Video: Now hear this: Blagojevich on tape

updated 1/28/2009 3:08:20 PM ET 2009-01-28T20:08:20

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial turned Wednesday to issues that had nothing to do with allegations he tried to sell President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat — instead focusing on accusations he broke hiring laws, wasted taxpayer money and illegally defied the state Legislature.

Impeachment prosecutor David Ellis opened the third day of proceedings by saying he planned to trim his witness list to avoid repeating material, meaning testimony could wrap up Wednesday.

Among those expected to testify Wednesday were Auditor General William Holland, whose reviews of government agencies often found examples of mismanagement and improprieties under Blagojevich, as well as lawmakers who would summarize findings of a House impeachment investigation.

Blagojevich was a no-show Wednesday, as he has been throughout the trial that began this week. The Democratic governor says the trial rules are unfair, and says he's done nothing wrong.

On Tuesday, the senators conducting the trial heard recordings of several conversations in which Blagojevich appears to discuss demanding campaign contributions in exchange for signing legislation.

The governor was arrested last month on a variety of corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from his power as governor to appointing Obama's U.S. Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.

Lawmakers, who could vote within days on whether to remove Blagojevich, heard only a few minutes of FBI tapes. But an FBI agent vouched for the accuracy of many other Blagojevich quotes that were included the federal criminal complaint.

If the Senate convicts him, Blagojevich would be removed from office and replaced by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat.

FBI wiretaps
On Wednesday, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, called on Blagojevich to defend himself before the Senate. He said the governor needs to explain how secretly recorded conversations in which Blagojevich appears to discuss demanding campaign contributions in exchange for signing legislation were taken out of context.

“If he wants to come down here instead of hiding out in New York and having Larry King asking questions instead of the senators, I think he’s making a mistake,” Cullerton said. “He should come here and answer the questions and provide the context he claims that these statements are being taken out of.”

Blagojevich, 52, doesn’t deny making the comments alleged by federal prosecutors. But he says they were taken out of context and don’t amount to anything illegal.

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In the recordings, which were played during Tuesday’s session, one person, identified as Blagojevich’s brother and campaign chairman Robert Blagojevich, assures the governor that a horse racing track owner “is good for it” and just has to decide “what accounts to get it out of.”

Another person, lobbyist and former Blagojevich chief of staff Lon Monk, assures him the track owner knows he must keep his “commitment” soon. Blagojevich replies with comments like “good” and “good job.”

Video: Did Blagojevich slip? The allegation at the center of the tapes is that Blagojevich improperly pressured John Johnston, owner of two Chicago-area harness-racing tracks, to donate money by the end of 2008, when a new ethics law would take effect and restrict donations. Prosecutors say Blagojevich threatened not to sign legislation giving tracks a portion of casino-generated revenue unless he got the donation.

It’s not clear whether Johnston ever made a donation; federal prosecutors have seized Blagojevich’s campaign records. Johnston has not been charged with any illegal activity, and his attorney denies Johnston ever requested any quid pro quo.

None of the people on the calls specifically mention money. Monk and Robert Blagojevich have not been charged with any crime.

The governor was arrested last month on a variety of corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.

Lawmakers, who could vote within days on whether to remove Blagojevich, heard only a few minutes of FBI tapes. But an FBI agent vouched for the accuracy of many other Blagojevich quotes that were included the federal criminal complaint.

If the Senate convicts him, Blagojevich will be removed from office and replaced by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat.

None of the people on the calls specifically mention money. Monk and Robert Blagojevich have not been charged with any crime.

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