Blagojevich Denies Guilt, Vows To Fight Charges

If Only 'If' Weren't Overplayed

With his back against the wall, the Illinois governor turns to ... Rudyard Kipling? Turns out the English poet is a favorite of high-profile people in times of crisis, Linton Weeks reports.

Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Friday defiantly refused to heed a chorus of calls for his resignation, asserting that he will be cleared of charges that he conspired to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.

"I'm here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing," Blagojevich said in a Chicago conference room packed with reporters. "I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath."

Refusing to take questions and insisting he had done nothing wrong, Blagojevich positioned himself as a lonely hero facing "false accusations and a political lynch mob."

"I'm dying to show you how innocent I am," Blagojevich said. "I intend to answer every allegation that comes my way" and "in an appropriate forum — in a court of law." He quoted the first stanza of Rudyard Kipling's well-worn poem If, in which the writer talks about keeping one's head while those about you are losing theirs.

He urged the citizens of Illinois to "sit back and take a deep breath" and to "reserve judgment."

It was Blagojevich's first formal statement since federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald last week accused him of engaging in a crime spree that would "make Lincoln roll over in his grave." And it came just minutes after Obama wrapped up a press conference about 1 1/2 miles away, where he announced his three latest Cabinet appointments.

Obama's Cabinet rollout has continued to be overshadowed by developments related to Blagojevich's arrest on Dec. 9. The case against the 52-year-old governor, re-elected to his second term in 2006, revolves around telephone recordings of him allegedly talking with friends and associates about money and jobs he may be able to parlay out of his power to appoint a senator to replace Obama.

On Thursday, a smiling Blagojevich, videotaped jogging through the icy streets of Chicago, told the trailing press corps that he's "dying" to tell his side of the story. He didn't reveal much more on Friday, except that even with federal charges hanging over his head, his bravado, public confidence, and resolve to remain in office are undiminished.

After the governor exited, one of his criminal defense lawyers told reporters that it was too early for Blagojevich to assume he was too crippled to serve. Those questions, said Sam Adams Jr., would likely be considered closer to Easter. A day earlier, Ed Genson, another one of the governor's lawyers, indicated the vigorous defense they plan. In an appearance before a special Illinois House impeachment panel, Genson called it an "Alice in Wonderland" process.

"Everybody's in a rush to judgment," Genson said later. "This is a real witch hunt."

As the legislature continued its move to impeach Blagojevich, federal officials said they will attempt to freeze money in the governor's campaign account in an attempt to prevent him from using the funds for his criminal defense.

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