CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge refused on Friday to approve a subpoena calling for President Barack Obama to testify at the political corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The request from Blagojevich’s attorneys fell “very short of authorizing a subpoena for the president,” U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said. But Zagel said he might revisit the issue, perhaps during the trial, if any evidence suggests Obama might have something relevant to tell the jury.
Blagojevich is due to go on trial, starting with jury selection June 3. He is charged with scheming to use his power as governor to fill U.S. Senate vacancies in order to sell or trade the Senate seat that Obama vacated after he was elected president in November 2008.
The former governor is also charged with trying to use his power to bring illegal pressure for money on potential campaign contributors. His brother, businessman Robert Blagojevich, is charged with helping him. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Defense attorneys asked for the subpoena last week, saying Obama could shed light on the charges that Blagojevich attempted to trade or sell the president’s former Senate seat.
Obama has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the case. And it would be very unusual for a sitting president to take the witness stand in a Chicago corruption trial or any other trial. But Bill Clinton did give a videotaped deposition in July l996 while president and it was later played at the trial of two bankers were acquitted of corruption charges.
Blagojevich was not on hand for the hearing. His attorney Sheldon Sorosky told reporters after court that he was encouraged because “the judge did say that he still might allow the president to testify later on should it become necessary, and I’m sure it will be revisited.”
Zagel dismissed several other defense motions, including a request for a rule barring anyone who had been convicted of a felony and is awaiting sentence from the witness stand.
Defense attorneys said in court papers that practice, which is common throughout U.S. courts, creates temptation on the part of witnesses to curry favor with prosecutors. But Zagel said appeals courts have upheld the practice of swapping lenient sentences for prosecution testimony.
Zagel also turned down a defense request for an advance look at jury instructions to help lawyers frame their opening statements.