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Jurors hear 'war-gaming' wiretaps over Senate seat

The career trajectories of Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich were headed in opposite directions in November 2008 when the frustrated Illinois governor suggested the newly elected president at least throw him a tasty political bone.

Obama was relinquishing his U.S. Senate seat and was interested in seeing it go to his good friend Valerie Jarrett. Blagojevich held the power to make that happen. On government wiretaps played in court at Blagojevich 's retrial Wednesday, the former governor was heard discussing how an intermediary had run a proposal by the Obama camp: Jarrett would get the Senate seat and Blagojevich would be named to a Cabinet post.

When word came back that all he would get for making Jarrett a senator was "thanks and appreciation," Blagojevich erupted: "(Expletive) them," he snapped.

Jurors in the retrial were seated only Monday, yet they have already heard taped conversations in which Blagojevich repeatedly discusses a variety of schemes to cash in on his power as governor.

What they haven't heard is any serious discussion by Blagojevich of leveraging his authority to break a logjam that had long stalled his legislative agenda. That is the core of Blagojevich 's defense, which he has proclaimed in numerous media interviews.

Also missing from the recordings so far is an indication that Blagojevich 's primary concern in making his Senate pick was the state's welfare. Most of the telephone conversations the jury heard Wednesday were between Blagojevich and his onetime chief of staff, John Harris.

Harris has testified he helped his boss scheme for something of value in exchange for the Senate seat, even though he acknowledged in one taped conversation they had to make it look otherwise.

"I mean at, at the end of the day, the first test ought to be, at least publicly, you know, what's in the best interests of the state of Illinois. It can't look like what's in Rod's personal best interest," Harris said on one tape.

As he did at Blagojevich 's first trial, Harris acted as a narrator of sorts, walking jurors through a series of recorded calls where he and the former governor could be heard "war-gaming" scenarios for the Senate choice.

The arc Harris described Wednesday started with an optimistic Blagojevich getting word that Obama was interested in seeing Jarrett named to the Senate, touching off speculation by the then-governor that he might get a Cabinet post or ambassadorship from Obama if Blagojevich selected her.

Another idea Blagojevich talked about would have been like a three-way trade in baseball. Obama would get his choice for senator, and then give money to Change to Win, a political group linked to the Service Employees International Union. The governor reasoned he could be named president of Change to Win after he left office.

A few days after that conversation, Blagojevich got word that Obama was not going to deal. Blagojevich was then heard telling Harris he would try to ratchet up the pressure on Obama by dropping a story in the media that the governor was considering U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. for the seat.

But the very next day, Harris told the jury, there were other rumors in the press. Jarrett was taking herself out of consideration for the Senate seat and was in line to join the Obama White House.

As Harris and his boss digested the information and discussed whether it was a ruse, they talked about some of Blagojevich 's alternatives.

There were a number of black politicians Blagojevich thought he could name to the Senate, he said on the call, one being Jackson.

"I mean Jesse Jr., it's a repugnant thought to me. I can't believe anything he says, wh-, what he's got third parties saying to me is a heck of a lot more substantial than what we're getting from the Obama people, OK?" Blagojevich said.

Prosecutors allege that a Jackson supporter had promised to raise at least $1.5 million for Blagojevich in exchange for a Jackson appointment.

As he left court for the day, Blagojevich told reporters, "My intentions were honest."

Earlier in the day, the jury heard one of the more comical recordings in the case: Blagojevich and his wife discussing how much Blagojevich might get paid at Change to Win.

Patti Blagojevich saw online that leaders of the Change to Win may have not been paid.

"You're wrong. It doesn't mean a (expletive) thing," Rob Blagojevich said, threatening to hang up.

"I, I tried to be helpful and you jumped down my (expletive) throat," she replied.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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