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Gov. Patrick To Testify In DiMasi Trial

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick goes to federal court Friday.

Patrick is scheduled to testify at the corruption trial of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. He’s the highest profile witness on a list that has included a lot of players on Beacon Hill.

“I’m going to do my duty. I’m called. We’ve cooperated throughout and I’ll answer whatever questions they put to me that I can answer,” Patrick said on Beacon Hill on Thursday.

WBUR’s David Boeri joined Morning Edition Friday to set the stage for the governor’s testimony.

Bob Oakes: Why is Patrick being called to testify?

David Boeri: He’s being called to tell this story: It was 2007, the early days of the patrick administration. Prosecutors call it a key meeting, in July 2007, before the administration approves $13 million in a contract with Cognos.

DiMasi’s now pushing for procurement. Patrick sits down with DiMasi to make peace and they talk about what their priorities are. Patrick says, ‘Well, I have a $1 billion science bill, that’s really interesting to me, what’s interesting to you?’

DiMasi answers, ‘performance software.’ It seems strange that the prosecution calls this indication of DiMasi’s fixation, his intent to sell his office and this scheme they’ve charged him with, so they told jurors at the beginning of this trial they were going to hear compelling testimony from the governor, and we’ll find out today if it is.

How unusual is it for a governor to be called to testify?

It’s virtually unprecedented, which makes it all the more dramatic. In Massachusetts history, Gov. William Weld is the only sitting governor so far to take the stand in a criminal trial. It involved a political associate of his, former state Sen. Henri Rauschenbach, who was charged with influence peddling. He ran the committee for Weld on the Cape.

So Weld comes in and he says, “Boys, testifying is as easy as brushing your teeth.” Rauschenbach was there for 17 minutes.

Let’s talk about what Patrick means for DiMasi, and what DiMasi means for Patrick. But first, describe the relationship between DiMasi and Patrick in the year in question — 2007.

Remember, it was the first few tone deaf months of the administration of Deval Patrick. He makes a phone call to the former treasurer of the U.S., Robert Rubin, on behalf of a sub-prime mortgage company that Patrick used to be with. He has hugely extravagant drapes and he upgrades his car to a Cadillac.

Patrick’s administration was suffering, so they badly needed DiMasi. The testimony at the trial so far really indicates they wanted to make him happy. It was go along to get along.

Does Patrick’s appearance threaten to embarrass him?

Yes, but it’s probably not going to be fatal. So far nobody has come out of this trial looking particularly good. And for Patrick, remember it’s Friday afternoon of the Memorial Day weekend. The only thing better for him would be if it were Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend.

But one thing has to be said: the prosecution has tried to make this case, that this was about arm twisting and using his muscle. If this were the only part of the prosecution’s case, it seems to me they’d be in tough straits because, what is political power after all, but twisting arms and threatening people if you don’t get what you want. So on the face of it, it doesn’t necessarily establish any kind of criminal behavior.

How does prior testimony from other Beacon Hill players in this case affect Patrick?

This is part of the problem. Nobody was holding a gun to their head to approve the contract. They wanted to go along to get along, and they could have said no.

Leslie Kirwan, she’s the budget chief, could have showed some backbone — you’re the budget chief, you don’t like something, don’t approve it. Don’t approve it, stand up to the speaker.

Again, the prosecution has likened this to extortion, but it was within the governor’s and his office, it was in their power to say no. They wanted to get along with him, and so that’s what they did, and the defense would say, ‘Hey, this is horse trading, it’s compromise, horse trading, nothing wrong with it.’

What’s likely to happen today?

Patrick’s going to testify, probably for a short period of time. It’s inlikely that he’s going to be really aggressively challenged by the defense, it doesn’t seem to suit them, then he will step down from the stand. There will be a few more government witnesses, the prosecution will rest its case, and then the defense opens it and we’re going to find out whether DiMasi takes the stand.

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