At Fattah trial, Rendell defends co-defendant Vederman

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell testified Wednesday during the federal corruption trial of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell testified Wednesday during the federal corruption trial of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell testified in federal court Wednesday at the corruption trial of indicted U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.

The gregarious lawmaker didn’t bat an eye and even threw in a few jokes. At one point on the stand, Rendell quipped that “almost anything” is a federal crime.

Rendell was brought in during the fourth and final week of testimony to answer questions about Fattah’s relationship with co-defendant Herbert Vederman, a close friend who wanted to be a U.S. ambassador.

Prosecutors allege that, for years, Vederman bribed Fattah in exchange for the congressman’s help to secure the high-profile post.  Vederman “showered” Fattah with gifts and money, they said, including $18,000 to help pay for a home in the Poconos.

Fattah lobbied Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and members of the Obama administration, but Vederman never got the job. Rendell said Vederman, a good friend, did nothing wrong, telling reporters outside the courthouse in Philadelphia that the government was “overreaching.”

“Federal prosecutors don’t understand the political process. They’re very cynical. They assume everyone does everything for ulterior motives,” said Rendell. “No one could do something because they’re your friend.”

Casey echoed Rendell’s sentiments while testifying in late May. He said Fattah didn’t cross any lines when he sent Casey’s office a letter extolling Vederman’s resume, including his time as a deputy mayor under Rendell.

Casey told jurors his office received hundreds of requests for recommendations following President Obama’s historic general election win in 2008. Casey was an early Obama supporter and sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which, among other things, vets nominees seeking ambassadorships.

“We get a lot of letters on a lot of subjects,” said Casey.

While Rendell said the government’s bribery allegations were bogus, he’s not so sure about the rest of the allegations outlined in the government’s 28-count indictment. He said if prosecutors prove them, Fattah should pay.

“It’s a serious offense. He should be convicted and, in my judgment, should spend time in jail,” he said.

Fattah is charged with racketeering, bribery, bank fraud and other offenses for allegedly misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal and political gain.

Fattah allegedly took an illegal $1 million campaign loan while running for Philadelphia mayor in 2007, then stole federal and charitable donations to repay part of the loan.

Prosecutors also maintain that he used campaign cash to help pay off his son’s college loan and encouraged a political consultant to create a sham nonprofit to which Fattah could steer federal grants.

Lawyers representing Fattah and his four co-defendants wrapped up their cases on Wednesday afternoon. Closing arguments are expected on Monday.

Even if he’s acquitted, Fattah will not return to Congress in 2017. After more than 20 years in office, he lost April’s Democratic primary to state Rep. Dwight Evans.

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