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Federal court begins trial of Illinois ex-governor Blagojevich

The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] on Thursday began the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich [JURIST news archive] on charges of federal honest services fraud, racketeering, attempted extortion, bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and conspiracy to commit extortion. US District Judge James Zagel questioned 29 potential jurors on the first day of jury selection, who, if picked, will remain anonymous [Chicago Tribune report] until the conclusion of the case. Prosecutors' key witnesses [AP report] include Blagojevich's former chiefs of staff John Harris and Alonzo Monk, both of whom have pleaded guilty to conspiring to solicit bribes and sell the Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama. The White House has confirmed reports that the defense has subpoenaed [Chicago Sun-Times report] Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett [official profiles] to testify.

Last week, the US Supreme Court [official website] denied Blagojevich's request to delay the start of his corruption trial by 30 days. Blagojevich had sought to postpone the start of his trial until the Supreme Court issues opinions in cases involving the federal honest services fraud statute [18 USC § 1346 text], arguing that it would be unfair to proceed with the trial if the Supreme Court were to declare the law unconstitutional. In April, the prosecution was ordered [JURIST report] to release a 91-page government proffer outlining evidence in its case against Blagojevich. According to the proffer, Blagojevich tried to sell the senate seat vacated by Obama, made appointments based on anticipated campaign contributions, and took kickbacks from a number of companies. In March, Blagojevich pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to eight amended corruption charges. In January 2009, the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously [JURIST report] to convict Blagojevich of abuse of power and remove him from office. Blagojevich and Harris were initially arrested [JURIST report] in December 2008 on allegations that they had conspired to sell the Senate seat left vacant by Obama.

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