IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Blagojevich says he didn't link job to Senate seat

Rod Blagojevich, Patti Blagojevich
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich addresses the media accompanied by his wife Patti, at federal court after opening arguments in his second corruption trial in Chicago on May 2.M. Spencer Green / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rod Blagojevich insisted Thursday that he wasn't asking for a Cabinet post in exchange for naming a preferred candidate to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat, but said he kept broaching the subject because the quick dismissal of the idea of him in such a prestigious job was embarrassing.

The ousted Illinois governor told jurors during his fifth day on the stand at his corruption retrial that his talk about the seat and the possibility of getting a Cabinet post was just "manic brainstorming." But he said he understood right away it was pure fantasy and couldn't happen.

"It's like, if I could play center field for the Cubs, I would do that, too," he said.

Blagojevich told jurors he was embarrassed by the reaction of Obama ally and union leader Tom Balanoff to his idea of asking the then president-elect to make him secretary of Health and Human Services.

"I think it goes to one of my insecurities," Blagojevich said, explaining why went on talking about a possible Cabinet post for days more. "I was embarrassed by the flat-out dismissal. You sure look bad in front of your staff."

Balanoff testified earlier for the government that he felt Blagojevich was linking the Cabinet post to the Senate seat, and he said he told Blagojevich it wasn't going to happen.

Blagojevich kept hammering on the theme that his comments about the seat were mostly wild talk. As if to prove the point, he said he once even entertained the notion of appointing himself as the senator so he could go Afghanistan and join the search for Osama bin Laden.

The former governor appeared at ease on the stand at the start of the day, often looking over to the jury on his right. Jurors sat mostly expressionless, many jotting down notes as Blagojevich spoke.

As he had on previous days, Blagojevich once again pointed the finger at others for what he's described as the false impression tried to auction off the Senate seat. On Thursday, he said he was taken aback when one aide, Doug Scofield, seemed to want to pitch a Senate seat appointment to the White House as a straight exchange for a Cabinet post.

"Doug seemed to want to connect the two," Blagojevich told jurors. "I wanted to be abundantly clear ... don't connect the two."

Blagojevich also kept working in comments about continuously seeking legal advice as he contemplated whom to appoint.

"Any decision on the Senate seat had to be legal, obviously," Blagojevich said at one point, raising his voice and accentuating each word as he spoke. Prosecutors objected and Judge James Zagel stopped him before he could go on.

Zagel warned Blagojevich earlier not to say he thought his actions were legal at the time, saying that was not relevant to whether he committed a crime.

Blagojevich even tried to rein himself in on Thursday before prosecutors could object that he had gone off on another tangent.

"Now, I'm rambling," he said at one point. "I answered the question."

On Wednesday, Zagel had told defense attorneys to start wrapping things up as Blagojevich's testimony became repetitive, but he seemed more willing Thursday to let them continue.

'F-ing golden'
Blagojevich had a golden opportunity Wednesday to explain his most infamous comment about Obama's Senate seat, but his delivery could have used some polish.

His attorneys played the 2008 recording in which he speaks excitedly about his power to name someone to the seat, saying, "I've got this thing and it's "f------ golden," and "I'm just not giving it up for ... nothing."

Prosecutors had used that excerpt to try to show Blagojevich sought to sell or trade an appointment to the seat in exchange for a top job or campaign cash. The recording has been widely parodied.

Asked by his attorney to explain the statement, Blagojevich fumbled, saying "I'm afraid to answer this, but I'm not quite sure how to answer it."

"I was saying this opportunity is f-ing golden — that's what I was saying," Blagojevich began. After a pause, he continued, "I knew it was a unique opportunity."

It was a rare instance in which Blagojevich seemed unsure of himself. He had said more confidently earlier in the day that the opportunity was more to benefit Illinois residents — possibly by helping woo more federal money to the state — than a benefit for himself.

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.