Testimony in Rod Blagojevich’s retrial ended today with a stern lecture from U.S. District Judge James Zagel to the former governor’s defense team about what he considered improper questioning they had directed at two government witnesses.

“If you continue to do this, I will sit you down,” Zagel told attorney Aaron Goldstein.

During the cross-examinations today of Tom Balanoff and John Harris, Goldstein was swatted back with objection after objection by the prosecution – many sustained by Zagel.

But the question that drew the most concern from Zagel was when Goldstein asked Balanoff, a union leader, whether he went to authorities after Blagojevich allegedly floated the idea of appointing Valerie Jarrett to a vacant U.S. Senate seat in return for the then-governor getting a cabinet appointment.

“This one is really out of bounds,” Zagel said to Goldstein during the testimony. “I will explain to you when we are done.”
After dismissing the jury for the day, Zagel gave Goldstein his warning. When Blagojevich’s attorneys tried to respond, the judge stopped the discussion.

“I don’t want you to respond to it,” Zagel said. “I want you to comply with it.”


3:30 p.m. Objections fly as defense questions Blago witness

The going has been difficult today for Blagojevich's lawyer, Aaron Goldstein, as he conducted his cross-examination of government witness John Harris, who was chief of staff to the governor before their arrests in December 2008.

Prosecutors objected dozens of times to his questions, including his very first on the prosecution's marquee charge, the alleged sale of the U.S. Senate sale.

Goldstein followed up by asking if Harris was a prosecutor in military.

“If this is going where  I think it's going,” Zagel said, it would "transgress" on the judge's ruling that the defense can't argue Blagojevich was not guilty because he was surrounded by lawyers who didn't tell him he was doing anything wrong.

Harris said numerous politicians were in the running for the Senate opening, including Jarrett, then-Illinois Senate president Emil Jones and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. At one point, Goldstein asked if Harris himself had ever asked about the seat for himself.

"Like, idle curiosity? Because I'll let him answer, though I don't know what it has to do with this case," Zagel said after the government objected again.

Harris then answered that he had not asked for himself.

Another element the defense wants to stress is that the political climate in Springfield was frustrating for Blagojevich. But Goldstein was often thwarted when he tried to show that Blagojevich had to go around the General Assembly to get things done.

Zagel sustained a long series of government objections.

Did Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan pose a big roadblock? Objection. Sustained.

Was it difficult for the governor to get any legislation through the House? Objection. Sustained.

Did Harris know the governor wasn't getting a lot of bills passed? Objection. Sustained

"Don't go there," Zagel warned at one point.




Defense gets first crack at key Blago witness

11:40 a.m. CDT, May 9, 2011