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Tom Balanoff: Obama called day before election about Jarrett appointment

Blago Judge halts questioning on Obama

Sheldon Sorosky, one of Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers, has been trying to drag President Barack Obama into the fray this afternoon, asking union official Tom Balanoff whether the FBI asked him about campaign money going to Obama.

Prosecutors objected, as they have so often during cross-examinations, and U.S. District Judge James Zagel said Sorosky should only ask in general what the FBI had said to Balanoff.

Sorosky tried the question again, using Zagel’s recommended wording. “I know that won’t be objected to,” Sorosky said, causing the nearby Blagojevich to laugh.


But Balanoff didn’t get to give an answer, and Zagel wouldn’t let the line of questioning go on after a private sidebar discussion among the lawyers.

Sorosky did get to ask about Balanoff’s labor group -- the Service Employees International Union -- supporting candidates for office. He asked whether the SEIU had supported “a young state senator” named Barack Obama as well as Blagojevich in his first run for governor in 2002.

“They cared about working people?” Sorosky asked. Balanoff said that was essentially right.

Sorosky had Balanoff go back to an early November 2008 meeting Balanoff had with Blagojevich. In the sit-down, Sorosky asked, didn’t Blagojevich mention appointing Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Obama, a move that would eliminate her as a rival in the 2010 race for governor?

“That’s what he said, yes,” Balanoff answered.

So there was a “logical, political reason for going the Madigan route?” Sorosky asked. Balanoff said in his view that was true.

Sorosky then walked Balanoff through his earlier testimony, when he had talked about going to Blagojevich to promote Valerie Jarrett after Obama called Balanoff and said Jarrett was his preference.

Balanoff insisted he was acting more on Jarrett’s behalf and less on Obama’s. At one point, Zagel chided Sorosky for asking questions that were too argumentative, suggesting that questions beginning with the word “so” should raise a red flag.

“So, maybe you can eliminate the so’s,” said Zagel, adding to his earlier ban on questions that start with "wouldn't you agree?"

Sorosky challenged Balanoff and asked whether Blagojevich ever explicitly offered to appoint Jarrett if Obama named the governor to a cabinet post. “I certainly believed that was what he was implying,” Balanoff said.
But Sorosky pressed for a yes or no answer.

“The governor did not say to you, ‘Tom, we’ve been friends for a long time. We’re all big boys. I’ll appoint Valerie Jarrett if the president appoints me?’” Sorosky said.

“No,” answered Balanoff.

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