Daily Herald
Coming soon: Blago, the one-man show
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 7/19/2010 12:05 AM

The most anticipated performance of the summer will open this week in Chicago, but not on a screen or stage.

The setting will be a courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building.

There will be simple stage dressing for such an eagerly-awaited exhibition: a leather chair inside a small wooden pulpit-like structure.

But the star of the spectacle, Milorad "Rod" Blagojevich, won't be playing a churchman. And he won't be giving any sermons to those packed in the pews of justice.

Illinois' former governor, already impeached, convicted and ousted from office, will be center stage in his own one-man show, doing what he has promised from the moment he was arrested: testifying in his own defense and using his own words.

Blagojevich will be under oath, but then again he was under oath when he was governor and allegedly did all these terribly corrupt thing. While it will be up to the federal court jury to decide whether Blago's courtroom performance is a strictly fictional account and if he deserves thumbs-up or thumbs-down, the jury's final review of the show will determine more than just ratings.

So the quality of ex-Gov. Blagojevich's act will be crucial to his continued liberty. One botched line, a faulty memory or a missing scene could spell doom for Blagojevich.

His previous public performances following the pesky impeachment and indictment were far less risky. The admonition "you're fired" uttered by Donald Trump on NBC's "Apprentice" TV show really didn't matter much because the job would have been short-lived anyway. And Blago's WLS radio job wasn't exactly paying many bills.

Even the temp job that ex-first lady Patty Blagojevich took eating bugs on a "Celebrity Survivor" TV show wasn't much of a family menace unless you place heartburn on the list.

Here is what you can expect when the former governor takes the witness stand: Judge James Zagel will allow Blagojevich enough rope to hang himself from the top of the effin' Willis Tower.

And here is why this will happen: Judge Zagel has a definite track record of letting defendants who take the witness stand have their day(s) in court.

Neither Blagojevich nor any other defendant is required to testify. It is a staple of our system. You can't be made to incriminate yourself. Most defendants choose not to take the witness stand. It is usually unsightly at best and legally devastating at the worst.

But Blago is unstoppable when it comes to speaking and so when he raises his right hand today or tomorrow or the next, the words will come fast and sometimes furious.

I would expect Judge Zagel to treat Mr. Blagojevich just as the two lead defendants were handled in the Family Secrets mob murder trial three summers ago.

When Frank "The Breeze" Calabrese and Joey "The Clown" Lombardo opted to testify for themselves, Judge Zagel quite purposely let them talk and talk and talk from the witness stand during direct questioning by their own lawyers. And then he let them talk some more.

Even when the government at first objected to this or that, Zagel usually overruled it and let Calabrese and Lombardo talk.

It was priceless theater.

Calabrese admitted being a part of the Chicago mob, explained how the Chicago mob operated and who else was in it, then tried to convince the jury that he had nothing to do with any of it.

Frank "The Breeze" denied knowing anything about why so many of his friends ended up shot, stabbed or smothered. He just kept repeating that he knew nothing. "No way, I loved that guy," he said numerous times.

The point is, Judge Zagel allowed the hoodlums to hang themselves with their preposterous testimony and ridiculous explanations.

Of course, Mr. Blagojevich may have reasonable explanations for everything. Unquestionably though, he will have to give the performance of his life - and then some - if he expects to stay out of the crossbar hotel.

So the only question is this: Will Blagojevich The One Man Show be a comedy or a tragedy?

Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie