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Corruption Trial Begins for Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich

The corruption trial of former Illinois state governor Rod Blagojevich is under way in a federal court in Chicago. The former governor is accused of using his office for personal gain, and attempting to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

Nearly a year and a half ago, Rod Blagojevich became the first governor of the midwest U.S. state of Illinois to be impeached. He was removed from office following his arrest on federal charges that include bribery, mail and wire fraud.

At a press conference in December of 2008, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said one of the most serious charges leveled against Blagojevich is that he tried to sell President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

"The governors own words describing the Senate seat quote, 'It is a bleeping valuable thing, you just do not give it away for nothing,'" said Patrick Fitzgerald.

Blagojevich has vigorously maintained his innocence and has kept a highly visible presence on U.S. television in an effort to win support in the court of public opinion.

Law professor Dawn Clark Netsch says she thinks Blagojevich hopes that will help his efforts to clear his name in a court of law.

"All he needs is one juror who would refuse to vote to convict him and he is home free, at least with respect to the first trial," said Dawn Clark Netsch.

Blagojevich's defense team has requested subpoenas ordering top White House officials to testify. A judge denied a request for President Obama to appear in court.

"You have to assume that part of what they are going to be arguing - the defense - is what they were doing is what everyone else does in politics," she said. "And if so, then you want to get those who might have been involved. And they would attempt to show, particularly on the Senate seat, that the administration - the White House - was obviously interested in who was going to take the Senate seat, which is hardly a surprise."

Dawn Clark Netsch is the first woman to be nominated by a major political party as a candidate for Illinois governor. She lost her 1994 campaign to Republican Jim Edgar, but has remained active in politics. She says regardless of the outcome of the trial, Blagojevich's behavior has cast a shadow over politics in Illinois.

"But it is clear, just in terms of the things that have been released in terms of his own statements, the tapes and all, that he was an embarrassment as governor whether or not he did illegal things," said Dawn Clark Netsch.

Observers say with Congressional elections taking place this year, further details about allegations of corruption surfacing during the Blagojevich trail could generate voter backlash against incumbents in Illinois and across the United States.

Blagojevich, a former attorney, and his wife Patti are expected to take the stand as the trial moves forward.

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    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.