March 3, 2008 -- Sen. Barack Obama's name could well come up in the trial of his longtime friend and accused Illinois fixer Tony Rezko, according to Chicago lawyers following the case.
"I think it's realistic that that could happen during the trial," said Zach Fardon, a former Chicago federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan on corruption charges.
Jury selection for Rezko, accused of bribing public officials and taking kickbacks, began this morning in a Chicago federal courtroom.
Although contributions Rezko steered to Obama's 2004 Senate campaign are cited in pretrial motions, he is unlikely to be called by prosecutors to testify about them.
Obama has said he was "unaware" of the allegedly illegal contributions Rezko insisted others make, and the Obama campaign has donated to charity some $150,000 connected to Rezko and others involved in the federal investigation.
But former prosecutor Fardon, now with the Chicago office of Latham & Watkins, says Rezko's defense lawyer could use Obama "to show that Mr. Rezko is somebody active in politics and political fundraising and there's nothing unto itself nefarious about that fact."
Rezko's lawyer, Joe Duffy, has consistently declined to comment on any aspect of the case.
While the start of the trial one day before primary elections in four key states may be a negative for the Obama campaign, Fardon says there is nothing political about the way the case has been pursued by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, best known for the perjury prosecution of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.
"I don't think this is a politically driven indictment; I don't think this is a politically driven trial, from any perspective, designed to embarrass anyone," Fardon said.
Opening arguments in the case are expected to begin Wednesday or Thursday.
When asked by Terry Moran of ABC News what he would do if called as a witness for Rezko's defense, Obama said he "would leave that up to lawyers." Obama's name was not on the witness list read to prospective jurors in the courtroom Monday.