Reporting from Chicago — Weeks before his federal corruption trial, ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sought Thursday to tie his credibility to that of President Obama by asking that the president be compelled to testify for the defense.
The 11-page court filing by Blagojevich's attorneys attempted to protect sensitive details by blacking out references to sealed investigative records. But it became an Internet sensation when a computer glitch enabled people to view the entire document — a mixture of new allegations and old details that created fresh intrigue over charges that Blagojevich sought to sell the Senate seat vacated by Obama after he was elected president in 2008.
Stringing together tidbits from closely held FBI interviews and secretly taped phone conversations, Blagojevich's lawyers suggested there was more to the story of the Senate pick than federal prosecutors or the White House have acknowledged. And they suggested that only Blagojevich and Obama know the details that would prove the former governor's innocence.
Quoting from a sealed prosecution memo, the defense team aired a previously undisclosed allegation that convicted influence peddler Antoin "Tony" Rezko told investigators he had tried to buy Obama's favor with illegal campaign contributions. Rezko was a top fundraiser for both Obama and Blagojevich; the defense filing sought to have the president refute those claims and, in the process, discredit Rezko, a potential prosecution witness.
The White House declined to react to Blagojevich's latest actions. "We aren't going to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation," said Obama's deputy press secretary, Bill Burton.
Since Blagojevich's arrest in December 2008, Obama has maintained that he and top aides were never part of any deals for the Senate seat and were unaware that Blagojevich may have been scheming to use his appointment power to enrich himself.
There is nothing in the filing to indicate otherwise. But the cherry-picked nature of how the defense document was assembled and the suggestive nature of the allegations invited immediate claims from Obama critics that the filing raised doubts about the president's veracity.
Blagojevich's attorneys said Rezko had informed federal authorities that he "engaged in election law violations by personally contributing a large sum of cash to the campaign of a public official" and used a lobbyist to offer to hold a fundraiser for the official in exchange for "favorable" action.
"The defense has a good faith belief that this public official is Barack Obama," the filing declared, while also noting that Obama has denied any knowledge of or participation in such actions.
Prosecutors have accused Blagojevich of working with Rezko and other associates to run the state as a criminal racket. In addition to the charges involving the Senate seat, Blagojevich has been accused of trading official actions for kickbacks that would benefit his campaign fund, his friends, his wife and himself.