The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Inherit The Windbag: Oprah, Jesse Jackson, And A "Black Einstein"

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Jun 29, 2010 2:00PM

Day 15 of the Blagojevich Trial picked right back up without missing a beat in the direct testimony of former chief-of-staff John Harris. And it stepped straight into the surreal even as it focused on something we already knew: Rod considered Oprah for the U.S. Senate seat left vacated by Barack Obama. From Sarah Ostman's report for the Sun-Times on Blago suggesting Oprah, a tape played featured this exchange:

"That's crazy," Harris says. "That's where you're wrong," Blago replies.

Blagojevich is increasingly out of breath while he's talking; the sound of weights clanging is audible in the background. It sounds like he is working out at home while discussing the appointment.

Rod: "She made Obama ... she's a Democrat."
Harris: "You're looking for a celebrity to be your friend?"
Rod: "She's so up there, so high ..."

A mention of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger aside (no, really), Blago's focus on the replacement for Obama once Valerie Jarrett dropped out was focused on finding a black replacement to help with votes for his reelection. At one point on the tape, Blago throws out the generic term, "Maybe a black Albert Einstein." Of course, this from the man who said he was "blacker than Obama," so nothing really surprises us anymore. Blago and Harris also consulted the book "Who's Who In Black Chicago" as a means of brainstorming potential replacements. As Rod and Harris continued to debate possible replacements, Rod is heard on tape lambasting Cheryle Jackson, saying, "She's so fucking incompetent and a fucking liar. There's no fucking way... She bounced a check, forget about it. Don't put her in there." And the jury got one last listen at Rod's unique racial perspective as he referred to Rev. Jesse Jackson as "uber-African American."

Michael Ettinger, Rob Blagojevich's lawyer, got first crack at Harris in a short cross-examination in which Harris admitted Rob didn't play a major role in any of the discussions that had taken place and called the ex-gov's brother "honest and truthful," a major checkpoint for that half of the defense. Following that, it was Sam Adam Sr.'s turn with Harris. Touching on Harris' own military intelligence career, Adam points out how Rod seemed to surround himself with highly intelligent advisers, suggesting perhaps they were the ones pushing and advising Blago in to these schemes. Adam also questioned Harris about the status of Springfield during Rod's reign, including the ex-gov's relationship with other Dem leaders and the ethics bill that Adam suggested was targeted at Blago and not other lawmakers.

Adam then turned questioning to the pay-for-play scheme involving the Senate seat and asked, amidst objections from the prosecution, if there had been other conversations related to the seat that hadn't been taped. He also questioned Harris on the way advisers discussed the potential Senate deal with Blago, suggesting either they didn't know it was wrong or that Blago's advisers were leading Blago to think that what they were doing was perfectly legal. Adam addressed the issue of Blago's vendetta against the Tribune editorial board, suggesting it was part of Blago's occasionally "volatile" nature. He also questioned Harris on the idea that Blago had been willing to appoint Lisa Madigan to the seat, with Blago allegedly saying, "I hate the idea of appointing Lisa Madigan, but if it's best for the people of Illinois, I'll go ahead and hold my nose and do it." In exchange for Lisa being appointed to the seat, her father Mike Madigan would clear gridlock over some of Blago's health care legislation.

It was Harris' fifth day on the stand and the general feeling was that Adam's cross was a bit on the dull side, a cross the Chicago News Coop called, "a strategy of defense by doldrums."

Outside of testimony, Judge Zagel denied a defense request to see notes from the FBI's December 2008 interview with then-president-elect Obama about the alleged attempt to swap the Senate seat. Harris will continue under cross today, his sixth day on the witness stand.