Blagojevich Won't Testify; Defense Rests

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich poses for a picture with Mohammed Ahmed of Wood Dale. Ill. upon his arrival at the Federal Court building, Wednesday, July 21, 2010, in Chicago. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Rod Blagojevich stood up in court Wednesday and told the judge the opposite of what he has been saying for months. He now says that he will not testify in his own defense to charges that include trying to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

The ousted Illinois governor, who had loudly insisted on television, radio and even to bystanders outside the courthouse that he would speak directly to jurors, stood in court with his hands folded in front of him, saying calmly and confidently that it was his choice not to testify.

"Is it your decision not to testify?" Judge James B. Zagel asked.

"It is my decision," Blagojevich responded, nodding slightly.

His attorneys promptly rested his defense. Prosecutors also rested their case against him.

Blagojevich returned to his seat, smiling. During a recess a few minutes later, he picked up where he began the trial — turning and shaking hands with well-wishers it the spectator benches and even signing autographs.

Outside court, Blagojevich said the prosecution's case had shown only that he did nothing wrong — "that I never took a corrupt dollar, not a corrupt dime, not a corrupt nickel, not a corrupt penny."

Blagojevich also said he has learned lot of lessons — perhaps the biggest that he talks too much.

His attorneys say neither they nor Blagojevich need to explain why he won't testify. Sam Adam Jr. says the judge will make that clear to the jury before closing arguments begin on Monday.

He said Blagojevich originally intended to testify when the government said it would call more witnesses than it did. He acknowledged that there was some chance of harm to the case — "but is the greater harm going on the stand and saying, we think they proved you guilty?"

The judge told jurors earlier that the evidence stage of the case had concluded. He also told them that they wouldn't have to return until Monday.

It is rare and risky for defendants in federal trials to testify in their own defense, and experts have said Blagojevich would need to abandon his usual cockiness, humble himself, and not allow himself to be goaded.

On FBI wiretap recordings prosecutors played for jurors, an often profane Rod Blagojevich was heard speculating on what he could get in exchange for Obama's former Senate seat — guaranteeing a grueling cross-examination.

His attorneys signaled Tuesday that he might not testify after all, saying they could rest without calling a single witness — including Blagojevich — because the prosecution did not prove its case.

Blagojevich's lawyers told Zagel on Tuesday that they had decided not to call any witnesses, but the judge told them to take the night to sleep on it, a person with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press. That person would speak only on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to divulge the information.

The former governor, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to trade an appointment to the Senate seat for a Cabinet post in Obama's administration, an ambassadorship, a high-paying job or a massive campaign donation. He also has pleaded not guilty to scheming to launch a racketeering operation in the governor's office.

His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, a Nashville, Tenn., real estate entrepreneur, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged plan to sell the Senate seat and playing a role in a plot to squeeze businessmen illegally for campaign contributions.

Asked Tuesday what about the prosecution's five-week presentation made Blagojevich's attorneys rethink putting their client on the stand, Adam Jr. said: "Their entire case." Adam said calling Blagojevich might appear to lend credence to the charges. But not calling him would seem to contradict the fiery attorney's pledge to jurors in his opening statement last month.

"I'm telling you now, he's going to testify," Adam thundered, pacing the floor in front of the jury and then poking fun at himself. "He's not gonna let some chubby, four-eyed lawyer do his talking for him." Pointing at the witness box, he added dramatically, "he's going to get up there and tell you exactly what was going on."

As recently as Monday, the former governor went out of his way to say he would testify. As he approached spectators outside the courtroom, he said loudly, "Show of hands: Anyone here planning on testifying?" He then thrust his own hand high in the air, smiled and walked into court.


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