There's no evidence Barack Obama knew in 2008 that Rod Blagojevich may have sought to exchange an appointment to the president-elect's vacated U.S. Senate seat for a Cabinet post or other top administration job, the judge at the ousted Illinois governor's corruption retrial said Monday.
Blagojevich's defense team had sought to review FBI interview notes with Obama to see if he ever reported concerns to authorities that the then-governor had attempted to name someone to the Senate seat in exchange for a Cabinet post. U.S. District Judge James Zagel denied that motion.
"In all honesty, it is possible that the victim of this was busy with other matters at the time," Zagel said about Obama. "There is nothing to indicate that he was aware of" the attempted trade.
Neither prosecutors nor the defense has ever accused Obama of any wrongdoing. But Blagojevich's lawyers would like to argue their client's innocence on the grounds that his alleged victims never themselves believed a crime was taking place.
Zagel told Blagojevich's attorneys they couldn't make any such argument to jurors, saying that someone doesn't necessarily need to know they're a victim in order for a crime to occur.
"You don't get to argue that (your client) should be acquitted because bank tellers were unaware of your bid to rob a bank," Zagel said.
Blagojevich, who has denied any wrongdoing, is accused of 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery. Jurors at his first trial last year deadlocked on all but one charge, convicting him of lying to the FBI.
Several government witnesses in the retrial have described how Blagojevich discussed appointing Obama's family friend Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat in exchange for a high-powered government or private-sector job. But Blagojevich allegedly became increasingly frustrated when Obama's staff showed no sign they were willing to deal.
On Monday, the defense began cross-examining an old friend and former adviser to Blagojevich, lobbyist John Wyma. It was his second day on the stand.
Wyma told jurors last week he agreed to cooperate with the FBI after he became alarmed by Blagojevich's pressure tactics, adding that his decision to inform on Blagojevich was deeply upsetting.
Blagojevich told reporters last week Wyma lied on the stand, saying his old friend's testimony was like "a dagger" through his heart.