CHICAGO – Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich will return to the witness stand in his corruption trial Friday with one of the most explosive allegations against him still unaddressed: that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
An unmuzzled Blagojevich launched the campaign of his life Thursday, taking the stand for the first time since his legal saga began in an attempt to sway jurors with the same charm and chattiness that helped him twice get elected governor.
Indignant one minute, laughing the next, in tears moments later. Blagojevich clearly was trying to humanize himself to counteract the blunt, profane, seemingly greedy man heard on FBI wiretap recordings that prosecutors played for jurors earlier in the trial.
Blagojevich described himself as a flawed dreamer grounded in his parents' working-class values, and spent much of his hours-long testimony detailing his biography for the jury, taking about his upbringing, his first job and the insecurity of his college years.
"A lot of what I am, deep down, there are a lot of insecurities," he said. "That can drive you ... and also have petty sides, flaws, fears."
Blagojevich, 54, became most emotional as he pointed across the room and began talking about the day he met his wife, Patti, who sat with tears streaming down her cheeks. When he stopped and appeared overcome, the judge ordered a break.
Not until five hours into his testimony did Blagojevich begin to address the 20 criminal charges against him. But he wasn't asked about Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. As governor, Blagojevich had the power to appoint a replacement after Obama was elected president. He was arrested in December 2008.
Blagojevich did address other allegations, saying he never tried to use a state school grant as leverage to squeeze then-Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel's brother, a Hollywood agent, to hold a fundraiser for him. Blagojevich also denied trying to shake down a racetrack owner.
During Blagojevich's first trial last year, the jury deadlocked on all but one charge — convicting him of lying to the FBI — after defense attorneys rested their case without calling a single witness. Blagojevich had insisted for months before that trial he would take the stand, then declined to do so.
When he took the stand during his retrial Thursday, Blagojevich seemed nervous at first. But he became increasingly confident.
At one point he apologized to jurors for the famously profane tirades caught on the FBI wiretaps, which form the heart of the government's case.
"When you hear them, it makes you wince," the former governor said. "When I hear myself swearing like that, I am an F-ing jerk."
Prosecutors objected only twice before midday, otherwise allowing Blagojevich to meander far from the accusations for which he is on trial.
But by the afternoon, their patience ran out. Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar stood up to object at least 30 times, whenever Blagojevich began an off-topic ramble.
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