Ex-Blagojevich Aide Admits Role in Senate Seat Sale

Ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, John Harris, pleaded guilty to a single criminal conspiracy count, telling a federal judge that he aided Blagojevich in a plan to trade his right to appoint a U.S. Senate replacement for then President-elect Barack Obama, for something of value to the governor.

Harris, 48, entered his plea today before U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel in Chicago. He has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and his attorney told reporters after the hearing that he believed his client would be “an outstanding witness.”

This is the second time Harris has pleaded guilty in connection with the governor’s case. The ex-aide, first charged with Blagojevich in Dec. 2008, admitted to a wire fraud count last year, then was reindicted with Blagojevich in February.

“You’ve been through this before but we’re going to go through it again,” Zagel told the defendant before leading him through preliminary questions about his level of education and state of mind prior to entry of the plea.

Prosecutors obtained a revised indictment after the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument on whether a component of the original case, known as the “honest services fraud” statute, was too vague to be enforceable.

Harris’s lawyer, Terry Ekl of Lisle, Illinois, told reporters after the hearing that the new indictment necessitated today’s re-admission of guilt to the same conduct as previously under a different criminal charge.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, the ex-aide faces a sentence of up to 35 months in prison. The trial before Zagel is set to start on June 3.

Blagojevich has said he is innocent of the charges.

The case is U.S. v. Blagojevich, 08cr888, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew M. Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

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