Blagojevich’s brother denies role in alleged sale of Senate seat and fundraising corruptionBy Mike Robinson, AP
Monday, July 19, 2010
Blago’s brother denies role in alleged corruption
CHICAGO — Rod Blagojevich’s brother testified at the ousted Illinois governor’s corruption trial Monday that he had no part in alleged plans to trade Barack Obama’s former Senate seat for campaign funds or a Cabinet post for his sibling and never put illegal pressure on potential political donors.
Robert Blagojevich did say one businessman told him he could raise $1 million in campaign money within two months and $5 million later if the governor would appoint U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat that Obama was giving up to move to the White House. But Robert Blagojevich said neither he nor his brother took such a suggestion seriously.
“We considered it a joke, outrageous,” Robert Blagojevich said. He said he told businessman Raghuveer Nayak the governor would “do the right thing for the people of Illinois” and the appointment was “not something that was going to happen.”
The 54-year-old real estate entrepreneur from Nashville also denied on cross-examination a prosecutor’s suggestion that he hoped the federal investigation of the Blagojevich administration would come to a halt if Obama’s friend Valerie Jarrett got the Senate seat.
And the governor’s brother, who headed the Friends of Blagojevich campaign fund for the last five months of 2008, brushed aside any suggestion that he tied lucrative state road-building plans or racetrack legislation to the seemingly endless quest for campaign money.
“I was told never to tie the two and I never did,” Robert Blagojevich said, while across the courtroom at the defense table the former governor nodded his head.
Both Blagojevich brothers have pleaded not guilty to taking part in a scheme to sell or trade the Senate seat.
Rod Blagojevich, 53, has also pleaded not guilty to plotting to launch a racketeering operation in the governor’s office. Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to a wire fraud charge that he was involved in pressuring two businessmen illegally for campaign funds.
Robert Blagojevich testified that he met with Nayak, a leader of the Chicago area’s Indian-American community, on Oct. 31, 2008. He quoted Nayak as saying he could raise the $1 million quickly and $5 million later if Jackson were appointed.
There was no answer at Nayak’s home telephone to a call seeking comment Monday. Jackson hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing and said in a recent statement he was “never part of any improper scheme.”
On Monday, the first day of the defense portion of the trial, Robert Blagojevich’s lawyer Michael Ettinger played four tapes made secretly by the FBI in the weeks before the former governor’s arrest on Dec. 9, 2008 — none of which were played during the prosecution phase.
Among them was the tape of a conversation in which his client is heard telling another Indian-American businessman, Babu Patel, that campaign contributions would play no role in the governor’s selection for the Senate seat.
“Money is not going to be a factor here,” Robert Blagojevich is heard saying.
Robert Blagojevich is expected to wrap up his testimony on Tuesday. His brother may not be the next to go on the witness stand but is due to start his testimony before the week is out.
Sam Adam Jr., a lawyer for Rod Blagojevich, said the defense plans to call White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as a witness but currently has no intention of calling Jarrett.
Several witnesses have indicated that Obama hoped Jarrett, a Chicago business executive and former aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley, would get the Senate seat.
Cross-examining Robert Blagojevich, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Niewoehner repeatedly asked Robert Blagojevich whether he urged his brother to exchange the appointment of Jarrett in for a promise from Obama to pull the plug on the federal corruption investigation.
“As a part of horse-trading, right?” Niewoehner asked him.
“Absolutely not!” Robert Blagojevich shot back, raising his voice.
He said he never suggested to his brother that he try to wrest any personal benefit from the Senate seat, but only things of “political value” that would advance the then-governor’s legislative agenda.
Ettinger replayed a recording initially played by prosecutors in which Robert Blagojevich is heard telling the governor “the only brotherly advice I’d give ya … I wouldn’t give anything away.” Robert Blagojevich said he was merely talking about getting a good political deal.
He testified that his brother frequently spoke of naming Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat. The idea was to make a deal with her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, that would put his legislative program through the House.
Robert Blagojevich also said he was often outside the loop when his brother and political advisers met to discuss raising campaign contributions. He said the governor would often go in a back office with such lobbyists as former aides Alonzo Monk and John Wyma to discuss fundraising matters. He described himself as merely “the score keeper” of the campaign fund.
He also said fundraising for his brother was difficult in part because of reports that the administration was under investigation.
“Rod’s brand, Rod as a politician, was tarnished,” he said, adding that they got the answer “no” more often than “yes” in trying to raise money.
At one point, Robert Blagojevich went out of his way to address the profanities he and his brother threw around on the secret FBI recordings. Breaking courtroom protocol, he turned toward the jury without his attorney asking any direct question on the subject.
“If anyone was offended by the vulgarity, I apologize,” he said casting his eyes around the courtroom. “I didn’t expect anyone would hear me.”
Tags: Barack Obama, Campaign Finance Improprieties, Campaigns, Chicago, Illinois, North America, Political Corruption, Political Fundraising, Political Issues, Racketeering, United States