The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008



Rezko Trial Opens in Chicago

By Kari Lydersen
CHICAGO -- An eighth grade teacher, a guitar-playing MBA student who doesn’'t read newspapers and a “Judge Judy” aficionado were among the first group of 26 jurors questioned by U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve for Chicago political fundraiser Antoin “"Tony"” Rezko'’s trial on charges of attempted extortion and money laundering. Rezko pled not guilty, and has been held in jail since his bail was revoked in January.

St. Eve stressed the likely length and heavy media coverage of the trial in her questions to jurors, focusing on whether their employers will pay them for the duration, whether medical problems might interfere with service and, in one case, whether a planned trip to Cancun could be rescheduled.

Most potential jurors said they had not read or seen news of the Rezko case since filling out lengthy juror questionnaires in January --– a measure St. Eve took to expedite jury selection. This confirmed her earlier statement to attorneys that they might be surprised to learn how many people haven'’t heard of the high-profile defendant, who has been linked to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Democratic presidential front-runner Barack Obama.

Blagojevich, dubbed “Public official A” in pretrial filings, has denied prosecutors’ allegations that he discussed and endorsed the idea of rewarding campaign contributors with state contracts and other perks. Obama, expected only to be a footnote in the trial, returned campaign donations from Rezko and donors allegedly acting as straw men for Rezko. Previously known as a friend of Rezko’s, Obama drew fire for a real estate deal involving their adjacent properties.

Neither Blagojevich nor Obama were among the more than 40 names of potential witnesses St. Eve read to jurors before individual questioning. That list did include suburban businessman Stuart Levine, a former member of two state boards who is expected to be the governmentÂ’s star witness. Levine pled guilty to collaborating with Rezko to extort almost $6 million in pay-to-play schemes targeting companies aiming to do business with the state. The defense will likely refer to LevineÂ’s alleged heavy use of illegal drugs. The list also included Susan Lichtenstein, a former general counsel for Blagojevich, and Democratic fundraiser Joseph Cari.

Rezko occasionally toyed with his glasses and pen with an impassive expression as questioning proceeded. A handful of family members and about 20 journalists sat in the small courtroom.

The first group of six potential jurors reported minor brushes with the law for drug and alcohol-related crimes, but said these incidents wouldnÂ’'t influence their ability to be impartial, as did a woman whose son served 12 years in prison for murder.

St. EveÂ’s's questions often sounded more like cocktail party conversation than preparation for a trial -- friendly inquiries as to whether people liked their jobs, getting the teacherÂ’'s opinion on the educational system and congratulating a woman on her recent marriage.

She thanked potential jurors for their hard work filling out the time-consuming jury questionnaires, and noted that the forms revealed “CSI” to be the pool'’s favorite TV show. To the man whose main hobbies were sleeping and watching TV court shows, she said, “"As you know, this might be different than those judge shows.”"

Posted at 6:13 PM ET on Mar 3, 2008  | Category:  DEPT. OF JURISPRUDENCE
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All you great Obama supporters need to continue to hope that he still hears you after he is done using you. Never heard a person whine so much about how he can't do this himself. I guess if you don't have the experience or the qualities to talk to foreign political leaders, then you need all the help you can get. Hope doesn't pay my bills, this is our time doesn't bring down the price of gas and yes we can doesn't stop poverty or lost jobs. So, what do all these words bring, NOTHING.

Posted by: kesslernd2 | March 11, 2008 11:18 AM

BTW guys I found some brilliant/awesome analysis on Obama's Fundraising and other current happenings on the campaign. I haven't seen anything like this mentioned anywhere in the MSM.
Check out the article "Follow the Money" on, "Bush's Twin and the G.O.P." and "Barack Obama's Apotasy"

Check their "Political Analysis" section for other striking perspectives on both parties.

Posted by: elsylee28 | March 4, 2008 1:30 PM

Did Michele Obama work for Rezko at his Co?
Can anyone tell me what is Tree House food is ,I heard that The Obamas were ceo of this co. and the first year they gave themselfs a nice increase in their pay

Posted by: yankeenana2 | March 4, 2008 1:03 PM


You are an early and frequent contributor to the comments section on these political stories. You are also annoying. I feel dirty simply responding to another one of your "Hussein" posts but rest assured I won't do so again (even after you respond to this). Because neither reason or facts can dent your psychosis I will spare you both. I simply wanted to point out that your posts do nothing to shed light on issues, candidates, or even the particular article. What they do quite well however, is shine a spotlight on your ignorance and lack of intellect.

Carry on...

Posted by: clsim1 | March 4, 2008 12:57 PM

Do we want the White House to be infiltrated with Illinois politicians? Examine Illinois' record of political chicanery!!!! We can't afford the highest office in our esteemed land of the free and home of the brave to be influenced by a state with a record of crooked politicians. Even a past governor is now spending his time in jail! When will we Americans learn our past and try to profit from the lessons? Or do we wish to continue putting our heads in a bucket and repeat the errors of the 2000 election?

Posted by: evon23 | March 4, 2008 11:51 AM

It is interesting how some Hillary-supporters and Obama-haters try to fault Obama for his political opponent's problems (i.e. mysterious illnesses that force withdrawal, sudden revelations of old divorce scandals, court sealed documents suddenly coming to light). Unfortunately, Obama is being dragged along with Rezko even though no allegations of public mistrust have come out against Obama. This is going on as Obama tries to come closely to sealing the Democratic nomination. Interesting enough, the Peter Paul trial in which both Clintons are charged is set to start in September or October of 2008. Both Hillary and Bill will have to testify. If Hillary is the nominee in the middle of a general election campaign, this Peter Paul fisaco will be just what the Republicans need to dramatically increase there chances to win in November.

Obama in 08!

Posted by: ajtiger92 | March 4, 2008 10:34 AM

Antoin Rezko is the Jack Abramoff of Illinois politics--he was the money fixer and influence peddler supreme. Antoin Rezko and Barack Obama have been friends since Barack Obama first went to Chicago before he went to Harvard Law School, when he worked for a brief time as a community organizer for Southside politcal boss Emil Jones. Rezko and Obama hooked up again when Obama returned to Chicago and went to work for the firm that Rezko used for some of his property dealings. Jones and Rezko were closely allied in their support of Obama's career, first in getting him into the Illinois Legislature and then into the US Senate--remarkable the number of Obama's opponents who met with unfortunate political accidents--spoilt nomination papers, mysterious illnesses that force withdrawal, sudden revelations of old divorce scandals, court sealed documents suddenly coming to light--which are all hallmarks of the Jones/Rezko style of support. (Illinois Governor Blagojevich also benefited from similiar tactics).

The question is how much will Rezko sing to save his own skin? He has handled tens of millions in bribes, sorry contributions, from a wide range of companies and individuals to a host of Illinois politicans from city councillers all the way to US Senators and Illinois governors.

Posted by: politics12 | March 4, 2008 2:35 AM

Watch out for Falling Stars! Barack H. Obasama is crashing DOwnnnnnn! ;~)

Eww, what a mess!

Barack here.

Obasama There!


Hey!, Be sure to wipe the "Hussein" from your shoes as you come inside! ;~)

Posted by: rat-the | March 3, 2008 10:31 PM

There's no there, there! Sorry, the Chi Tribune has been trying for eons to make a link stick and all for naught!

Posted by: meldupree | March 3, 2008 9:58 PM

In June 2006, the Obama family purchased a home for $1.65 million near the University of Chicago where Obama has taught law and his wife, Michelle, is a vice president at the university's medical center. The same day, Rezko's wife, Rita, bought a lot next door from the same sellers for $625,000. Obama later told the Chicago Sun-Times the sellers had required that both lots be sold simultaneously.

The Rezkos later sold the lot, but not before selling the Obamas a 10-foot-wide strip of land from the property for $104,500.

Do you believe the Rezko Land Deal with Obama, Above Board?


Posted by: jeffboste | March 3, 2008 8:40 PM

Obama is fireproof. He's built up such a great image that almost nothing will drag him down. That's why it'll be so hard to beat him in November.

Posted by: parkerfl | March 3, 2008 8:33 PM


Perhaps you missed this part of the article above: "Most potential jurors said they had not read or seen news of the Rezko case . . . This confirmed [the Judge's] earlier statement to attorneys that they might be surprised to learn how many people haven't heard of the high-profile defendant . . ."?

Posted by: JakeD | March 3, 2008 8:29 PM

How can this guy get a fair trial with Clinton and her minions running their campaign on him? The trial should be delayed. How can they seat a jury?

Posted by: Malia2 | March 3, 2008 8:23 PM

Why do you guys think Obama, rather than Hillary, can beat McCain in November? In the latest poll I saw, McCain runs ahead of Obama on every issue except health care -- he has a 13-point advantage on Iraq and a 37-point lead on terrorism in general -- he even does better on managing the economy vs. Obama.

Posted by: JakeD | March 3, 2008 8:15 PM

For the record, I have been "focused" on Hillary and John McCain's middle names too

Posted by: JakeD | March 3, 2008 8:10 PM


Because not everyone knows his middle name yet.

Posted by: JakeD | March 3, 2008 7:57 PM

If you think the two words "Rezko" and "Hussein" will turn people away from Obama, I've got two that will surely turn people away from McCain - "Iraq" and "W". That "100 Years" thing would sink any ship. The GOP will not be able to fool people this time with talk of tax cuts (for the rich only if you read the fine print), gay marriage, and other side shows. The economy is in the tank and America's reputation world-wide has suffered under Bush and Iraq. We went from a beacon of liberty to a bully who lies and tortures and won't even listen to other countries. We need someone who will change all of that, someone new, not some geriatric hothead. McCain called the far-right "clowns" but now is kissing up to them to get elected. Some ethics he got there... Keating 5, never met a lobbyist he didn't love, etc...

Posted by: mikedx | March 3, 2008 7:39 PM

Sorry to break it to the Hilaryphiles, Obama is not on trial. The focus is on Rezco's associations with the Gov of Illinois. All politicins have to deal with people like this. The question is how the politican deals with it. The Chicago Tribune investigated this thoroughly and found nothing on Obama.

Posted by: zb95 | March 3, 2008 7:38 PM

JakeD, why is it important to get Senator Obama's middle name out there?

Posted by: tulone | March 3, 2008 7:34 PM

REZKO is just as important a name to get out there as HUSSEIN ; )

Posted by: JakeD | March 3, 2008 6:25 PM

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