CHICAGO — At times agitated, excited or profane, Rod Blagojevich sorted through ways he could benefit personally from the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama won the presidential election, according to testimony and wiretap recordings played Tuesday at the former Illinois governor's corruption trial.
Speaking on the day of Obama's election, Blagojevich can be heard on one recording saying he'll make a good-faith effort to fill the open seat but hastens to add that "it's not coming for free."
"It's gotta be good for the people of Illinois – and for me," he says.
In talking about his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appoint a senator, Blagojevich considered several ideas in a bid to get the best possible deal for himself, according to testimony by his former chief of staff John Harris – including feeding misinformation to the Obama camp and others.
Blagojevich tells Harris in one wiretap recording about trying to mislead Obama and his advisers as a way to gain leverage over them regarding their preferred candidate.
"There's a carrot and stick thing going on right now," Blagojevich says.
He also seems to delight in the option of appointing himself to the seat, calling that "my ace in the hole." Another time he sounds eager about the range of possibilities, laughing and saying to Harris, "I'm crazy, but I'm not nuts."
Sitting at the defense table Tuesday, Blagojevich appeared to display at least some signs of strain for one of the first times during the trial. He smiled less than on previous days, at one point rubbing his chin and cheek, then writing feverish notes.
Harris told jurors that Blagojevich suggested leaking false reports that he was thinking about appointing state officials, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan, to give Obama and his advisers the impression that he would be expending a lot of political capital in appointing their preferred candidate Valerie Jarrett – and so would expect more in return.
Among a list of appointments he thought he might be able to secure in the new administration in exchange for appointing Jarrett to the seat was U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, or ambassador to the U.N., Canada, Germany, England, France or India, according to the tape.
Harris implied that ambassador to India might be too important a position for a former Illinois governor.
"I'm the governor of a $58 billion corporation," Blagojevich said on the tape, referring to Illinois and cursing. "Why can't I be the ... ambassador to India?"
Blagojevich says to Harris in the recorded conversation that he understood he was so politically damaged in Illinois that he didn't want to ask Obama for any help that might suggest he wanted to remain governor.
"I have to get the ... out of here," he said, sprinkling his conversations with expletives. "The objective is to get a good gig over there (in Washington, D.C.)."
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade the appointment to Obama's seat. He has also pleaded not guilty to plotting to launch a racketeering scheme using the powers of the governor's office. If convicted, he could face up to $6 million in fines and a sentence of 415 years in prison, although he is certain to get much less under federal guidelines.
His brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in the alleged scheme to sell the Senate seat and to plotting to illegally pressure a racetrack owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution.
Harris said he and Blagojevich also talked about getting then-state Senate President Emil Jones to hand over his entire campaign war chest in exchange for appointing Jones to the post, while also wondering how much money prominent businessmen might contribute to his campaign fund if he were to hand them the job.
On one tape, Blagojevich sounds annoyed at the notion that he should be grateful to Obama for the good publicity that appointing Jarrett might generate.
"Do they think that I would just appoint Valerie Jarrett for nothin'? Just to make him (Obama) happy?" Blagojevich tells Harris on the tape.
Shortly before the election, Harris said, Blagojevich came right out and asked point blank how much money someone would be willing to pay for the job. Harris testified that both he and Bill Quinlan, Blagojevich's general counsel, warned the governor that he should not talk about that.
Quinlan, Harris said, told the governor: "You can't even joke about things like that."
But during one conversation, Blagojevich sounds excited about the opportunities afforded by the appointment.
"This is good," he tells Harris at one point. Another time, he says, "I could get something for that couldn't I?"