By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 22, 2010; A04
CHICAGO -- Pugnacious former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich did something rare in his history on Wednesday: He retreated.
After vowing to testify at his federal corruption trial, Blagojevich (D) concluded that the risk was too great and chose silence. The defense rested its case without calling a single witness, setting up high-stakes closing arguments next week in a contest that will rise or fall on the government's largely unrebutted evidence.
Jurors heard Blagojevich's expletive-filled scheming on hours of secretly recorded FBI tapes, but they will not hear him "tell the people of Illinois exactly what was on my mind and what I was trying to do," as he recently promised.
Instead, with the evidence portion of the trial suddenly complete, Blagojevich took his argument to his preferred audience, standing before dozens of reporters in the courthouse lobby and declaring that the government had proven him innocent, not guilty.
"The government proved that I never took a corrupt dollar, I never took a corrupt dime, not a corrupt nickel, not a corrupt penny," Blagojevich said.
Six weeks of prosecution tapes and testimony only showed him "brainstorming," said Blagojevich, who took no questions. "Yes, they proved some of the ideas were stupid," he said. "But they proved some of the ideas were good."
The decision reverses the defense team's opening promise to jurors and means an early conclusion to a trial that has revealed years of wheeling and dealing by an ambitious but cash-strapped Chicago pol who fancied himself reaching the White House one day.
The prosecution called it a racketeering conspiracy in a 24-count indictment that charged perjury, fraud and repeated shakedowns of businessmen for campaign cash. The defense dismisses the ex-governor's maneuvers as Illinois politics as usual -- unsavory, perhaps, but hardly criminal.
Because Blagojevich had said so consistently that he would testify, his change of heart startled the prosecution, which had counted on days or weeks of cross-examination to strengthen its case. Investigators had scoured the voluble former governor's public statements for contradictions, while preserving audiotapes and other evidence to be introduced in rebuttal.
Blagojevich's attorneys said they were divided on the wisdom of their client testifying. They had also threatened to call White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and others in an attempt to refute allegations that Blagojevich tried to peddle the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.