- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

CHICAGO (AP) — An initially subdued Rod Blagojevich grew increasingly animated Thursday as he testified in his own defense, describing himself as flawed dreamer grounded in the working-class values of his parents and choking up on the stand as he talked about the day he met his wife.

Hours into his testimony, neither Blagojevich — who was ousted as Illinois governor in 2009 — nor his lawyers had directly addressed 20 federal corruption charges against him, including allegations he tried to sell or trade President Obama’s vacated Senate seat for personal gain. Blagojevich instead discussed his upbringing, his first Little League hit and his college-age insecurity.

“I’m Rod Blagojevich; I used to be your governor,” the longtime politician told jurors. “I’m here today to tell you the truth.”

Putting a defendant on the stand is always considered highly risky, in part because it opens the person to blistering, potentially damaging cross-examination later. But Blagojevich’s defense clearly hoped the former governor’s political prowess and ability to charm would help counteract the government’s three-week case.

A jury deadlocked on most charges during Blagojevich’s first trial last year, when defense lawyers rested without calling a single witness despite his sometimes bombastic insistence that he would testify.

The 54-year-old Blagojevich appeared nervous as he started but became increasingly confident and comfortable — often going on tangents, providing details about decades-old boxing matches and historical events.

On a few occasions he caught himself rattling on: “You want to ask me questions?” he apologized at one point. “Go ahead.”

The closest he came to the case itself was an apology to jurors who listened to infamously profanity-laced tirades caught on FBI wiretaps at the heart of the government’s case.

“I’d like to apologize to the men and women for those words … when you hear ‘em, it makes you wince … when I hear myself swearing like that, I am [a] … jerk,” he told jurors.

In a clear attempt to show his human side, Blagojevich described his love of basketball, his job as a shoeshine boy and how his father left the family at one point to work on the Alaskan oil pipeline. Another time, he even recited poetry.

Prosecutors objected only twice, otherwise allowing Blagojevich to meander far from the accusations for which he is on trial, likely aware that too much objection to the defendants’ own testimony may make jurors think they are trying to stop him from telling his side.

Blagojevich spoke in detail about how his Serbian immigrant father had fought the Nazis during World War II. Asked how his family background influenced him, he said: “It gives you a certain sense of values and people needing help. … I picked up my dad’s propensity to dream.”

He also told jurors he often felt inferior compared to other students during his time at Northwestern University, going into detail about dressing in 1970s disco style at the time, while other kids wore preppy shirts “with alligators.”

“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.” Another time, in talking about his fondness for jogging, he said, “I have a vain quality … a certain narcissism.”

Blagojevich became most emotional as he pointed across the room and began to talk about the day in 1988 that he met his wife, Patti, who sat with tears streaming down her cheeks. When Blagojevich stopped and appeared overcome, the judge ordered a break.

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