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Blagojevich lawyer bridles over limits

Accuses judge of sapping his closing arguments

By Don Babwin
Associated Press / July 27, 2010

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CHICAGO — A lawyer for Rod Blagojevich clashed with the judge in the former governor’s corruption trial over what he could say in his closing arguments, pledging yesterday that he was ready to go to jail for contempt if the judge did not change his mind.

Judge James B. Zagel sent the jury home for the day after Sam Adam Jr. complained that the judge was gutting his closing arguments by not allowing the defense to mention witnesses the prosecutors did not call.

Prosecutors had mentioned some of those witnesses, including convicted fund-raiser Antoin “Tony’’ Rezko, in their closing argument, and Adam argued that the defense should be able to do the same.

“Your honor, I have a man here that is fighting for his life,’’ Adam said, turning red and raising his hands.

Zagel responded: “You will follow that order because if you don’t follow that order you will be in contempt of court.’’

Zagel said he would give Adam the night to rework his closing arguments, given his “profound misunderstanding of legal rules.’’ He said Adam could designate another defense attorney to give the closing if he couldn’t follow the rules. Adam said he doesn’t know if he will deliver closing arguments today.

A prosecutor wrapped up his closing arguments yesterday after focusing on shooting down the former governor’s defense, saying that Blagojevich need have made no money or gotten a high-profile job in order for his alleged schemes to be illegal.

Assistant US Attorney Chris Niewoehner told jurors that they shouldn’t be concerned whether Blagojevich actually managed to trade the appointment to President Obama’s onetime Senate seat for an ambassadorship or a Cabinet post or any money — only that he made the effort.

“You don’t have to be a successful criminal to be a criminal,’’ he said.

Nor, he said, should jurors be concerned that they did not hear Blagojevich outright tell those he is accused of shaking down for money what he was doing.

For example, of allegations that Blagojevich was trying to elicit campaign donations from businessman Raghuveer Nayak in exchange for appointing Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat, he said it was not necessary for the governor to specifically say the appointment was tied to the contributions.

He said that message got through to Nayak, as it did to the Children’s Hospital executive that if he didn’t come up with a $25,000 campaign contribution, it would cost the hospital millions in state funding.

Niewoehner started his closing by citing the most famous comment on FBI wiretap played in court, Blagojevich calling the Senate seat “(expletive) golden’’ and saying he wouldn’t give it up for nothing.

“He did his absolute best to turn (his) newfound power into something golden for himself,’’ Niewoehner told jurors.

Niewoehner also countered suggestions that Blagojevich never acted on any alleged schemes, displaying a list under the headline, “Blagojevich Actions in Senate Shakedown.’’ It included Blagojevich allegedly telling aides to try to negotiate with those he believed were White House emissaries.

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to trade or sell Obama’s old Senate seat and illegally pressuring people for campaign contributions. If convicted, he could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, though he is sure to get much less time under federal guidelines.

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