Monday, January 26, 2009

Senate trial begins: Day 1

As Gov. Rod Blagojevich continues his media blitz organized by his recently hired public relations firm, the Illinois Senate is beginning a trial without him under the oath to do “solemn and serious justice,” according to Supreme Court Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, who is presiding over the proceedings. Without the governor or his defense team present, the senators are discussing behind closed doors whether to allow testimony of an FBI agent who listened to and verified recorded conversations of Blagojevich in his home and in his campaign office. Whether the full Senate allows the FBI agent's testimony could determine the depth of the remainder of the trial.


Illinois Senate Democrats and Republicans are meeting in private caucuses to formulate written questions, which they could do after each witness testifies. Formal rules for the trial require all questions to be submitted in writing to be asked by the chief justice.

House Prosecutor David Ellis, who is presenting the case against the governor, is seeking testimony from Special Agent Daniel Cain. He would testify about the authentication of a 76-page criminal complaint, which includes transcripts of recorded conversations within the governor’s home and campaign office. However, Cain would be limited in the scope of his testimony, as required by the man heading the ongoing criminal investigation of the governor, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

“We have to live with those rules,” Ellis said in his opening remarks. “I think it’s worth it. This is the man who led the investigation into Gov. Blagojevich. This is the man — rather than me just showing you that he signed the affidavit — he will take the witness stand, and he will swear to every paragraph that was true and accurate. I think it’s important for us to hear that.”

The full Senate must vote to allow Cain’s testimony into the record. Ellis said if allowed, Cain’s testimony would supplant the testimony of five House members originally sought as witnesses. The Senate also could hear actual recordings of conversations about the governor’s handling of a bill to subsidize the horse racing industry.

In addition, Ellis wants the full chamber to hear audio recordings of Blagojevich’s interview on WLS-AM’s Don and Roma show from last week. And he would submit information about Congress considering a bill to put restrictions on any federal money sent to Illinois as part of the federal stimulus package as long as Blagojevich remains governor. “We think it relevant the stain that the governor has put on the state, the injury to the state caused by his misdeeds,” Ellis said.

The trial is set to reconvene at 1:40 p.m.

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