CHICAGO (Reuters) - Rod Blagojevich’s long-winded testimony in his corruption retrial drew harsh criticism from a federal judge Wednesday, who took the unusual step of ordering the defense to end their examination of the former Illinois governor without delay.
“I think it would be better for the administration of justice if you got your client to stick to the point of the question,” U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel told Blagojevich’s lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, outside the presence of the jury. “There are some things now that have been repeated for the 15th and 16th time. If the jury doesn’t get what his position is by now, we may as well give up all hope.”
Zagel said Blagojevich liked to give campaign speeches and it’s “not doing the trial any good and it’s probably not doing your client any good.”
Blagojevich is on trial for the second time, charged with 20 counts for allegedly trying to trade government action for personal and political gain. He was convicted of just one count of lying to federal officials at his first trial last summer — the jury could not reach a decision on the other charges.
Blagojevich did not testify at his last trial.
One accusation against Blagojevich is that he tried to get something for himself in exchange for appointing a U.S. senator to fill the seat vacated by President Barack Obama.
Outside the presence of jurors, Blagojevich told Zagel that he honestly believed what he was doing was legal because his aides and general counsel never told him he was doing anything wrong and his political experience guided his understanding of proper “horse trading.” He also offered examples from history.
Zagel rejected the “everybody does it,” defense. Prosecution evidence and testimony showed that among the things Blagojevich talked about getting in exchange for appointing Obama’s choice of Valerie Jarrett to the Senate was donations of up to $15 million from wealthy Democrats to start a non-profit Blagojevich could head.
“That’s money in his pocket. That’s not just changing his vote in exchange for political support,” Zagel said.
Jurors heard little from Blagojevich on Wednesday, his fourth day of testimony. About 30 minutes after they were brought in and Blagojevich began testifying, Zagel sent them out again because the former governor kept trying to testify that wiretapped conversations played by prosecutors were redacted to eliminate things Blagojevich said were good for his case.
The issue of what recordings would be played and where they could be redacted was the subject of multiple pre-trial rulings by the judge.
“He ought to know he can’t draw that inference,” Zagel said. “That’s not fair.” Zagel said Blagojevich could never refer to “those asterisks again,” meaning markers on the transcripts showing where there were redactions.
Writing and reporting by Janan Hanna; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune