President Obama will not have to testify in the upcoming corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, a federal judge ruled today.
Lawyers for Blagojevich, who claimed the president would clear up discrepancies in the stories of two federal witnesses, did not produce enough evidence to prove Obama's presence would be necessary, ruled U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
"The testimony of the president is not material to this case," Zagel said today in issuing the ruling.
The former governor was indicted last year on 16 felony counts, accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Obama when he became president. His trial is scheduled to begin June 3.
A computer last week revealed redacted documents in which Blagojevich alleged that Obama had been actively engaged in the process to pick his Senate successor. The White House has previously denied such allegations, but would not comment on an ongoing case.
Experts said it was unlikely the president would have been called to testify, but there is a long history of sitting and former presidents being subpoenaed to testify.
"It's unusual, but far from unprecedented, for a president to provide testimony, albeit at a physical distance from the actual court proceedings," said presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, former director of five presidential libraries.
The first sitting president called to testify was Thomas Jefferson. In 1807, Jefferson was called to testify in the treason trial of Aaron Burr, Jefferson's former vice president.
Jefferson invoked executive privilege and refused to testify, setting a precedent invoked by Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 after the Supreme Court ruled he would be required to turn over White House recordings pertaining to the Watergate scandal.
"Gerald Ford gave videotaped testimony in the criminal trial of a woman who had attempted to shoot him. And Ronald Reagan testified after leaving office in matters related to the Iran-Contra affair," Smith said.