Gov. Blagojevich In N.Y. As Trial Begins In Ill. Senate
LINDA WORTHEIMER, host:
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich may not be in office much longer, but he is not going quietly. The Democratic governor was arrested in December on wide-ranging corruption charges, and now he's hoping to salvage his reputation and political career with a PR blitz. He's in New York this morning making the rounds on national TV shows, including "Good Morning America" and "The View." He won't be in the Illinois state capital in Springfield, where state senators today will begin his impeachment trial. NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER: Governor Rod Blagojevich could be convicted by the Illinois Senate and removed from office within just a few days. But he and his legal team are offering up no defense at his impeachment trial which starts at noon today. He complains the rules of the trial are fundamentally unfair, trampling on the Constitution. But he and his legal team do not seem inclined to go to court to have the impeachment trials stopped. Instead, the embattled governor hired a new flashy PR firm as Blagojevich goes on an all-out media blitz, appearing on national TV and on talk radio back home in an effort to cast himself as a victim of a bipartisan conspiracy.
(Soundbite from news conference)
Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): The heart and soul of this has been a struggle of me against the system.
SCHAPER: Governor Blagojevich says he has done nothing wrong, and he accuses both Democrats and Republicans of teaming up to oust him from office, because he is a champion of the people against what he calls a political-industrial complex. In recent days, he's compared himself to Teddy Roosevelt, who battled the entrenched corporate and political structure a century ago. And to the Jimmy Stewart character in the classic movie "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington." And when asked on "The Today Show" about his first thoughts when he was arrested in his home and led out in handcuffs by the FBI, Blagojevich compared himself to great jailed leaders of the past.
(Soundbite from "The Today Show")
Governor BLAGOJEVICH: I had a whole bunch of thoughts. Of course, my children and my wife. And then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi, and tried to put some perspective in all of this.
Mr. SCOTT LEE COHEN (Founder, Rod Must Resign Group): Anything short of, I am resigning, doesn't matter.
SCHAPER: Chicago businessman Scott Lee Cohen, founded the grassroots group called Rod Must Resign, which has been circulating petitions and leading protests to try to convince Blagojevich to step down. He calls the governor's PR blitz a charade and a waste of time.
Mr. COHEN: It shows that he has no empathy for the citizens of Illinois. He's self-centered and self-concerned. He's not worried about the stimulus package. He's not worried about the jobs. He's not worried about the healthcare situation. He's worried about himself.
SCHAPER: One setback for the governor, Blagojevich's lead defense lawyer, Ed Genson, is dropping from the case.
Mr. ED GENSON (Governor Blagojevich's Lawyer): I never require a client to do what I say, but I do require them to at least listen to what I say. And I intend to withdraw as counsel in this case. I wish the governor good luck and God speed.
SCHAPER: Meantime, newly released federal subpoenas of the governor's office show just how far the investigation of Blagojevich is going beyond the charges the governor's already facing. The subpoenas seek information and documents related to everything from state hiring and highway and building contracts to the real-estate business of the governor's wife, Patty Blagojevich. Subpoenas issued the day before the governor's arrest seek information related to contact between Blagojevich's office and two of President Obama's top advisors, Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod. A judge ordered the governor's office to release the subpoenas under Freedom of Information requests. Blagojevich had fought to keep them secret. David Schaper, NPR News Chicago.