But the governor's real game, Blagojevich claimed, was getting them to believe he was actually serious, which he was not (he and Jackson hated one another). "I'm so f- repugnant to them," he had said of the Democratic Beltway elite in a phone chat with an aide.
After scaring the bigshots, he testified, he would get them to convince Michael Madigan, the leader of the Illinois House and the state's most powerful politician (he and Madigan hated one another), to ram through major legislation in return for Blago selecting Madigan's daughter, the state's attorney general, to the Obama vacancy.
As part of his gambit, he even went further than most media-obsessed politicians tend to go in using the press: leaking a complete fabrication to a Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist. Under questioning Thursday, he conceded the item, about him and Jackson having met to discuss the vacancy, was a lie, or what he called a "misdirection play."
It was all a part of exercising "negative leverage" with the bogus threat of naming Jackson. He'd scare those bigshots and then get Rahm Emanuel (he and Emanuel did not hate one another), who had just been named Obama's future chief of staff, to call Madigan and cut the deal to benefit his daughter.
None of it worked and Blagojevich wound up arrested, impeached, indicted and last year convicted of one count of lying to the FBI. The retrial focuses on weightier counts of corruption after he avoided conviction on those as a result of a single doubting juror. Thursday the retrial reached a climax of sorts with the start of the government's cross-examination of Blagojevich, who did not testify in his first trial but chose to do so this time, often rambling and straining to claim benign interpretations of damning wiretaps.
Some students of government will see much of the evidence as "politics as usual" and argue that the only thing different here is that the FBI was listening. His is a world of unceasing transactions, where every deed generates one or more I.O.Us, and where legislation, memberships on state commissions, you name it, all has a de facto price tag, usually campaign contributions.
When it came to the Obama vacancy, Blago plotted various goodies he could get in return from the new administration. Perhaps a cabinet post, preferably head of Health and Human Services. Or an overseas ambassadorship. Maybe being our man at the United Nations. He spoke of Emanuel helping him set up a nonprofit on health care with a cushy $750,000 salary.
My favorite: the notion of selecting himself to be the senator and then setting up his wife to exploit her connections to him as a big-ticket Washington lobbyist.
In talking about his mulling appointing himself to Obama's senate seat, Blagojevich even said that it would have enabled him to go to Afghanistan and "hunt down" Osama bin Laden.