By 2008, Blagojevich’s performance as governor [Illinois] had earned him a 13 percent approval rating, giving him the title of “Least Popular Governor in the Nation.” Later that same year, federal agents finally had enough evidence to arrest the governor for attempting to trade President-elect Barack Obama’s newly vacant senatorial seat in return for campaign contributions and a high-paying job for his wife. Transcripts of phone conversations also revealed that Blagojevich threatened to block financial assistance to the company that owns the Chicago Tribune newspaper, unless they fired members of the paper’s editorial board who criticized the governor.
On January 29, 2009, following an extensive Senate trial, Blagojevich was impeached and barred from ever holding public office in the state of Illinois. Two separate and unanimous votes of 59-0 by the Illinois State Senate found the governor guilty of abuses of power. In April of 2009, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on criminal corruption charges. On June 27, 2011, Blagojevich was found guilty on 17 of 20 corruption charges. He faces up to 300 years in prison, and will be the fourth Illinois governor to face prison in recent history (Summary from biography.com).
Key Apologia Strategies:
Attacking the Accuser, Denial, Bolstering
Video of Blagojevich’s Interview on Good Morning America (January 26, 2009)
Transcript of Blagojevich’s Interview on Good Morning America
Diane Sawyer: Now, as we said on this morning as the Illinois Senate is convening to possibly vote him out of office, Gov. Rod Blagojevich live. Good morning.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich: Thanks for having me.
Sawyer: I know you have been railing against the process all weekend. I heard that. This morning can we just address the charges against you. Specifically, the U.S. attorney has said, and this is a quote from him, “that you tried to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat like a sports agent shopping for the highest bidder.” Did you?
Blagojevich: Absolutely not, and I’ll have a chance in a criminal case to show my innocence and bring witnesses, and this impeachment trial actually gives me an opportunity, if it was fair, if it allowed me to actually bring witnesses to be able to prove that those allegations are not true. But as the impeachment process exists they won’t allow me to bring witnesses like Rahm Emanuel, the president’s chief of staff, who has said most recently and publicly I’ve done nothing wrong.
Sawyer: Again, I want to talk about the process of that later, but let’s address again what is out there in the public record right now. What the people of Illinois have already seen and specifically the tapes as they’ve been quoted by the U.S. attorney who says, by the way, they’re not a paraphrase they are specific quotes. Here’s this “I’ve got this thing and it’s bleeping golden and I’m just not giving it up for bleeping nothing. I’m not going to do it and can always use it. I can parachute me in there.”
You go on to say, “Therefore, I can drive a hard bargain. If I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll take the Senate seat myself. It’s a bleeping valuable thing. You just don’t give it away for nothing.” Did you say this?
Blagojevich: I can’t get into the specifics of the case. But I could say this, there’s a process, a lot of discussions and ideas and there was an underlying effort to end up in a place that did the most for the people of Illinois. The ultimate …
Sawyer: … did the most for the people of Illinois, but the U.S. attorney said this was not about politics as usual. This was not political horse trading. This was personal gain, and he goes on at one point here to talk about an occasion apparently when you talk about Mrs. Blagojevich getting appointed to some corporate boards so you could pick up another 150 grand a year or whatever to help you as governor.
Blagojevich: Again, they took snippets of conversations completely out of context. They did not provide all the tapes that tell the whole story and when the whole story comes out you’ll see that the effort was to work to have a senator who can best represent Illinois and one that help us create jobs and health care …
Sawyer: Help me understand the context that explains, “I’ve got this thing and it’s bleeping golden. I’m just not giving it up for bleeping nothing.”
Blagojevich: Again, I can’t go into the details of that case, and I wish they would allow me at this impeachment trial to be able to bring the evidence to show exactly what those conversations were. And the place that I ended up, which was part of a political process to leverage to be able to pass a public works program, expand health care and get a deal where we don’t raise taxes on people, the whole story will come out.
Sawyer: You say it’s a political process. But the House, the Illinois House voted to impeach you. It was 17 to one. I think the one was your sister-in-law. The president has said you should resign and the mayor of Chicago said you’re cuckoo. Have you lost your political base? Is it gone?
Blagojevich: Here’s a question I have to you, to Mayor Daly and everyone else, whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? How is it that you can make a couple of allegations, take some conversations completely out of context, the whole story is not told and then force somebody to admit to something he didn’t do and then deny that person who is a sitting governor a chance to have due process to bring witnesses and to defend himself? This impeachment trial gives me an opportunity to be able to disprove those allegations, show my innocence and I can do it sooner rather than later if the Senate allows me to bring witnesses in to prove my innocence.
Sawyer: Well, but as you know, they have said you passed up all the deadlines to protest against the rules, and in fact, in order to list other witnesses you might bring. But rather than debate that, you said one of the things that you would introduce in order to establish that you were talking about lots of people to become senator is that you had other names on the list, and you were really thinking about somebody else. Who were you thinking about?
Blagojevich: Well, there’s a whole series of people we talked about in those conversations and ultimately again there was a political process trying to be able to leverage a result that would pass a public works program, expand health care and hold the line on taxes.
Sawyer: But who were you thinking of?
Blagojevich: Several people, and I’ll tell you about that but I have to emphasize again this impeachment trial is unconstitutional. It denies me the right to call witnesses to defend myself and prove my innocence.
Sawyer: Why aren’t you in Illinois saying this to members of your own legislature?
Blagojevich: Because those senators are politicians who make the rules and won’t allow us a chance to be able change the rules. So I’m talking to Americans to let them know what’s happening in the Land of Lincoln. If they can do this to a sitting governor, deny me to bring witnesses in to prove my innocence, answer the witnesses I’d like to call, the president’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, top staffer Valerie Jarrett, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. And a whole host of others. They won’t allow me to bring them in to show my innocence. With that it’s a scary thing. If they can do it to a governor, they can do it to you.
Sawyer: Let me ask you a personal question. Who were you thinking of for Senate who wasn’t in any of these telephone calls?
Blagojevich: There were a lot of different candidates that I explored. And, again, the full story will come out at the appropriate time. Do you have any suggestions on who I might have been thinking about? What have you heard?
Sawyer: I’ve heard Oprah [Winfrey].
Blagojevich: That is true.
Sawyer: Did you call Oprah? Were you talking to her? Is this something you were just thinking?
Blagojevich: No, the idea came to me from a friend and then among the considerations we discussed whether or not it made any sense. She seemed to be someone who had helped Barack Obama in a significant way become president. She was obviously someone with a much broader bully pulpit than other senators. She probably wouldn’t take it, and then we talked about if you offered it to her how would you do it in a way it looked like it wasn’t a gimmick to embarrass her.
Sawyer: These tapes, another way, when you look at them, is there anything in them that I guess horrifies you that the people of Illinois deserve something better than hearing this from their governor on tape?
Blagojevich: No, I think they should hear the whole story and will see a governor who was trying to position and maneuver to create jobs and expand health care and the decision was a selfless decision. Go ahead. I’m sorry.
Sawyer: If they do vote to impeach …
Blagojevich: They will. The fix is in.
Sawyer: If they vote, are you gone?
Sawyer: You will not be governor on Monday?
Blagojevich: Well, it depends on what their timetable is, but I’ll suspect it’ll be relatively soon. The fix is in. They’ve decided on a process that will deny me the opportunity to bring witnesses in like the president’s chief of staff, U.S. senators and others who I discussed the senate seat with to prove my innocence.
Sawyer: What about the criminal case? Do you actually fear prison?
Blagojevich: I know what the truth is, and I believe the truth will ultimately prevail here. Unfortunately, it’s gotten lost in the frenzy and unfortunately in America today, the media and everyone else seems to just rush to judgment and have denied me the presumption of innocence, and what they’ve done is denied the people of Illinois that twice elected me governor an opportunity to have their governor make his case and defend himself because they chose me. These lawmakers did not.
Sawyer: As you know, Mrs. Blagojevich is also on these tapes and some people in the columns have said she’s like Lady MacBeth in the background urging you on particularly in an instance with the Chicago Tribune to allegedly fire some people on the Chicago Tribune in exchange for giving them financial assistance for what they want to do with Wrigley Field. I just want to ask in personal terms, how is Mrs. Blagojevich? What is her role in this? How is she this morning?
Blagojevich: Well, she’s caring for our children. She is unfortunately depicted in a light that is obviously not her. You know there’s a phrase from a poem from Rudyard Kipling that says, “If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.”
Again, you take a private conversation with calls from your home that are being secretly taped and you take something like that out of context. You can twist it and make somebody look like someone you’re not and my wife is a loving wife who cares for our children. She’s a — the best person I know. A person of great character and integrity.
Sawyer: Your children, Amy, 10, Annie, 4. What have you said to them? How are they doing.
Blagojevich: Amy 12 and Annie 5.
Blagojevich: It’s a very difficult time for our family as you can imagine. Among the many reasons I won’t allow them to run me out without a fight. And I won’t allow these politicians to take things out of context and accept things that aren’t true is because I respect my children.
Sawyer: What do you say to those girls?
Blagojevich: What I say to them is how I act — I have done nothing wrong. I’ve done virtually everything right on behalf of the people and fighting to the very end for something much larger than me and the most important part is they should know their father is not the person they’re trying to say he is and among the reasons why I won’t bow to these politicians who want me to quit for their own purposes and I must tell you when this all happened the pressure was immense to get out and leave the office so that some of those others can make a decision on who the next senator is.
Sawyer: I want you to know we’ll get cut off but we have standing by in Chicago in our bureau there we have Matt Murphy standing by, one of the state senators who helped draft the rules. Will you stay and respond to him as he responds to you and the charges? Will you stay?
Sawyer: All right. We’ll be back in our next half hour.
Sawyer: First, we kept going right on with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His impeachment trial starts today. Of course, accused of trying to sell the president’s Senate seat among other things. And the governor — the governor was saying repeatedly the impeachment process is unfair. We have standing by Illinois State Sen. Matt Murphy who helped draft the rules for the impeachment.
Murphy: We pattern these rules after the most recent impeachment trial that there’s been in this country, which was of President Clinton. And the rules are very similar to those of the trial in President Clinton’s case, and as you all know, that led to the acquittal of the chief executive.
Sawyer: What about that, patterned on the same rules as President Clinton had?
Blagojevich: That’s an inaccurate statement. President Clinton could have called witnesses if he wanted and he did. When the Senate had the trial, President Clinton was able to have Vernon Jordan testify as well as I think Monica Lewinsky had made some videotape testimony.
All I’m asking of these senators is a simple, fundamental right. It’s called the Sixth Amendment, the right to call witnesses to defend yourself. Think about how chilling this is in America. Anybody can hurl an accusation at you, and then these senators won’t allow a sitting governor elected twice by the people — they weren’t, I was — to call witnesses to prove my innocence. And, again, these are not just ordinary citizens I want to call. I want the call the president’s chief of staff, top staffers, U.S. senators and a whole bunch of other people I talked to about trying to work out something to get the right senator for Illinois, and they won’t let me do it, and they want to undo the decision that the people of Illinois made with these phony rules. And if they can do it in Illinois, they can do it here in New York and other states when governors fight for the people against lawmakers who thwart efforts and raise taxes on people and to be able to do things like create jobs and mortgage foreclosure, the things I fought for for six years. I should point out before this happened there was talk of impeachment because I found a way to give every senior citizen free public transportation and cancer screenings to women around the legislature and protected 35,000 poor people that President Bush kicked off health care. That’s why they’re doing this.
Sawyer: Senator, senator, let me bring you in. This is obviously an immensely serious thing. The governor was elected two times. Why not let him bring in any possible witness who might be able to add to what everybody knows?
Murphy: Well, first let’s try to work through all of that red herring he just served us all for breakfast. The reality of the situation is there’s a criminal investigation going on. The U.S. attorney is talking about taking away the man’s liberty. We’re talking about his job. The U.S. attorney asked us to defer to the criminal prosecution and limit witnesses. We didn’t just limit them for the governor. They’re limited for the prosecutor.
But more than that, the reference to statements by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, Rep. Jackson, those positive statements that the governor says exonerate him, he can submit those into evidence. We have lowered the standard for the admission of evidence for the governor to bend over backwards to make this fair for him. The suggestion and the suggestion that this is somehow unfair to the governor is the most self-serving ludicrous statement I have ever heard in my life. It couldn’t be fairer for this guy.
Sawyer: Excuse me. We are at the tyranny of the computer here. We’ve got about 30 seconds. Final word, governor.
Blagojevich: They are prohibited by rule 15f, and the prosecutor of the U.S. attorney has said you can’t call witnesses. So they won’t even prove the criminal charges in this impeachment yet that’s the underlying basis of an impeachment. They won’t bring witnesses in to prove it. They won’t allow me witnesses to disprove it. The fix is in. More to do with the fact that my fellow Democrats in the legislature want me out of the way because they want a big income tax increase on the people of Illinois. Mark my words, that’s coming before Memorial Day.
Sawyer: Again, governor, thank you so much for being here.
Blagojevich: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Davey, M., & Healy, J. (2008, December 9). Illinois governor charged in scheme to sell Obama’s seat. New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/us/politics/10Illinois.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=1978DDFA3CBD78069003A47CF3F4C134&gwt=pay
Full transcript: Gov. Rod Blagojevich interview with Diane Sawyer (2009, January 26). ABC News. Retrieved from: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=6731018
Green, B. (2012, March 15). Rod Blagojevich begins 14-year prison sentence: Former governor of Illinois headed to jail Thursday for corruption, conspiracy. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved from: https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/03/15/rod-blagojevich-begins-14-year-prison-sentence