The Illinois Senate’s impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich got under way on Monday, but one thing was missing: the defendant.
For Blagojevich, who could be removed from office for allegedly trying to shop President Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, the trial is a sham. Instead, he’s taken his message to the court of public opinion, making the rounds of television talk shows.
“I think the fix is in and … they’ve decided essentially to do a hanging without even a fair trial,” he told NBC’s Today show.
But Blagojevich has been able to take some solace from his predicament. He told the network that when he was arrested on federal corruption charges last month, he was comforted by thinking of other jailed leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi.
“I’m here in New York because I can’t get a fair hearing in Illinois, the state Senate in Illinois,” the Democratic governor said between TV appearances.
“I think he’s misreading the rules,” said Democrat John Cullerton, president of the Illinois Senate, who chaired the committee that drafted the rules for the impeachment trial.
“It is not a criminal case. It’s not about his liberty; it’s about his job. And there are definitely different rules than a criminal trial,” Cullerton added.
Blagojevich, who was arrested in December and charged with what the U.S. attorney in Chicago calls a “political corruption crime spree,” has referred to Dec. 9 — the day FBI agents woke him and took him from his home in handcuffs — as his own Pearl Harbor Day. He also compared himself to the Jimmy Stewart character in the Frank Capra classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, saying he’s fighting against a “political-industrial complex.”
In FBI wiretap transcripts, Blagojevich is allegedly heard talking about selling or trading the U.S. Senate appointment. In comments Monday, the governor said his words were taken “completely out of context.”
He maintained that the conversations were “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,” he said.
The governor told ABC he had considered the possibility of nominating Oprah Winfrey to fill Obama’s seat.
Blagojevich, 52, said he worried the appointment of Winfrey might come across as a gimmick and that the talk show host was unlikely to accept. In the end, Blagojevich appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the vacant seat.
[Jeffrey Shaman, a constitutional law professor at DePaul University in Chicago] said there is a remedy for the governor: “If there is any unfairness here, instead of boycotting the procedure, the governor and his attorneys should go to the trial and they should, on a charge by charge basis, argue to the Senate that there is not sufficient evidence to convict on this particular charge.”
Instead, the governor will spend what may be one of his few remaining days in office making the rounds of TV studios in New York, trying to salvage what’s left of his flagging political career.