when it appeared likely that he would win, and said that he would prefer to have Jarrett with him in the White House but that she wanted to be in the Senate and was qualified for the job.

In the call, Balanoff said, Obama had told him that he had two criteria for his successor: The appointment had to be good for the citizens of Illinois and had to be someone who could get elected.

Balanoff said he told Obama that he would make the pitch to Blagojevich for Jarrett’s appointment.

He said he called Jarrett and told her that at a meeting Blagojevich had mentioned his “passion for health care … and a lot of goofy stuff.” He said, “we both laughed.”

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