Now that his trial is in full swing, Rod Blagojevich is keeping mum. Whether it’s on the advice of his attorneys or he’s decided it’s in his best interest to contain the case to the courtroom, the former governor had no words for the media as he arrived this morning. Mrs. Blagojevich is once again with him. Mr. Blagojevich’s former college roommate, friend and ex-chief of staff, Alonzo “Lon” Monk, was called to the stand for a third day. Mr. Monk has already pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Blagojevich brothers and is one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. The defendants are already seated as Mr. Monk enters from the back of the courtroom. He appears like a scolded schoolboy sent to the principal’s office. He avoids any eye contact with his former friend. By contrast, Rod Blagojevich stares at him the entire time and even smirks a bit as Mr. Monk passes him on the way to the witness stand. Once seated, Mr. Monk looks everywhere but in the direction of the defense. Patti Blagojevich stares at him disapprovingly and what appears to be seething anger.
If some thought the trial would catch fire once the FBI wiretaps started being played, so far the sparks have failed to ignite. The focus today is on the alleged shakedown of John Johnston, the owner of the Balmoral and Maywood racetracks. In late 2008, as a new campaign finance law was about to take effect in January, Mr. Blagojevich was in a fundraising frenzy. He wanted donations from a number of organizations including Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. From Johnston he wanted $100,000. In several wiretaps played this morning, the then-governor repeated to Lon Monk the urgency of getting that donation “before the end of the year.” Some of the wiretaps are between Rod and his fundraising brother, Robert. One of their conversations elicited laughter in the courtroom as Rob tells Rod of a potential donor who “loves our hair ’cause it’s all real!” But the rub in getting money from John Johnston was that in November of 2008 a racetrack bill that would provide subsidies to the industry from casinos had just passed the legislature and was awaiting the governor’s signature. In contrast to a similar bill that Mr. Blagojevich signed as soon as it reached his desk in 2006, the 2008 bill languished for a few weeks. Will the prosecution prove that Blagojevich put off signing it as he awaited the contribution from Mr. Johnston? Mr. Monk also revealed that he wasn’t always upfront with Rod and Rob about his zeal for trying to get donations for the Friends of Blagojevich coffers. We’ll hear more after lunch.
I’m sitting in the federal court building’s cafeteria. To my left is former police commander Jon Burge on trial over what he knew or didn’t know about torture allegedly used under his command. He looks jolly given his predicament and is utilizing a toothpick with notable skill.