Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



In a twist, Blagojevich won't testify

CHICACO — From reality TV shows and late-night chatfests to the sidewalk outside the federal courthouse where a jury will decide his fate, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has spent more than a year telling anyone who would listen that he would testify in his own defense and be vindicated.

"I'm going to testify and get the truth out and show the people what I was as governor, how I cared about them, how I fought corrupt forces in Illinois for the people, how I got bloodied and battered for you and others in Illinois, for the people," Blagojevich vowed on his radio show shortly before the trial began.

But in a stunning twist as his time to take the witness stand came, Blagojevich's attorneys told U.S. District Judge James Zagel Tuesday that the ex-governor would not be testifying and that they were prepared to rest their case without calling a single witness, sources told The Chicago Tribune. After conferring that message privately to Zagel and prosecutors in a lengthy sidebar, the defense team was told by the judge to mull the decision overnight until Wednesday morning.

The decision means Blagojevich won't be able to play any undercover recordings that he felt backed up his denials of wrongdoing. Last week the judge took parts of two days to decide what recordings could be played for the jury by the defense, though he blocked many of the ones it sought to air.

A number of sources said several factors went into the sudden reversal of course.


Blagojevich's lawyers believed prosecutors had held back a part of their case against the former governor to use against him in what promised to be a bruising cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, who glared toward the defense table after learning of the decision.

The attorneys also were operating under the belief that if Blagojevich testified, convicted fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who has cooperated with the government, was likely to be called as a powerful rebuttal witness by prosecutors. Sources have said Rezko, who allegedly helped Blagojevich scheme to make money by leveraging the powers of his office, had not been prepared by prosecutors to testify but was on notice that he could very likely be called to the stand on short order.

Blagojevich's lawyers also believed the former governor's older brother, Robert, a well-spoken businessman and retired Army officer who testified for two days on his own behalf this week, made for an effective family spokesman for the defense.

After court, Blagojevich refused to answer questions shouted by reporters as he stepped into a waiting car. But his outspoken legal team, led by Sam Adam and his son, Sam Adam Jr., had plenty to say.

In a rare public display of dissension for such a high-profile case, the father-and-son team revealed they were divided over the decision. The elder Adam said he was leading the charge to have the governor stay off the witness stand but that his son wanted him to testify because he had promised Blagojevich's testimony to the jury during his opening statement last month.

"Listen, they told us they were going to bring on Rezko," Adam Sr. said of the prosecution. "They told us they were going to bring on (convicted political insider Stuart) Levine. They told us they were going to bring on all these witnesses and they didn't do it. They did not bring them on."

He said there would likely be more discussion of the situation Tuesday night. As for Blagojevich's view, the veteran lawyer said his client was simply listening to what was being said and would follow the final advice of his lawyers.

A short time later, the younger Adam was mobbed by reporters as he tried to walk from the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse with cameras circling him and a CTA bus driver stopping in rush-hour traffic to open the door of her bus and shout a hello.


When a reporter asked if it was true he wanted to put Blagojevich on the stand because he promised the jury in opening statements that he would, Adam Jr. asked who had said that to the media. Upon hearing that it was his father, the younger Adam said, "Then he's right."

If the decision to keep Blagojevich on the sidelines is final, Adam said he isn't sure what he'll tell the jury when he makes a closing argument in the coming days.

"I've got a little thinking to do," he said.

Although the public may view the governor's about-face as disingenuous, the jury will be instructed to infer nothing from his silence, experts said. The prosecution cannot mention his broken promise in court either, but legal analysts predict that his defense team will most likely address it by telling jurors the government's case was so weak it didn't need to call witnesses.

In the end, it could be the best move for Blagojevich, whose penchant for rambling answers and self-aggrandizing might have proven disastrous on the stand.

"He's a loose cannon," criminal-defense attorney Joseph Lopez said. "They'll ask, 'What did you mean when you said '(expletive) the people of Illinois?' How's he going to answer that? He'll get creamed."

If the defense rests Wednesday, it can still argue Blagojevich never intended to commit a crime without worrying about the ex-governor's testimony undermining its position. Experts said the strategy also would prevent prosecutors from unloading their entire arsenal against him, perhaps a wise move given the federal government has been investigating him since 2004.

"It's the smartest decision the defendant has made in the past year," said Jeffrey Cramer, a former assistant U.S. attorney and now head of the corporate investigations firm Kroll in Chicago. "It's a shrewd move by the defense."


Experts also believe the ex-governor's reversal could be connected to his brother's testimony this week. Although his defense team thought Robert Blagojevich helped both men's cases, Rod Blagojevich and his attorneys may have feared that the former governor wouldn't stand up as well during his grilling, which promised to be much more intense and lengthy than his older sibling's.

"He may just have gotten cold feet," criminal-defense attorney Damon Cheronis said. "But it's still odd. When you make a promise (to testify), people expect you to follow through."

Earlier Tuesday, Robert Blagojevich endured hours of cross-examination by prosecutors who asked him to parse several recorded conversations he had with others, including his brother.

The elder Blagojevich attempted to knock back questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Niewoehner about whether what he was discussing on the calls was something criminal or at the least unethical. Niewoehner tried to hammer away at Blagojevich's claims that he always tried to separate his political activities from government action being taken by his brother or his administration.

After testifying Tuesday, Robert Blagojevich said he considers himself an innocent man and that his time on the stand went as well as could be expected.

"I've never been in this situation before to know whether it was fair or not," he said. "The fact that I'm here is, to me, a reflection on the fact that there was unfairness."

Blagojevich, who said the decision on testifying is up to his brother, acknowledged their relationship remains strained. But he told reporters he was confident they can one day be close again.

"I want just the best for him," Robert Blagojevich said.

What To Read Next
Get Local