CHICAGO — U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias said Sunday that he won't be hurt politically by his subpoena to testify at the corruption trial of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but his Republican opponent pounced at the chance to try to shift attention from his own troubles in the contentious race for President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.
The subpoena gives GOP Rep. Mark Kirk – who has been dogged by reports that he exaggerated his military credentials – the chance to try to associate Giannoulias with Blagojevich and Illinois corruption.
Giannoulias, who said he doesn't expect to be called to testify, said he's one of many people that Blagojevich's attorneys are trying to suck into the case in an effort that started with an unsuccessful bid to subpoena Obama.
"They subpoenaed any and everybody to try and get everyone involved from the president down to the dog catcher, so I think this shouldn't be surprising," the first-term state treasurer told The Associated Press.
Blagojevich's attorneys also have subpoenaed White House chief of staff and former Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Kirk's campaign said the development that Giannoulias is now on that list is part of a "troubling pattern" involving Giannoulias that includes regulators shutting down his family's Chicago bank in April after it failed to raise new capital.
Giannoulias' name was mentioned briefly last week during Blagojevich's trial. Former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris was heard on federal wiretaps mentioning that Giannoulias had called about Obama's old seat on behalf of someone else. Blagojevich is heard telling Harris not to meet with Giannoulias about the matter.
Giannoulias told the AP that he introduced Jarrett, a longtime family friend of Obama's, to Tom Balanoff, an official with the Service Employees International Union. Jarrett allegedly was Obama's choice to replace him in the Senate after he was elected president.
"Tom Balanoff reached out to me to get in touch with Valerie because he didn't know how to get a hold of her, and I put the two of them together," Giannoulias said.
Prosecutors say Blagojevich sought favors from the White House in return for Jarrett's appointment and delivered the message through Balanoff.
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he schemed to get a large payoff, a high-paying job after he left office or a big campaign contribution in exchange for the Senate seat. He also has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to launch a racketeering scheme using the power 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 time under federal guidelines.
Last week, Kirk and the Illinois Republican Party were flaunting that Giannoulias' name had been brought up at Blagojevich's trial.
On Sunday, Kirk's campaign said the subpoena revelation was troubling.
"Now we've learned Giannoulias' name has come up on federal wiretaps talking about the Illinois Senate seat and he has been subpoenaed in former and disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich's public corruption trial. This revelation raises additional questions about Alexi Giannoulias that he needs to answer," Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement.
Much of the attention in recent weeks in the Senate race has been on Kirk after he acknowledged embellishing his military record, including claiming he won a prestigious award that was actually given to his entire unit.
Giannoulias on Sunday said Republicans "will try and make something out of absolutely nothing" but said his subpoena was "not anything that is going to stick or have any impact."
"As everyone in Chicago and the state of Illinois knows, I was never close to the governor," Giannoulias said.
Giannoulias also acknowledged that he attended an informal meeting between Jarrett and Balanoff shortly after Obama's election to the White House but "didn't really participate in it" and doesn't remember what they talked about. He said he never talked to Obama or Blagojevich about the matter.
On a federal wiretap tape, Blagojevich tells Harris not to meet with Giannoulias about the seat.
Last week, prosecutors at Blagojevich's trial played another FBI tape on which Harris is heard telling the governor that the Obama camp sent word that it would be "thankful and appreciative" if Jarrett were appointed to the Senate seat.
Jarrett was a Chicago businesswoman and former aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Prosecutors say Blagojevich sent word through Balanoff, the union official, that he would appoint Jarrett if Obama agreed to appoint him as secretary of health and human services.
Blagojevich apparently took the words "thankful and appreciative" as a sign that the Obama camp didn't want such a deal. Jarrett later withdrew her name, and Blagojevich named former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the Senate.
Giannoulias said he voluntarily talked to federal investigators about the meeting between Jarrett and Balanoff, but "they politely sent me on my way," because there was nothing noteworthy about it.