By Mike Robinson and Michael Tarm ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHICAGO | Former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich called Oprah Winfrey a kingmaker who could influence voters as he mulled naming the talk-show host to President Obama’s former Senate seat, according to an FBI tape played Monday at his corruption trial.
“She made Obama, she’s up there so high nobody could assail this pick,” Mr. Blagojevich is heard telling his chief of staff, John Harris, who is now a prosecution witness.
Mr. Blagojevich had mentioned in TV interviews last year that Miss Winfrey’s name had come up in discussions about the seat. Miss Winfrey said last year that she was “amused” by the revelation and that she was unaware at the time that she was under consideration.
On the tape played Monday, Mr. Harris says picking Miss Winfrey would be a mistake and he is “not sure what she stands for.” Mr. Blagojevich brushes such concerns aside, saying she was obviously a Democrat and her support in the 2008 election had “made Obama.”
But a few minutes later, Mr. Blagojevich is heard complaining that he needs more potential candidates. At one point, the governor considers trying to appoint Obama family friend Valerie Jarrett, even though she has withdrawn her name from consideration and taken a post as a White House adviser. And he erupts when Mr. Harris brings up former press secretary Cheryl Jackson.
“There’s no [expletive] way,” he screams. He calls her an “[expletive] incompetent.”
The secretly made FBI tapes show that as time passed, Mr. Blagojevich warms to the idea of picking Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., someone he had been heard on tape earlier in the trial as saying was “a bad guy, a really bad guy.”
But Mr. Harris testified that Mr. Blagojevich told him that a “third party” with ties to Mr. Jackson had visited the governor and dangled the possibility of a $1.5 million campaign contribution. Mr. Harris did not address that person’s identity in testimony Monday.
Mr. Blagojevich 53, has pleaded not guilty to scheming to get a high-paying job or a massive campaign contribution in return for appointing someone to the Obama Senate seat. He also has pleaded not guilty to plotting to use the powers of the governor’s office to launch a racketeering scheme.
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