The Illinois House will not subpoena Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett to force them to testify at the impeachment hearings after Patrick Fitzgerald told them it might compromise his investigation. Although that appears to be a defeat for Rod Blagojevich and his attorney, it actually works in Ed Genson’s favor in a key way:
Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attorney will not get to call key aides of President-elect Barack Obama to testify at impeachment hearings after U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald told an Illinois House panel doing so would “significantly compromise” his ongoing criminal investigation of the governor.
The chairman of the House impeachment committee, state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), will respect Fitzgerald’s request and not issue the subpoenas for incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and close Obama friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett, panel spokesman Steve Brown said Saturday. Ed Genson, Blagojevich’s attorney, sought their testimony before the impeachment panel.
Brown said Currie, who holds the power to subpoena witnesses before the 21-member panel deciding whether to impeach Blagojevich, also will not call two other witnesses Genson sought: Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., whose emissaries allegedly offered to raise cash for the governor in exchange for the seat, according to federal prosecutors, and Nils Larsen, a Tribune Co. executive vice president who helped engineer Sam Zell’s purchase of the company.
Genson requested the testimony of the two Obama advisers after the president-elect’s transition team issued an internal report Tuesday that noted Emanuel had one or two telephone calls with Blagojevich and about four calls with Blagojevich’s then chief of staff, John Harris, about filling Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat. The report said Emanuel recommended Jarrett to Blagojevich for the seat.
On the surface, this is a loss for Genson. He could have used the impeachment hearings to attempt to derail any criminal prosecution of Blagojevich by either forcing witnesses to issue contradictory statements or implicate themselves. The nature of political panels would have allowed a much wider range of cross-examination options for Genson than a criminal court; Fitzgerald understands that and acted to keep Genson from doing some real damage.
However, Genson knew when he demanded the subpoenas that he would have little chance of the House approving them. At best, it was a long shot, but it served another purpose for Genson. He needs to stop the House from taking any action by slowing them down politically. If Blagojevich cannot adequately defend himself in an impeachment proceeding by not calling witnesses who might exonerate him, Genson hopes to invoke some public sympathy for Blagojevich and create political pressure to stop impeachment until Blagojevich can have his day in court.
That could take years, of course, or possibly forever. Genson has to hope that Fitzgerald comes short of proving any overt pay-for-play scheme and show little but normal political wrangling for influence. That’s a big bluff, and the wiretaps may show exactly that if they support the allegations in the complaint Fitzgerald filed. Still, Genson has nothing to lose by trying to complicate matters as much as possible now, and gained an opening for some PR tapdancing with this decision now.