Rob Blagojevich did really well as a witness for most of his direct examination according to every reporter in the court room. Robert is being tried along with his brother, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, for corruption.
During Rob’s testimony under direct examination by veteran attorney Michael Ettinger, Rob sounded like a well prepared actor at his dress rehearsal. Courtroom onlookers began to feel sympathy and some thought that perhaps the government had overstepped its own authority by indicting Robert along with the former Governor.
Rob was clear in stating that he never combined fundraising with political actions. He told a story of how he came back to Chicago to help his brother to fulfill a death bed promise to his mother by he and Rod to always protect each other and work together.
It was all very touching until the wheels began to come off the cart.
In law school there is a class called “trial advocacy”, in which students learn to act like trial lawyers and get to ask fake questions about fake cases to fake witnesses. Direct examination, whereby an attorney questions his own witnesses is much like a script wherein the attorney and witness know the question and the answer. Attorneys are taught to never ask a question that you don’t know the answer to on direct examination.
Mike Ettinger knows this edict better than most attorneys since he’s been a top notch defense attorney for many years at the state and federal levels. Yet, Ettinger played a taped conversation wherein Rod Blagojevich seemed to warm up to the idea of appointing Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. in exchange for something tangible. Speaking about the incentives reportedly being offered, the governor urged his brother to make contact. It has been reported that individuals close to Jackson and Blagojevich had offered to donate $6 million dollars to Blagojevich if he appointed Jackson to the US Senate.
“If in fact there’s this, you know, this is possible, then some of the stuff’s gotta start happening now!” he says. “Right now!”
Asked to explain what his brother meant, in what was seemingly a clear conversation about money, Robert Blagojevich shrugged on the witness stand and said, “Not sure at that point.”
Somehow, this polished military veteran and former banker apparently forgot the answer. Instead, he said, “not sure at that point”. He could have said something generic like he was talking about getting Jackson’s commitment to bring in more funds to Illinois but he froze.
And that in a nutshell is why even well rehearsed or well prepared witnesses sometimes blow it on the witness stand.
Some people will argue that Rod didn’t know what his brother was saying but other cross examination highlights revealed that Rod went so far as to suggest that the appointment of President Obama’s choice for the Senate, Valerie Jarrett, could be done if the President would kill the corruption investigation into Blagojevich by US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
In the end, all of Robert’s clear and convincing testimony went up in smoke with just a few seconds and a poor response.
The cross examination continues today for Robert Blagojevich but the damage was done when he couldn’t answer his own attorney’s question.
Dennis Brennan is an attorney and writes a regular column for the dampfang.com