- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

CHICAGO — Former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich told jurors Tuesday that he never withheld money from a children’s hospital in exchange for campaign cash, and he denied ever trying to shake down a politically connected road builder for $500,000 in donations.

Blagojevich, in his third day on the witness stand, still hasn’t addressed the most explosive allegation again 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 for cash, including road builder Gerald Krozel.

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

“No, no,” Blagojevich responded, shaking his head slightly.

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

“No,” Blagojevich said again.

Mr. Krozel himself had testified earlier for the government that Blagojevich pressured him by dangling the possibility that 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.

Prosecutors also accuse Blagojevich of threatening to cancel an $8 million pediatric care reimbursement unless the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago came up with a campaign donation.

The executive, Patrick Magoon, testified for prosecutors that he never made the donation because he felt wrongly pressured by Blagojevich.

Blagojevich said Tuesday that he never tied the reimbursement action to any campaign cash, insisting he had a good relationship with Mr. Magoon, who had donated money to him in the past. He also sounded emotional as he described his strong attachment to the hospital.

“Children’s Memorial Hospital was a very personal place for me,” Blagojevich said. “I had a cousin who died there when he was 12 years old.”

Blagojevich, 54, denies all wrongdoing. He sounded more at ease on the stand than he did last week. But Judge James Zagel continued to 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,” Judge Zagel said. “Just answer the questions.”

Prosecutors also objected more than 35 times before lunch when Blagojevich slid off on tangents, turning to face the jury as he tried to detail popular policies, including his efforts to keep tollway fees from rising and “get results for people.”

The former governor faces 20 criminal counts, including attempted extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. In his first trial last year, Blagojevich was convicted of lying to the FBI.

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