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In his federal retrial, Blagojevich takes the stand and center stage

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However, Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago lawyer who is tracking the trial, says one reason Blagojevich’s defense team opted to allow him to speak this time is because of what they learned during the first trial: That all the jurors except one were convinced of his guilt.

“They realized how close Blagojevich came to being convicted and realized they had to take a gamble, roll the dice and hope that [he] can sell the jurors on his innocence,” Mr. Stoltmann said.

To anyone who has followed Blagojevich’s television appearances, the opening day of his testimony followed close to character. Much of the morning testimony was spent on his biography: How he met his wife, the admiration he feels for his father, a Serbian immigrant, his insecurity in attending Northwestern University, the meaning of his Serbian name Milorad, and his love of history.

“I had a man-crush on Alexander Hamilton,” he told jurors.

Much of the testimony appeared designed to tame characterizations made by prosecutors that Blagojevich was a deceitful and arrogant public servant who spared the public interest in favor of his own. On wiretap recordings played in the first and second trials, Blagojevich is heard using a common profane epithet, which he addressed in his testimony Thursday.

“When I hear myself saying that on tape, I’m an effin’ jerk and I apologize. It makes you wince,” he said.

Federal prosecutor Reid Schar complained to US District Judge James Zagel that Blagojevich needed instructions to answer in a way that’s “more focused and responsive to the actual questions.” Judge Zagel responded that the background testimony was appropriate, saying it was “a chance for him to tell his story.”

Stoltmann says allowing Blagojevich to testify using his natural charm is “all part of the strategy because that is [his] primary defense” in helping show the wiretap recordings “are nothing more than the random musings of somebody who thinks out loud.”

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