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Relationship with ex-governor strained
CHICAGO | Rod R. Blagojevich’s friends scattered as investigators looking into his doomed Illinois governorship closed in. Some associates had already been indicted, others stopped returning calls.
So when the Democrat needed a campaign fund manager, he turned to someone who had stood with him on the tough Chicago streets where they grew up: his big brother Robert.
Now, Robert Blagojevich sits with his lone sibling in a court, a co-defendant expected to take the stand and try to convince jurors he had nothing to do with suspected schemes to parlay his brother’s powers as governor into personal gain.
The two are rarely seen speaking and they eat at separate cafeteria tables during lunch breaks.
Robert Blagojevich was a Republican, a successful banker and retired Army officer living comfortably in Nashville with his wife of 32 years. But he agreed to start working for his brother in August 2008, his attorney says, because his mother, Millie, had beseeched her boys to stick together.
” ‘When your parents are gone, all you’ll have is each other,’ ” the retired subway ticket agent told them before she died in 1999, Mr. Ettinger explained.
The most serious charge is that the former governor, with his brother’s help, schemed to trade the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama for a Cabinet post or other top job. The ex-governor faces 24 counts related to that and other charges of corruption. Robert Blagojevich faces five counts, all related to the Senate seat. Both pleaded not guilty.
When he begins Robert’s defense, Mr. Ettinger says he’ll call just two witnesses: Robert and his wife, Julie. The governor’s legal team, working independently from Robert‘s, say the impeached governor and his wife also will testify.
In some ways, Robert cuts a more sympathetic figure than his famously helmet-haired brother.
The 53-year-old Rod, a perpetual campaigner and recent reality-TV star, seems oddly cheerful at trial. He glides through Chicago’s federal courthouse smiling irrepressibly, chatting and glad-handing passers-by.
Robert, a year older, is subdued, often walking to court alone. Strain is etched on his face.
He tells the story of how 7-year-old Robert once confessed to drinking a shot of whiskey, though only after being egged on by other boys. When Robert got a spanking, Rod spoke up for him, and got one too.
But Mr. Ettinger said they drifted apart as they got older.
While his brother entered politics, the bookish Robert studied history in college, then joined the Army for five years. He continued to serve as a civilian in the Reserves, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.
“We sat there in horror, numb and horrified at what had happened,” he said.
Robert Blagojevich’s attorneys have only cross-examined a few witnesses at the trial that is heading into its second month. They’ve tried to stress his relative unimportance working for Rod. One witness confirmed Robert’s campaign office desk was the corner of a conference table facing a sink.
The most sensational evidence - secretly recorded FBI wiretaps - feature Rod, rarely Robert. The governor’s frequent rants are heavily peppered with profanities - cursing everyone from reporters to the president.
In Robert’s few appearances, he’s usually mild-mannered. But one conversation recorded before Rod’s arrest displayed tension between the brothers, as Rod tossed out ideas about the Senate appointment. Robert sounds incredulous when Rod says he could appoint an ally, then later ask that person to resign and let him take the seat.
“Oh, Jesus, that’s ugly!” Robert responds.
“What are you nuts?” Rod shoots back. “What’s uglier? That or being impeached?”
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