Blago's Eleventh Hour Appeal Was Great Political Theater
For three days, the soon to be ex-governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, boycotted his Illinois Senate impeachment trial, complaining about the rules under which the state Senate was trying him and decrying the "rush to judgment" that the trial represented.
But today, with almost certain conviction and removal from office staring him in the face, Blagojevich made a dramatic appearance in the ornate Senate chamber that has served as the backdrop to his impeachment trial. He gave an emotional and impassioned defense of his actions, saying: "I didn't do anything wrong."
The Illinois House committee charged with looking into impeaching him had a different opinion. They agreed to a 13 count bill of particulars that detailed wrongdoing by Blagojevich going back to his first term:
- That Blagojevich plotted to obtain "personal benefit" in exchange to fill President Obama's vacant Senate seat.
- That Blagojevich plotted to condition the award of state assistance to the Chicago Tribune based on the firing of some of the paper's editorial board members.
- Six separate counts claiming Blagojevich traded official favors for campaign contributions.
- Three articles on Blagojevich exceeding his authority in unilaterally creating health care benefits.
- That Blagojevich abused state hiring and firing procedures.
The criminal case against Blagojevich may be in the back of the senators' minds, but the rules under which they are operating require a more lax standard to convict. That's why it is considered a virtual certainty that Blagojevich will become the first Illinois governor ever removed from office.
But Blagojevich was not willing to go without a fight. His speech -- schmaltzy and emotional in some places, while being fiery and defiant in others -- was delivered to a spellbound chamber of senators who have heard witness after witness testify to Blagojevich's "pay to play" schemes and his unethical actions in seeking to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat.
He began by blasting the rules of the trial, claiming he couldn't bring his own witnesses in his defense. What he really meant was that he refused to follow the rules set down by the Senate trial committee. When they wouldn't budge, his lawyer resigned and Blagojevich vowed to boycott the trial.
He claimed that "the people" were urging him to come forward and tell his side of the story, which is how he ended up in the chamber this morning pleading for his job.
“I’m here to talk to you, to appeal to you, to your sense of fairness,” Blagojevich told senators. “I’m asking you as I speak to you today to imagine yourself walking in my shoes.”
“Who knows? Maybe you’ll reconsider and give me a chance to call those witnesses I want to call,” he added.
He continuously claimed that the tapes were actually exculpatory, that they proved he didn't do anything wrong. He defended his actions in the "pay to play" schemes of his friend and confidante Tony Rezko, who was convicted last summer of bribery and other crimes having to do with the letting of state contracts for hospital expansion. Tapes played at Rezko's trial showed the governor in the thick of the scheme, and an inspector general's report that Blagojevich pointed to today as proof of his innocence blasted his administration for laxity in the whole affair.