His strongest defense came when he talked about all the health care initiatives he delivered to the voters during his two terms — many of which were initiated by executive fiat, as he was constantly at war with members of his own Democratic Party over his end runs around the legislature. It was here that Blagojevich laid on the schmaltz by recalling his own family’s beginnings in America and telling the story of a single woman who worked hard every day, taking public transportation from the city out to O’Hare airport in order to support her family. His voice caught a couple of times when describing the woman’s struggles. “My policies have been all about helping families like those,” Blagojevich said. “I confess maybe I push too far.”
That may be the case. But the evidence was particularly damning with regard to his “pay to play” schemes and the shopping of the Senate seat to at least six candidates. He continued to insist that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the government’s tapes and that he was entirely innocent.
He closed with an emotional appeal for “fairness.”
It ain’t about me. Charge it to my heart,” Blagojevich said. “When you get to be governor and you get a chance to help people like that, it’s gratifying.”
“Is it the right precedent to set to take a gov twice elected and throw him out of office when you’re not able to prove criminal allegations?” Blagojevich asked. “The ends don’t justify the means. An improper impeachment not based on evidence are improper ends not justified by means.”
Impeachments are rare and set a “dangerous and chilling precedent.” Blagojevich said he was in a “unique and lonely place.”
“You haven’t been able to show wrongdoing in this trial, and you’ve deneid me the chance to bring in a whole bunch of witnesses who could say I haven’t done anything wrong and I’ve done a bunch of things right,” Blagojevich said. “Imagine what would happen (to other governors).”
“I’m asking you to acquit me … and if you’re not comfortable with an acquittal, extend this process” and let him present evidence and witnesses,” Blagojevich said. “Imagine yourself in my place. Walk a mile in my shoes.”
Senators interviewed following Blagojevich’s defense were unmoved and unconvinced. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Blagojevich’s belongings have all been packed and are ready to be moved once the Senate votes, probably later today. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn is waiting outside the chamber, with the Illinois chief justice in tow, in order that he can be sworn in immediately once Blagojevich is convicted.
It was, in many ways, a bizarre end to a bizarre set of circumstances. Most who were watching the Blagojevich speech knew full well that he had tried to trade the vacant Senate seat for financial gain and/or the prospect of a job after he left office. His denials rang hollow in the face of the overwhelming evidence that the tape transcripts revealed. And yet his appearance at the 11th hour of his trial and his dramatic appeal to the senate jury for his political life made for great political theater.
Unfortunately for Blagojevich, it is unlikely that he will be allowed a curtain call for his performance.