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Tape Reveals Blagojevich Eyed Winfrey for Senate

A secretly-made FBI tape shows that former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich weighed the possibility of naming Oprah Winfrey to the U.S. Senate seat being left by President Barack Obama.

Blagojevich was heard on the tape played Monday at his corruption trial saying Winfrey's name carried so much prestige that no one could criticize him if he named her to the Senate.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges including that he schemed to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama after winning the presidency.

John Harris, the former chief of staff who resumed testimony Monday against his ex-boss, is heard on the tape saying he didn't know what Winfrey stood for politically. But the former governor is heard saying he knows she is a Democrat and supported Mr. Obama in his race for president. He calls her a "kingmaker."

Harris began his testimony Monday by discussing an alleged plot to squeeze racetrack owner John Johnston for a campaign contribution in exchange for the governor's signature on 2008 legislation to help the horse racing industry, reports CBS Station WBBM correspondent Todd Feurer.

Harris said that conversations with the governor's general counsel, William Quinlan, confirmed his suspicions that Blagojevich was holding up the legislation in an effort to squeeze Johnston for money.

Harris testified for four straight days last week as prosecutors tried to show jurors that Blagojevich sought cash and a well-paying job for his decisions as Illinois governor.

Harris told jurors he and his then-boss - who as governor could name Mr. Obama's successor - repeatedly discussed in 2008 how they could levy that power to get Blagojevich a top government or private-sector job.

When the impeached governor's attorneys begin questioning Harris, they will have to poke holes not only in Harris' testimony but in his interpretation of several potentially damaging wiretap recordings played in court.

In one played Thursday, Blagojevich sounded bitter when told he would receive thanks - but nothing else - from Mr. Obama in return for naming one of the newly-elected president's friends, Valerie Jarrett, to the Senate. Blagojevich had hoped for a job offer, possibly a Cabinet post.

"They're not willing to give me anything but appreciation. (Expletive) them," Blagojevich said on the tape.

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After the defense finishes questioning Harris (which could take a day or more), prosecutors have told U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel they plan to call witness Tom Balanoff, a union official who Blagojevich believed was an Obama emissary.

Balanoff's name also came up during the weekend when Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias said he'd been subpoenaed by Blagojevich's lawyers. The first-term Illinois treasurer is locked in a contentious race for Mr. Obama's old seat with Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk.

Giannoulias told The Associated Press on Sunday that he introduced Jarrett to Balanoff after Balanoff reached out to him. He also said he doesn't expect to be called to testify.

Giannoulias' name had been briefly mentioned during last week's testimony when Harris was heard on the federal wiretaps mentioning that Giannoulias had called about the Senate seat on behalf of someone else. Blagojevich is heard telling Harris not to meet with Giannoulias about the matter.

In some of the recordings, Blagojevich sounds excited, frantic or suddenly anxious about the prospect of landing a job for the Senate seat.

In a moment of introspection, he tells Harris he's sorry his actions as governor have made his wife and children "vulnerable." He cites mounting legal bills amid the federal investigation and concerns about how to pay college tuition.

"It's important to me to make a lot of money," he says, the suddenly turning morose. "That's the biggest (expletive) downside. Never again will I (mess things up for) ... my kids, family. I've got to fix this."

If convicted, Blagojevich could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, although he is certain to get much less time under federal guidelines.

His brother, Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell or trade the Senate seat. He also has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to put illegal pressure on a potential campaign donor, a racetrack owner who wanted Blagojevich to sign beneficial legislation.

Before testimony began Monday, the fourth full week of trial, defense attorneys asked for a mistrial, citing
last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision placing limits on the use of the federal honest services fraud statute.

More than half the counts in the Blagojevich indictment are based on the controversial statute.

Judge Zagel told the former governor's attorneys that the ruling "may not offer a lot of hope for you."

WBBM also reports that attorneys for Robert Blagojevich filed a motion seeking access to $350,000 of his brother's campaign fund. That fund has been used to pay the ex-governor's legal bills for the trial.

Prosecutors indicated they would oppose the motion. Zagel said he would take it under consideration.

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