Chicago Rod Blagojevich’s surprise decision not to testify after all at his corruption trial is a high-risk gamble that spared the ousted Illinois governor from a possible ordeal on the witness stand but could backfire with the jury.
Blagojevich’s defense team rested their case Wednesday without calling a single witness. Trial lawyers said the stunning move may have caught prosecutors off guard and could force them to adjust their strategy, which included cross-examining Blagojevich and potentially offering tough rebuttal witnesses.
“I think the government was outfoxed by him,” said Leonard Cavise, a DePaul University law professor.
Blagojevich will not face embarrassing questions about evidence that he spent $200,000 on suits while going deep in debt, used profanities to describe some of the nation’s top leaders and hid in the bathroom to avoid meetings. But jurors are unlikely to overlook the fact that defense attorneys promised for months that he would testify to tell his side.
“I think the cross-examination would have been devastating,” said Ron Safer, former head of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office and now in private practice. “But I think the silence is also devastating.”
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat for a Cabinet post, an ambassadorship, a high-paying job outside government or a massive campaign contribution. He also pleaded not guilty to plotting to launch a racketeering operation in the governor’s office.