Monday, December 22, 2008

Blagojevich: I Will Fight, Until I Take My Last Breath. I Have Done Nothing Wrong.

Carlos Ortiz for The New York Times
“I’m here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing,” Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich told reporters Friday at his Chicago office, adding that “I intend to stay on the job.”

VIDEO: Gov. Blagojevich's Friday (12-19-2008) Press Conference

‘I Will Fight,’ Blagojevich Unapologetically Vows -
December 20, 2008

‘I Will Fight,’ Blagojevich Unapologetically Vows

CHICAGO — Striking a tone that was unapologetic and defiant, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich broke his public silence on Friday, denying any criminal wrongdoing and vowing to fight what he called “false accusations and a political lynch mob.”

“I’m here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing,” Mr. Blagojevich said in a brief appearance before reporters at his downtown office. “I intend to stay on the job, and I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight. I will fight. I will fight, until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong.”

Mr. Blagojevich, a second-term Democrat, bounded out of the room when he was finished, taking no questions and without addressing the specific accusations leveled against him last week in a federal criminal complaint, or in an impeachment inquiry by lawmakers under way in Springfield.

Federal prosecutors have charged him with trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, threatening to withhold state money from a hospital if an executive there would not contribute to him, and trying to have a newspaper writer fired in exchange for state help in the sale of Wrigley Field.

In his defense, Mr. Blagojevich said only that he had the truth on his side. Legal experts said his lack of specificity was not surprising, given the criminal case ahead of him.

But his appearance was perhaps more revealing with regard to his emotional state. He described himself as lonely, thanked supporters for their comfort and prayers, and quoted from memory the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, about the nobility of persevering through tough times.

Some of this was classic Blagojevich — the feisty, boyish politician with a near-photographic memory and inclination toward history and literature who twice won over Illinois voters in promising to be a man of the people and reform.

“I am dying to show you how innocent I am,” he said, his signature dark locks falling into his eyes.

His presentation could not have provided a sharper contrast to the petty, scheming and foul-mouthed man captured in federal wiretap transcripts in the government’s 76-page criminal complaint.

It was that man who continued to dominate the political discussion here, with Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, a fellow Democrat, redoubling his calls later in the day for the governor to step aside.

“I think the people of Illinois are held hostage right now to this situation,” Mr. Quinn said.

A State Senate committee, meanwhile, met here to prepare rules and speak with lawyers about how an impeachment trial of the governor might proceed. Once a report is completed by a House impeachment committee that is now engaged in an investigation of Mr. Blagojevich, the full House could vote to send the matter to the Senate for trial.

But the process, vaguely defined under the Illinois Constitution and rarely tested, will almost certainly carry into the next legislative session, which starts in January.

After Mr. Blagojevich’s appearance, two of his lawyers, Sam Adam Jr. and Sheldon Sorosky, took questions from reporters, and said prosecutors had used bits and pieces of the governor’s recorded conversations to draw a damaging portrait of him.

“When those tapes come out — and they’re not just 15-second snippets that an agent who sits down in an office somewhere pulls out what he thinks is bad — you’re going to find out the truth on these conversations,” Mr. Adam said.

Even so, the lawyers suggested that Mr. Blagojevich would resign if his troubles meant that Illinois could no longer function.

“If it doesn’t work,” Mr. Adam said, “if it is too hard, if the people of Illinois suffer, he will step aside.”

Lawmakers said they were disappointed, if not particularly surprised, by Mr. Blagojevich’s sentiments.

State Senator Matt Murphy, a Republican, said, “Speaking on behalf of the vast majority of the people of the state of Illinois who were hoping to hear — rather than ‘fight, fight, fight’ — ‘resign, resign, resign,’ this governor has lost his ability to lead, and the state needs to go forward.”

Others longed to hear Mr. Blagojevich explain the conduct and speech depicted in the transcripts and to hear his case as to why he should still be governing.

“When he stands up and says he’s innocent, that doesn’t mean very much to me, because I’ve read transcripts of the tapes, and those show that he’s unfit to be the governor of Illinois,” said Jeffrey M. Shaman, a professor at the DePaul University College of Law. “I believe it’s disgraceful that he’s not resigning now from what we know about him from the transcripts already, and from what I think will be proven in court.

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