Friday, January 23, 2009

The cowboy way

Jamey Dunn contributed to this post.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich today compared himself, among other things, to a cowboy facing a hanging before getting a fair trial. He used a rather dizzying metaphor to illustrate his series of accusations that the Illinois Senate impeachment trial set to begin Monday is a “sham” and a foregone conclusion.

He’s making a not guilty plea through the media rather than through the impeachment trial. It began with an exclusive interview on live Chicago radio this morning, followed by a Chicago news conference this afternoon. Throughout both events, he never denied that it was his voice on the FBI recordings that were obtained as part of the ongoing criminal investigation. Nor did he deny that he actually said those things transcribed in the 76-page criminal complaint, swear words and all. On WLS-AM radio’s Don and Roma show this morning, he apologized for the profanity. “But had I known they were listening, I wouldn’t have used those words.”

In both the radio interview and the news conference, he presented a conspiracy theory, of sorts, for why the state legislature is diligently working toward removing him from office: “They want to get me out fast so they can put a huge income tax increase on the people of Illinois, an income tax increase that I fought for six years,” he said. Referring to a proposal to increase the sales tax on motor fuel, he said, “If I’m out of the way, they can quietly push this through, and the people of Illinois are going to see their taxes go up during an economic depression.”

He said everything he has done as governor — including expanding health care to middle-class families, offering free mass transit rides for seniors, allowing women to get free pap smears and mammograms and increasing the minimum wage twice — was done in the best interest of the people and was "not that inconsistent with the way the process works.”

He also said the Senate trial rules deny the presumption of innocence and are choking his ability to tell the truth. He specifically blames two Senate rules, which he says prevent him from calling witnesses and from challenging the charges. He said he wants to call President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, as well as Obama administrator Valerie Jarrett, and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who Blagojevich said would verify proper conversations about appointing a replacement to Obama's U.S. Senate seat. And Blagojevich would call U.S. Sens. John Kerry and John McCain, as well as governors from Kansas and Wisconsin, who Blagojevich said helped in the effort to import prescription drugs from Canada for seniors.

“Just let me bring my witnesses in to show people and to have them under oath testify before the Senate that I have not done anything wrong and I’ve done mostly things right. And if they just give me a chance to bring witnesses, I’ll be there first thing Monday morning. It’s just that simple.”

The rules, however, are clear that his defense team could have called witnesses if they would have participated in the trial, which they don't plan to do. They missed the deadline to subpoena witnesses. Here’s that rule:
Rule 15(f)
It is never in order to request a subpoena for the testimony of any person or for the production of documents or other materials from that person if the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois has indicated that the person’s testimony, or inquiry into the subject matter of that person’s testimony, could compromise the U.S. Attorney’s criminal investigation of Rod R. Blagojevich, as exemplified by, but not limited to, exhibits 10, 24, and 30 of the House impeachment record, unless the U.S. Attorney subsequently indicates otherwise.

CLARIFICATION: He’s [somewhat] right that the rules do prevent him from challenging the charges detailed in the report recommending impeachment, as approved by the full House. But he could have filed a response to the charges, and he could have filed a motion to dismiss them. Neither he nor his lawyers did that by the deadlines. So he missed his chance to challenge the charges. Here’s that rule:
Rule 8(b)
The House Prosecutor or the Governor or his counsel may object to the admission or exclusion of evidence. Any objection must be addressed to the Chief Justice. No objection, however, may be made against all or any part of the House impeachment record filed by the House Prosecutor with the Secretary.

“In short, you can have all the witnesses you want,” Blagojevich said in the afternoon news conference. “It doesn’t matter because that document alone is going to be accepted as fact.”

Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, said the governor’s interpretations of the rules are “flat out wrong.” In a phone conversation yesterday, Dillard said: “We have certainly gone overboard to protect his due process rights, and, the rules are essentially copied from the federal system, which acquitted or did not impeach Bill Clinton. So under the same set of standards and guidelines, President Clinton walked.”

Kent Redfield, political scientist at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Clinton probably was guilty of some minor felonies but that he had strong political and public support, so the Senate would not convict. Blagojevich could be trying to do something similar, he said, appealing to Illinois citizens to apply pressure on the senators.

Redfield doesn’t buy it.

“He seems to be pretty removed from reality at this point,” he said. “We’re past the point that he can rally public opinion.”

Blagojevich throughout the day repeatedly cited historical figures — including Richard Nixon and Teddy Roosevelt. He also said he was in a modern-day Frank Capra movie such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where the good guy fights the establishment and gets accosted for breaking the rules but continues to fight for the people. “The only difference is some of the language is that you wouldn’t hear in the 1930s,” Blagojevich said.

Redfield says the governor is playing out the same act over and over again. “The frightening thing about that performance is that he seems to be completely sincere.”

Blagojevich did have a sentimental moment on the Don and Roma show this morning. He said he’s determined to clear his name and his reputation for the sake of his daughters, which he said is why he wouldn’t resign. “To simply cut and run is to simply say that I did something wrong, and then my little girls are going to grow up thinking somehow their dad did something wrong when I didn’t. That, I’ll never ever sacrifice.”

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