- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CHICAGO (AP) — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told jurors Tuesday during his third day on the witness stand that he never tried to shake down a politically connected road builder for $500,000 in campaign cash.

Blagojevich, 54, still hasn’t addressed the most explosive allegation against him — that he tried to sell or trade President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.

The ousted governor has devoted most of his testimony so far to allegations that he tried to squeeze executives, including Gerald Krozel, for cash.

“Rod, did you ever try to shake down Gerry Krozel for a political donation?” defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein asked Blagojevich.

“No, no,” Blagojevich responded.

“Did you threaten him in any way?” Mr. Goldstein asked him later.

“No,” Blagojevich said.

Mr. Krozel himself testified earlier for the government that Blagojevich pressured him by dangling the possibility he might launch a multibillion-dollar highway program urgently needed by the ailing industry. Mr. Krozel said Blagojevich made it clear the state program was contingent on the donation.

Blagojevich, who denies all wrongdoing, sounded more at ease on the stand than he did last week. But Judge James Zagel continued interrupt him to tell him to not wax on about other matters when asked simple questions.

“I understand that, given your background, that maybe you would like to give us a lesson about how government works,” Justice Zagel said. “Just answer the questions.”

Prosecutors also objected several times when Blagojevich tried to slip in mentions of popular policies, including his efforts to keep tollway fees from rising.

Blagojevich also demonstrated, once again, that he and technology don’t get along.

As testimony began Tuesday, the judge called a recess so technicians could figure out why Blagojevich’s microphone kept going on and off. It turned out Blagojevich had set a binder with FBI wiretap transcripts against the on-off switch. He apologized to jurors.

As a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice” last year, TV viewers saw Blagojevich struggling to figure out how to text from a cellphone.

The former governor faces 20 criminal counts, including attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. If convicted on all counts, the maximum penalty is a 350-year prison term, though guidelines would suggest he get far less. Among the considerations a federal sentencing judge can factor in is whether a defendant lied on the witness stand.

In his first trial last year, Blagojevich was convicted of lying to the FBI.

On Tuesday the jury box at the retrial was down to 17 people. As testimony got under way earlier this month, there were 18 people — 12 jurors and six alternates.

Judge Zagel didn’t immediately explain in court why one juror was missing.

It is not uncommon for one or two jurors to withdraw during a trial. It can sometime happen for health or personal reasons. That’s why judges usually have several alternates. All alternates sit through all the same testimony as jurors themselves.

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