Blagojevich begins discussing Senate seat charge

CHICAGO (AP) — Rod Blagojevich’s defense team saved the most explosive allegation against him for last, with the ousted Illinois governor finally telling jurors after three days on the witness stand that he never sought to sell President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.

And when Blagojevich steps back onto the stand for a fourth day of testimony at his corruption retrial Wednesday, he’s expected to roll out further denials about the government’s allegation that he endeavored to sell or trade the Senate seat.

Jurors finally heard from Blagojevich about the Senate seat after three days of testimony in which he had focused on accusations he attempted to shake down executives for campaign cash. He began delving into the Senate seat charge toward the end of the day Tuesday.

He told jurors he wasn’t enticed by an alleged pay-to-play proposal from fundraisers close to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to raise millions of dollars in campaign cash if Blagojevich named Jackson to the seat.

“That’s illegal,” Blagojevich said. “I was opposed to the offer of fundraising in exchange for the Senate seat.”

Blagojevich also echoed a long-held defense argument that all the FBI wiretaps that capture him talking on the telephone about how he might benefit from naming someone to seat was just that — talk.

Asked by his attorney, Aaron Goldstein, if he spoke frequently about the seat in the weeks before his arrest on Dec. 9, 2008, Blagojevich did not miss a beat.

“Absolutely, yes. Incessantly,” said Blagojevich, who appeared at-ease on the stand.

He explained that his method for arriving at a decision on the seat was to talk with as many confidants and as often as possible.

“I wanted to be very careful to invite a full discussion of ideas ... good ones, bad ones, stupid ones,” he said. He added, “There was a method to the madness.”

The twice-elected governor briefly mentioned that he got word in November 2008 that Obama appeared to be interested in seeing family friend and fellow Chicago Democrat Valerie Jarrett named as his replacement.

Prosecutors played a recording during their three-week case where Blagojevich asks one aide about appointing Jarrett, “We could get something for that couldn’t we?” He mentions the possibility of a Cabinet post.

Explaining what he meant, Blagojevich told jurors he had in mind what he described as legal, political horse-trading.

At the end of proceedings, prosecutors complained Blagojevich seemed to be resorting to arguments that presiding Judge James Zagel explicitly ruled he could not make, including that he was merely engaging in the kind of wheeling and dealing all politicians engage in. Zagel agreed, warning defense attorneys he was likely instruct jurors before they began deliberating that any defense based on the theory that everybody does it isn’t valid.

“There’s legal horse-trading and there’s also illegal horse-trading,” Zagel said.

Blagojevich, 54, denies all wrongdoing. He faces 20 criminal counts, including attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. In his first trial last year, a hung jury agreed on just one count — convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.

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