Prosecutors Worried Ex-Ill. Governor's 'Celebrity Apprentice' Appearance Could Affect Trial

Fear that Blagojevich would proclaim his innocence

Tuesday, Oct 20, 2009  |  Updated 12:15 AM EDT
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Prosecutors Worried Blago's "Apprentice" Appearance Could Taint Jury Pool

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Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich would likely tout his innocent on "Celebrity Apprentice."

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Prosecutors said Monday they are worried about what ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich might say on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" TV show that could taint the jury pool for his federal corruption trial.

The show is likely to air just as jurors are being qualified for the trial, which is scheduled to start June 3, and anything Blagojevich might say about the evidence could cause complications, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel.

Blagojevich has "repeatedly commented on the evidence" in appearances on TV and radio shows in the months since he was indicted on charges of scheming to trade or sell President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar told Zagel. Prosecutors did not ask Zagel to bar Blagojevich from going on the show.

The judge said he was similarly concerned and told Blagojevich's attorneys to work out an agreement with prosecutors that would allow Blagojevich to appear on the show but prevent the sort of remarks that might cause concern. He said he wanted the sides to show him their agreement once it's completed.

Public statements by defendants about criminal charges they are facing could "create a certain amount of jeopardy for the defendant," Zagel said. Such remarks could also create "a problem that would cause me to have to make difficult judgments," such as how far the government could go in introducing evidence to balance what the jury might have heard on the television show, he said.

Defense attorney Samuel E. Adam told reporters after court it would be unfair to block Blagojevich from proclaiming his innocence in public. He said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald used such strong language in announcing the indictment that the jury pool was already effectively tainted.

Fitzgerald said at a news conference after the indictment was returned that Blagojevich's crimes would make "Lincoln roll over in his grave."

Blagojevich, who did not attend the hearing, was in New York last week as taping for the show got under way. The show is due to air in March.

Blagojevich was impeached and kicked out of office after he was accused of trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. He has denied wrongdoing, and pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges against him.

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