CHICAGO – Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's lawyers asked a federal judge on Thursday to issue a subpoena for President Barack Obama to testify as a witness at his corruption trial.
Blagojevich said in court papers filed by defense attorney Sam Adam that Obama would be able to resolve questions surrounding the government's allegation that the former governor sought to sell or trade the seat left vacant following the president's November 2008 election.
"President Barack Obama has direct knowledge of the Senate seat allegation," Blagojevich's 11-page motion filed with U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said.
There was no allegation in the court papers of any wrongdoing on Obama's part.
It would be extraordinary if a sitting president were subpoenaed to take the witness stand in a Chicago political corruption trial or any criminal trial. Zagel has not indicated how he might respond to the unusual request.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office had no comment. Messages seeking comment were left at Adam's office.
The motion said there was a conflict between comments made by Obama at a news conference and statements to federal prosecutors made by a labor union president and a candidate for the seat.
"There are two conflicting stories and the defense has the right to admit evidence that contradicts the government's claims," the motion said.
Some portions of the motion were blacked out to conform to court-ordered secrecy.
But within hours of the filing, the public was briefly able to access portions of the material online. In them, several witnesses were quoted as saying that a labor union official spoke of having a conversation with Obama on Nov. 3, 2008, in which Obama expressed hope that Blagojevich would choose an unnamed Senate Candidate B — frequently identified as the president's longtime friend, Valerie Jarrett, now a White House adviser.
The document quoted the unnamed labor union official as telling FBI agents and prosecutors that Obama thought Senate Candidate B "would be a good senator for the people of Illinois and would be a candidate who could win re-election."
Federal prosecutors immediately had the document pulled from the publicly available portion of the court's docket, and Zagel called an emergency meeting with prosecutors and Blagojevich attorney Sheldon Sorosky in his chambers.
The Chicago Tribune, which had posted a link on its website, reported that "a computer glitch" allowed the access.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, Randall Samborn, as well as three prosecutors declined to comment following the 15-minute meeting. Sorosky would not disclose what was discussed.
Blacking out material from court documents is often done when the court has put information under seal.
Defense attorney Michael E. Ettinger, who represents the former governor's brother and co-defendant, businessman Robert Blagojevich, said he was not surprised by the unusual motion. Adam, a fixture among Chicago defense attorneys for decades, is known for his flamboyant rhetoric.
"This is what he does," Ettinger said. "I've been working with him for 40 years, and he's sharp as a tack."
Blagojevich has been charged with scheming to sell the Senate seat and using the powers of the governor's office illegally to pressure potential campaign donors for contributions. Robert Blagojevich has been charged with helping him. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Zagel has scheduled the trial to get under way June 3.