Ex-aide to Blagojevich testifying early in retrial - KMOV.com

Ex-aide to Blagojevich testifying early in retrial

CHICAGO (AP) -- Prosecutors in Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial begin presenting evidence to newly seated jurors Tuesday -- and one of their first witnesses will be a figure central to the allegation that the ousted Illinois governor sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.  

The second of two witness prosecutors said they will call Tuesday will be John Harris, Blagojevich's former chief of staff. He's expected to tell jurors about how the twice-elected governor allegedly plotted to exchange his power to name a replacement to Obama's old seat for campaign cash or a top job in the weeks before both Harris and his boss were arrested on Dec. 8, 2008.  

The plan to call Harris on the first day of witness testimony suggests prosecutors want to focus jurors' minds from the outset on the most serious and sensational accusation, the Senate seat. At the first trial, Harris was called to the stand after nearly two weeks and nearly a dozen others had already testified. 

That trial ended with jurors deadlocked on all but one count. They convicted Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.  

Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 charges this time -- from attempted extortion of a children's hospital executive to conspiracy to commit bribery in a bid to sell or trade the Senate appointment for campaign cash or a well-paying job. He denies any wrongdoing.  

During the government's opening statement Monday, the first accusation prosecutor Chris Niewoehner told jurors involved the Senate seat, saying Blagojevich had "tried to shake down Barack Obama." 

Attorneys on both sides tried to keep it simple in their openings. Prosecutors, who were accused of being too hard to follow at the first trial, used visual aids to help strip down the complicated corruption charges. Defense attorney Aaron Goldstein told jurors that all the government's evidence would amount to nothing but talk. 

"What I am about to tell you probably won't surprise you: Rod likes to talk," he said. "He talks and talks and talks."  

Returning to his contention that Blagojevich was nothing more than a talker, he added, "You will find yourself wanting more (evidence from prosecutors), and time after time you will get -- nothing."  

Prosecutors told the judge that Harris would follow their first witness, FBI agent Dan Cain. He was also the first called to the stand at the first trial, and he will describe how Blagojevich's conversations with Harris and other aides were secretly recorded by the FBI.  

Harris testified over four days at the first trial, saying Blagojevich endeavored to send word to the Obama administration that he would appoint Obama friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat if Blagojevich got a cabinet post in Washington.  

Harris has pleaded guilty to a charge related to the Senate seat, and prosecutors have promised to ask for a reduced prison sentence. Since his arrest and his cooperation with prosecutors, the father of three children has been working as an electric power lineman.  

 (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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