Blagojevich Argues His Case on TV, Not at Impeachment Trial

The Illinois Senate convened an historic impeachment trial that will determine whether Gov. Rod Blagojevich is removed from office. Video by AP
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Jan. 26 -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich skipped his own impeachment trial on Monday, racing instead from studio to studio in New York to tell television audiences that he is not guilty of the corruption charges that have made the Elvis-impersonating governor and his mop-top hairstyle a late-night punch line.

Ducking the hard questions and leaning into the soft ones, Blagojevich told interviewers, including Diane Sawyer, Larry King and the women of ABC's "The View," that he is a do-gooder who has fallen victim to vindictive politicians in Springfield and Washington.

His ouster, he said, is a foregone conclusion, perhaps within the week.

"The fix is in," he said as 59 Illinois senators gathered 700 miles away in the state capital to decide his fate. He told NBC's "Today" show, in an interview recorded Sunday night, that he thought of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. last month while FBI agents were leading him away in handcuffs.

No longer the rising star with Chicago working-class roots who once imagined a run for president, Blagojevich is so friendless that he avoided the somber scene that unfolded in the ornate chamber where President Obama spent eight years as a state senator, in the town that launched Abraham Lincoln.

Signs everywhere point to the upcoming celebration of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. After the pride-inducing Nov. 4 election of Obama, who announced his candidacy here in Lincoln's honor and took the oath of office with a hand on the 16th president's Bible, legislators are lamenting the reminder of the state's tawdry side.

"I'm embarrassed by the fact that Illinois once again is being drug through the mud of corruption," state Sen. Frank Watson (R) said during a break. "We're the laughingstock of the nation."

The governor is facing legal troubles on two fronts. The Senate trial appears certain to cost him his job after six years in office and two statewide victories. And a federal indictment expected this year threatens his freedom.

Edward Genson, Blagojevich's attorney, quit the case in frustration, not with the governor's pursuers but with his client. The prominent Chicago lawyer told reporters the other day, "I never require a client to do what I say, but I do require them to at least listen."

On television, Blagojevich said the Illinois legislature's true motivation for ousting him is so that it can raise taxes by Memorial Day. He also revealed that he considered naming Oprah Winfrey to Obama's Senate seat.

The heart of the impeachment trial, mandated by a 117 to 1 vote of the state House this month, is a 76-page FBI affidavit that persuaded a Chicago federal judge to order the governor's arrest. The document uses Blagojevich's own words and the testimony of informants to show him profiting from his official actions.

A central charge is that Blagojevich, 52, who had sole authority to name a U.S. Senate replacement when Obama resigned to become president, tried to sell the seat to the highest bidder.

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