By Jim Hagerty
CHICAGO– Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich took the stand in federal court Thursday morning, May 26, ending weeks of speculation whether the fallen Democrat would testify in his second corruption trial.
Blagojevich wasted no time, telling the court immediately after being sworn in that he was on the stand to “tell you the truth.” He said he’s been waiting two-and-a-half-years to finally speak formally about his case.
While the defense shirked the subject of what the prosecution says is damning evidence on the FBI tapes, Blagojevich apologized for using profanity on the recordings.
“When I hear myself saying that on tape, I’m an effin’ jerk,” Blagojevich said. “I apologize.”
After being seated, the impeached politician took the jury on a psychological journey that flirted with the bizarre.
While most sat and wondered how Blagojevich’s love for history has anything to do with the the charges he faces, he found it necessary to mention the “man-crush” he had on Alexander Hamilton.
The jury, which sat collective stoic, was privileged with hearing how Blagojevich scored poorly on the LSAT, barely getting into law school, and how proud he is of his Serbian name, Milorad, which means “happy worker.”
Aiming at the heart of the jury, defense attorney Aaron Goldstein, methodically led Blagojevich. The duo was also not going to let the court be dismissed without hearing how Blagojevich, the son of a immigrant, shined shoes as a 9-year-old on the northwest side of Chicago.
The court now knows that the former governor failed drafting class as a teen and had overachieving aspirations of becoming a basketball star.
“I was the only governor in America who could spin a basketball on all five fingers of his right hand,” Blagojevich said.
With frugal attempts at comic relief, Blagojevich segued into how insecurities almost overtook him during his two years as a Northwestern University student.
“I always felt that these kids at Northwestern came from wealthier families,” he said. “They came from better schools.
“I always felt a little intimidated that they were a lot smarter than me. I was afraid that I wouldn’t measure up to the other kids.”
Stranded in the age of polyester, he was “right out of Saturday Night Fever,” Blagojevich explained, while other Wildcat coeds wore conservative, designer clothing.
Blagojevch finally made an attempt to make sense out of the strange testimony, stating the biographical rewind was to prove how he reinvented himself to carry on traits inherited from his father, a WWII veteran.
“He came to this whole new place and had to start over,” Blagojevich said. “For better or worse. I think I picked up my dad’s propensity to dream.”
Blagojevich told Goldstein he was under the impression that politics were a “safe possession” and became visibly saddened as he told his lawyer how his parents are deceased.
The hearing took an even more emotional turn when Blagojevich took his testimony to the time he met his wife when he worked as a meager defense attorney.
Unable to speak her name, Blagojevich sat in silence as Goldstein inquired about the union. On the other side of the room, Patti Blagojevich wept as her brother held her in his arms.
In a Perry Mason moment, the former governor tells U.S. District Judge James Zagel, “I’m good, Judge,” and that a recess wasn’t necessary.
Zagel, however, decides to stop the proceedings for lunch.
Blagojevich, 54, stands accused of 20 crimes, including the charge that he put the U.S. Senate seat– vacated by President Barack Obama in 2009– up for sale.
The prosecution claims Blagojevich solicited for campaign cash or a top government job in exchange for the Illinois seat he had control of as governor.
His first trial ended last August when a deadlocked jury failed to convict Blagojevich on all but one count.
Blagojevich was found guilty of lying to federal investigators.
He could spend at least five years in prison for lying to the FBI and more than a decade behind bars if convicted on just one of the new charges.