Judge says Blagojevich jurors will get transcript

With the jury deadlocked, this may help advance the prosecution's case

Published August 16, 2010 8:47PM (EDT)

Jurors in the trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked the judge Monday for a transcript of the entire testimony of a former deputy governor who criticized Blagojevich's attempt to raise campaign money through the brother of Rahm Emanuel.

Former deputy governor Bradley Tusk had testified that Blagojevich had planned to hold up a $2 million grant to a school in the district represented by Emanuel -- then a U.S. congressman and now White House chief of staff -- until Emanuel's Hollywood-agent brother held a fundraiser.

Tusk had said that he ignored a Blagojevich directive to deliver the message to Emanuel -- because, he said, he thought the plan was "both illegal and unethical."

After hearing objections from defense attorneys, Judge James B. Zagel granted the jurors' request but also said they should make their own assessment of Tusk's credibility. It wasn't immediately clear how soon jurors would receive the transcripts.

Jurors had returned to court Monday for their 13th day of deliberations. They created a stir last week with a note to Zagel signaling they're stuck on several of the 24 counts against Blagojevich. They say they've agreed to only two. Zagel told them to deliberate further on wire fraud counts that they had not considered.

But the note they sent Monday suggested that jurors may be looking at the first and broadest count against Blagojevich, that he engaged in racketeering. Part of that count deals with the school grant. They may also be looking at a separate count of attempted extortion.

Tusk said he started hearing from Emanuel and his staff in 2006 about the need to quickly get the grant to build a sports field. Tusk said when he talked to Blagojevich, the governor said he wouldn't release the money until Emanuel's brother had the fundraiser.

Afterward, Tusk said he complained to the chief ethics officer in Blagojevich's office.

"I believe I used the phrase, 'You need to get your client under control,'" Tusk said. "He said he would take care of it."

Nothing in the indictment of Blagojevich suggested that Emanuel -- now President Barack Obama's chief of staff -- was actually threatened.

Unlike many witnesses, Tusk didn't testify with immunity. That's why some legal observers say the fact that jurors have requested his testimony can only be seen as a plus for the prosecution.

"I think we all woke up thinking they will be back Monday, saying they are deadlocked," said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor. "This note says the government is still in the game."

Another former federal prosecutor, Phil Turner, agreed.

He says the defense concern will now be that jurors will put too much emphasis on Tusk's testimony compared to other, perhaps weaker testimony.

"It's not a good thing for the defense at all," he said. "If jurors get that one transcript, they tend to look at it as gospel. The printed page doesn't give you a sense of the demeanor of a witness -- whether they paused or hesitated in their answers."

Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to all 24 counts, including charges he tried to sell or trade Obama's old Senate seat for a top job or campaign cash. His 54-year-old brother, Robert Blagojevich, a Nashville, Tenn., businessman, faces four counts and also pleaded not guilty.

Neither defendant was required to attend the hearing Monday.

By Michael Tarm

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