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Prosecution goes after Blagojevich and tempers flare

- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2011

CHICAGO (AP) | Prosecutors wasted no time grilling Rod R. Blagojevich as they began cross-examining the impeached Illinois governor Thursday at his corruption retrial, setting a highly combative tone from the very first question.

“Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?” asked government attorney Reid Schar, raising his voice as he stepped up and hurled his first question at Blagojevich.
After the judge overruled a flurry of objections from the defense attorneys, Blagojevich answered, “yes.”

Within minutes, tempers on all sides flared, Blagojevich's attorneys repeatedly objecting, and Mr. Schar angrily appealed for the judge to direct Blagojevich to answer the question.
His voice rising further, Mr. Schar - dropping his normal reserve - continued to hurl one question after another at Blagojevich, who tried to hold his ground and also sounded angry in response.

“Is it true that, as a politician, you not infrequently lied to the public?” Mr. Schar asked.

“I try to be as truthful as possible,” Blagojevich responded firmly.

Mr. Schar, who spent years investigating the Blagojevich case, likely relished the chance to confront Blagojevich. At his first trial last year, in which he was convicted of lying to the FBI, the ousted governor never took the stand and prosecutors never had a chance to cross-examine him.

Blagojevich seemed to welcome the fight and answered some of Mr. Schar's questions despite his attorneys' objections, leading defense attorney Aaron Goldstein to once yell over him, “Objection, Rod.”

During five days of questions from his own attorney, Blagojevich denied all the allegations against him, including that he tried to sell or trade President Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

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, the count of lying to the FBI.

Prosecutors got only an hour's worth of questions in before the judge adjourned until Monday. Mr. Schar said the government would likely have at least another day of questions for Blagojevich, but added that it could be longer if the contentious back-and-forth persisted.

“If it continues like this, the leaves will start turning” color in fall, Mr. Schar said.

Mr. Schar asked the former governor about convicted political fixer and longtime Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko - described by prosecutors as a dark force who pulled strings behind the scenes during Blagojevich's time as governor.

The prosecutor asked Blagojevich if he feared in 2008 that Mr. Rezko, who also was once a fundraiser for Mr. Obama, might be cooperating with federal investigators.
“I was concerned about published reports that you were trying to make Mr. Rezko lie about me and President Obama,” Mr. Blagojevich shot back.

Earlier Thursday, under questioning by his own attorney, Blagojevich insisted he wasn't asking for a Cabinet post in exchange for naming a preferred candidate to Mr. Obama's seat, but he said he kept broaching the subject because the quick dismissal of the idea of him in such a prestigious job was embarrassing.

He told jurors during his fifth day on the stand 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.

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