A top aide to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he believed Barack Obama knew of Blagojevich’s plot to win himself a presidential Cabinet post in exchange for appointing Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate.
John Harris, Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, testified Wednesday in the former governor’s corruption trial that three days after the Nov. 4, 2008, presidential election, the ex-governor told Harris he felt confident Obama knew he wanted to swap perks.
“The president understands that the governor would be willing to make the appointment of Valerie Jarrett as long as he gets what he’s asked for. . . . The governor gets the Cabinet appointment he’s asked for,” Harris said, explaining a recorded call.
Harris said Blagojevich came away believing Obama knew what he wanted after having a conversation with a local union representative, who in turn spoke with labor leader Tom Balanoff, with whom Blagojevich met to discuss a Jarrett appointment. Jarrett, now a White House adviser, was seeking the appointment to Obama’s Senate seat.
Defense lawyers say Harris’ testimony contradicts the government’s previous public statements that Obama knew nothing about deal-making involving the Senate seat appointment.
The defense on Wednesday moved to force the prosecution to turn over FBI reports of Obama’s interview with federal agents in December of 2008. Obama is not accused of wrongdoing.
“Testimony elicited by the government from John Harris and wiretaps played in court raise the issue of President Obama’s direct knowledge and communication with emissaries and others regarding the appointment to his Senate seat,” lawyers wrote in the filing.
The filing came on the trial’s third day of the extensive playback of recordings in which Blagojevich is heard repeatedly discussing ways to personally capitalize on his Senate seat appointment power. Blagojevich could be heard plotting to try to head up a charity; swearing and snapping at his wife, Patti, and dismissing the possibility of a federal position that pays $190,000 a year.
“I make $170 . . . So Fred, that has no appeal to me . . . I want to make money,” Blagojevich tells national Democratic consultant Fred Yang. “I might as well go out and find a way to make money.”
Obama’s 2008 internal report about his staff’s contacts with Blagojevich at the time indicates that Balanoff relayed to Jarrett that Blagojevich was interested in a Health and Human Services Cabinet post.
Recordings also revealed that Blagojevich had tried to get the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board fired after it ran a series of disparaging write-ups about the then-governor.
Harris testified that he ignored Blagojevich’s firing directive.
Also Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Zagel refused to gag the talkative Blagojevich as prosecutors had asked. Zagel said Blagojevich keeps saying he’s innocent, and that anyone who says otherwise is a liar.
The repetition, Zagel said, has rendered Blagojevich’s out-of-court talk unnewsworthy.