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Blagojevich defense wants Obama subpoenaed

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Blagojevich defense wants Obama subpoenaed

April 22, 2010 7:55 PM | 28 Comments | UPDATED STORY

Attorneys for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich today asked a federal judge to subpoena President Barack Obama to testify in Blagojevich's upcoming corruption trial on charges that include allegations Blagojevich sought to sell Obama's former Senate seat.

The electronic court filing contained numerous blacked-out sections, but a computer glitch made them visible, including references to prosecution documents, wiretap transcripts, FBI interviews and media reports. (Here is an unredacted version of the motion. Click on the blacked-out sections; the unredacted material will appear below.)

Blagojevich was charged in December 2008 with using his office to enrich himself and close associates. The former Democratic governor has often suggested that overzealous prosecutors are trying to turn traditional political horse trading into a federal crime, including his efforts to fill the Senate seat that Obama vacated when he was elected president.

The court document goes down that path, reciting numerous details already disclosed about contacts between the Blagojevich camp and Obama allies over who might replace Obama as Illinois's junior U.S. senator.

Ever since Blagojevich's arrest, Obama has insisted that he and top aides were never part of any deals for the Senate seat and were unaware that Blagojevich may have been scheming to use his appointment power to enrich himself.

There is nothing in the filing to indicate otherwise, but the suggestive nature of the allegations it outlines was sure to provide fresh fodder for critics of Obama's connections to Chicago politics. The release of the unredacted document prompted an immediate Internet buzz, including claims from Obama critics that the document called the president's story into question.

"We aren't going to comment on an on-going criminal investigation," said Obama's deputy press secretary, Bill Burton.

Blagojevich's lawyers have previously suggested they might try to question the president.

"President Obama has direct knowledge to allegations made in the indictment," the defense said in its filing. "In addition, President Obama's public statements contradict other witness statements."

The defense said it still has not received notes from FBI interviews of Obama even though it first sought that material in December.

Blagojevich's lawyers contend that some of Obama's public remarks that no representatives of his had any stake in any alleged deals Blagojevich had over the senate seat has been contradicted by some witnesses in interviews with the FBI and federal prosecutors. That allegedly contradictory information has been blacked out of the new filing, though the defense asked in a footnote that the entire filing be unsealed.

The filing said that only Blagojevich - who is expected to testify in his own defense - and the president can corroborate some of Blagojevich's claims that there was no conspiracy to sell the seat.

"President Obama is the only one who can say if emissaries were sent on his behalf, who those emissaries were, and what, if anything, those emissaries were instructed to do on his behalf," the motion states.

Obama also may have pertinent information about Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a top fundraiser for the former governor and an alleged co-schemer, the defense said. The president can testify about "Mr. Rezko's reputation for truthfulness as well as his own opinion of Mr. Rezko's character," the filing said.

He can also give information on Rezko's methods, the defense contended, citing an infamous real-estate deal between the Rezkos and Obamas in which Rezko paid for a strip of property next to the Obamas' South Side residence.

The defense said it understands the security concerns raised by its request to question the president and then proposed conducting a videotaped deposition of him.

The judge overseeing the criminal case against Blagojevich summoned lawyers from both sides in the case to meet with him in his chambers at 6 p.m. The meeting behind closed doors lasted less than 10 minutes.

On exiting the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, Sheldon Sorosky, the Blagojevich lawyer, wouldn't directly answer reporters' questions about whether the judge called the meeting to discuss the unintentional release of blacked-out sections of the defense filing.

Prosecutors also declined comment as they left the courthouse.

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Judge says no Obama testimony in Blagojevich trial

By Jeff Coen, Tribune reporter

7:07 p.m. CDT, April 30, 2010

Defense lawyers for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich who hoped to drag President Barack Obama into their client's corruption trial this summer were rejected Friday by the judge overseeing the case.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel said the defense motion seeking to subpoena the president fell "very short" of demonstrating the need to have him testify or submit to attorney questions regarding charges that Blagojevich sought to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Obama was elected in 2008.

Zagel did not completely shut the door on Obama testimony, however, telling the lawyers in the case he would see how the trial unfolds and could reconsider if something specific arises that the president can address.

The defense contended that Obama could shed light on any role his emissaries played as Blagojevich sought to fill the seat. Blagojevich allegedly met with a union official about getting something from the Obama administration in exchange for nominating Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the seat.

The union leader, previously identified as Tom Balanoff, head of the Service Employees International Union in Illinois, apparently was to act as a messenger between Blagojevich and Obama, and the defense had sought to explore that idea with the president. But Zagel ruled it essentially doesn't matter what role Balanoff did or didn't play for the White House.

"The only material aspect is what the defendant believed," Zagel said, not what the official's role was in reality.

After court, defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky said Obama still could be called to answer allegations leveled by one-time Blagojevich fundraiser and adviser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted in his own corruption case in 2008 and has been providing information to the government.

The defense motion seeking Obama's testimony got widespread attention last week when a computer glitch caused sensitive, blacked-out portions of it to be revealed publicly. The filing stated Rezko had told authorities he once acted as a go-between for Obama and a lobbyist who offered to hold a fundraiser in exchange for Obama's support of gambling legislation.

Sorosky said in his view, Obama would have nothing to lose by testifying. "It would help his image," Sorosky said.

The White House is going to "continue not to comment," deputy press secretary Bill Burton said.

Also Friday, a former chief of staff for Blagojevich who is expected to be a key witness at the trial entered a new guilty plea in the case.

Alonzo "Lon" Monk, 51, who originally pleaded guilty in October 2009, pleaded guilty to a February superseding indictment designed to head off any issues if the Supreme Court limits the "honest services" fraud law prosecutors have relied on. Monk's renewed plea and agreement to testify were necessary before the trial.

Monk is expected to testify he was part of a scheme with Blagojevich and other close allies to make money by leveraging the governor's powers.

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