CHICAGO -- Rod Blagojevich's attorneys launched his defense Wednesday in his corruption retrial, summoning Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to testify briefly that they did not know of any arranged deals with the ousted governor over President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.
Emanuel testified for less than five minutes and answered just a handful of questions. The former White House chief of staff leaned to one side, sometimes looking bored, as he told jurors with a one-word "no" that he never was asked directly by Blagojevich to help the then-governor get a top job in return for appointing someone to the Senate.
Prosecutors did not ask any questions in cross-examination, and Emanuel left the courtroom as briskly as he'd come in.
Among other charges, Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell or trade the Senate appointment for campaign cash or a top job.
Jackson, who was on the stand only about 30 minutes, testified that he never authorized anyone to tell Blagojevich that his supporters could raise money for the former governor if he made Jackson a senator. Jurors had heard testimony about a supporter of Jackson who allegedly offered millions in donations if the governor named Jackson to the seat.
Asked by defense attorney Aaron Goldstein if he ever offered to raise money in return for Blagojevich naming him, Jackson said firmly, "No I did not."
"I've never directed anyone to raise money for any politician in my life, other than myself," Jackson said.
Jackson, a Chicago Democrat, is not accused of any wrongdoing in the case. Blagojevich watched Jackson intently as he entered and left the courtroom.
But in their cross-examination, prosecutors took advantage of Jackson's appearance to ask him about an unrelated incident that could damage the former governor in the jury's eyes.
Blagojevich had once considered Jackson's wife for a position as head of the Illinois lottery. But in responding to prosecutors' questions, Jackson said his wife didn't get the promised appointment after Jackson refused to give Blagojevich a $25,000 campaign donation.
Jackson said when he met with Blagojevich in 2003 after someone else was appointed, Blagojevich apologized that the appointment didn't pan out but made it clear the donation was at least part of the reason why.
"In classic Elvis Presley fashion, he snapped both fingers and said, ‘You should have given me that $25,000,"‘ Jackson said, pantomiming a pose from the governor's idol, Presley. The move drew laughs from jurors and courtroom observers and a smile from Blagojevich.
The sight of a sitting Chicago mayor and a congressman who is the son of a civil rights leader on the witness stand has heightened the drama of a case that had been shaping up as an accelerated but less theatrical version of the first trial last summer.
After weeks of crowds far smaller than during the first trial, a crush of people tried to get into the courthouse Wednesday. Lines with dozens of people snaked through the lobby. Many people asked reporters if anyone had seen Emanuel.
Blagojevich himself didn't speak to reporters as he walked into the building Wednesday.
The former governor, who denies any wrongdoing, faces 20 charges at his retrial. Among the other allegations is that he attempted to shake down Emanuel's Hollywood agent brother to raise political contributions for him. The mayor said he was never asked by Blagojevich to have his brother raise money.
In Blagojevich's the first trial last year, his attorneys rested without calling a single witness. The jury later deadlocked on 23 of the 24 counts against the former governor, including the Senate seat allegations. Jurors agreed only on convicting Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich's attorneys had suggested earlier that they wanted to call the two elected officials to help them argue that Blagojevich's actions and conversations were merely part of the normal give-and-take of politics, and not crimes. Both Emanuel and Jackson have been under subpoena in the case since before Blagojevich's first trial. But calling them was a delicate decision.
"All these witnesses can end up hurting you far more than they can help," said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. "They're land mines. You've got to be really, really careful."
Emanuel, who's also not accused of any wrongdoing in the case, was involved in communicating to Blagojevich's team the preference of the White House on potential nominees, and Blagojevich's attorneys say the governor eventually wanted Emanuel to help broker a legitimate deal to fill the seat.
The one comparatively predictable witness would be Blagojevich himself. Unlike the first trial, in which the former governor did not testify after vowing to do so for months, Blagojevich's attorneys have indicated he is likely to take the stand this time.
If he's been prepared well by his attorneys and can maintain his cool under cross-examination, Turner argued that the twice-elected governor could be a formidable witness.
"He has the capability, anyway, of being very persuasive and not coming across as crazy if he puts his mind to it," Turner said.
But prosecutors, all of whom have devoted years to the case, would salivate at the prospect of being able to grill Blagojevich.
Karen Hawkins can be reached at: www.twitter.com/-khawkins
Michael Tarm can be reached at: www.twitter.com/mtarm.