Blagojevich arrest, Blagojevich taped conversations, Blagojevich pay-to-play
Mary Altaffer/AP
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrives back at his hotel after making an appearance on the
television program "The View".

Blagojevich Trying to Clear His Name on TV, Not in Court

January 27, 2009 07:26 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Gov. Rod Blagojevich opted not to attend his impeachment trial on Monday, pleading his case and arguing his innocence instead on New York talk shows.

Blagojevich Boycotts Trial and Heads for Morning TV

Instead of appearing at trial for the first day of his impeachment proceedings in Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich chose to travel to New York and do the morning television show rounds. He said he’s boycotting the trial because it is unfair. 

“I’m here talking to Americans to let them know what’s happening in the land of Lincoln,” Blagojevich told Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America.” “I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.

The Illinois Senate proceedings carried on without Blagojevich or any legal representation on his behalf. He argues that the court proceedings are violating his constitutional rights because he has no “chance to have due process, to bring witnesses and to defend himself,” The Post reports. The court barred him from calling witnesses that could obstruct the criminal investigation.

For example, the governor wanted to call President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, to the stand, but the state denied him that opportunity. “Blagojevich would like nothing more than to somehow involve Obama in his case, but he’s grasping and I don’t think he’s getting any traction,” Kenneth Janda, an emeritus professor of political science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., told Agence France-Presse.

Blagojevich will probably be removed from office when the trial ends, which could be as soon as this week, sources say. He is the first Illinois governor to be impeached, but five of the state’s past nine governors “have been indicted or arrested for fraud or bribery and Blagojevich’s predecessor, Republican George Ryan, is serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for fraud and racketeering,” according to AFP. His replacement would be Ill. Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn.

Former Ill. Lt. Gov. Judy Barr Topinka, who lost an election to Blagojevich, told MSNBC that the whole affair is seriously damaging the state’s image.

“Illinois look like a bunch of buffoons,” Topinka told NBC Chicago’s Kim Vatis. “[Blagojevich is] B.S.-ing his way through life to get one possible juror to think they’re not really sure,” she said.

She also commented on the fact that Blagojevich compared himself to Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Mahatma Gandhi, who also struggled against the law, according to MSNBC. “It’s not Gandhi or King,” Topinka said, “But Huey Long, former governor of Louisiana. Long left office in disgrace.”

Background: Blagojevich arrested and impeached

On Jan. 9, in a 114-1 vote, the Illinois state House of Representatives voted to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Blagojevich and John Harris, his chief of staff, were charged Dec. 9 with bribery solicitation and conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the district of Northern Illinois.

During a press conference that morning, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has long been investigating possible “pay-to-play” corruption in the Blagojevich administration, said that in addition to other corruption allegations, the governor of Illinois was allegedly soliciting bribes of as much as $1 million in exchange for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

The probe revealed that Blagojevich’s staff was approached by a representative of “Senate Candidate 5” with an offer to pay Blagojevich in exchange for being appointed to the empty Senate seat. According to Chicago’s ABC affiliate WLS, the governor said in the taped conversation, “You know, he’d raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”

Blagojevich also allegedly desired, in exchange for a preferential Senate appointment, a cabinet post or a post as an ambassador, “tangible, up front” cash, six-figure salaried corporate board positions for his wife Patricia as well as a plum salaried position with a union-affiliated group or a nonprofit for himself.

The governor also allegedly said in one of the taped conversations that he had concerns about the “financial security” of his family. “I want to make money,” he allegedly said.

With regard to candidates for positions who apparently refused to pay kickbacks, Blagojevich said, “They’re not willing to give me anything but their appreciation. [Bleep] them," according to Fitzgerald’s statement.

Other allegations against the governor include passage of a yet-unsigned $8 million bill for Children’s Memorial Hospital in exchange for a $50,000 campaign contribution from a high-ranking hospital staff member, and assistance for the Tribune Company’s sale of Wrigley Field in exchange for firing members of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board who were critical of the governor, one of whom allegedly was listed by name.

Blagojevich allegedly told the Tribune Company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Dec. 8, “Fire all those [bleep] people, get ’em the [bleep] out and get us some editorial support.”

Historical Context: Impeachment not just for presidents

With the impeachment vote, Blagojevich joined a small group of American presidents and governors who have been impeached. Three presidents have been impeached, and seven governors have had to leave office as a result of impeachment.

President Bill Clinton was the last president impeached, in 1998, over allegedly lying under oath about an affair he had with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He was acquitted and finished his term. President Richard Nixon, who was impeached over an alleged cover-up surrounding a burglary at the Democratic National Convention, resigned shortly after Congress approved articles of impeachment.

The first president impeached, Andrew Johnson, did not generate enough votes to remove him from office, according to The History Place. Johnson, who had fought with the Congressional majority over Reconstruction in the South, was impeached for removing Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, from his cabinet.

The last governor who was impeached and removed from office was Evan Mecham in 1988. Mecham was Arizona's governor, according to the Associated Press, and “was convicted of attempting to thwart an investigation into a death threat allegedly made by an aide in fall 1987.” The Arizona Senate had just one more vote than necessary to convict him.

Before Mecham, the last governor impeached was Oklahoma’s Henry Johnston in 1929, who “had declared martial law and ordered the National Guard to surround the Capitol to prevent the Legislature from assembling to investigate the governor,” the AP reported. Johnston wasn’t convicted in 1929, but he was impeached again the next year and had to leave offfice.

Related Topic: Attorney: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Is “Senate Candidate 5”

In early December, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., was confirmed by his laywer, James D. Montgomery, as “Senate Candidate 5,” the potential tap to fill the Senate seat to be vacated by Obama contingent on paying a bribe of as much as $1 million to Blagojevich.

Montgomery stressed that Jackson never offered to put up the cash or offer any other favors allegedly requested by the governor, however. Montgomery also said that Jackson was unware of the identity of “Individual D,” the person who apparently ventured to pay Blagojevich the kickback to secure Jackson’s appointment.

“Congressman Jackson has never authorized anyone to seek the governor’s support in return of money, fund-raising or other things of value,” Montgomery said at a press conference. “Secondly, the congressman is not aware of any alleged associate having made such a proposal.”

The probe, which Blagojevich likened to “Nixon and Watergate,” revealed that on Oct. 31 Blagojevich’s staff was “approached to ‘pay to play’” by a representative of someone referred to by Fitzgerald only as “Senate Candidate 5.”

Jackson, who was well known to be actively campaigning for Obama’s vacant Senate seat, was informed the evening prior to Blagojevich’s pending arrest, as well as the possibility of his name coming up in an investigation.

Jackson is the son of the famous civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. He has represented Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, which covers parts of Chicago’s South Side as well as some adjacent suburbs, since 1995.

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