CHICAGO – In an unwavering statement of innocence, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Friday he will be vindicated of criminal corruption charges and has no intention of letting what he called a “political lynch mob” force him from his job.
“I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong,” Blagojevich said, speaking for about three minutes in his first substantial public comments since his arrest last week on federal corruption charges.
The Democrat is accused, among other things, of plotting to sell or trade President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat in secretly recorded phone conversations.
“I’m not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob,” Blagojevich said.
Still, one of the governor’s attorneys said Blagojevich will take his constituents into account as the case moves forward.
“He told me if it doesn’t work, if it is too hard if the people of Illinois suffer, he will step aside,” attorney Sam Adam, Jr., after the governor finished speaking.
Itching to talk
Blagojevich had been itching to talk, saying he wanted to tell his side of the story even though his lead defense attorney, Ed Genson, didn’t like the idea. On Friday, Blagojevich asked Illinoisans to “sit back and take a deep breath, and please reserve judgment.”
“Afford me the same rights that you and your children have — the presumption of innocence, the right to defend yourself,” said the governor, who said he wants to “answer every allegation” in court.
Genson, who did not attend Blagojevich’s news conference, has said his fight against the charges will include a challenge to the lawfulness of court-ordered wiretaps at the heart of the allegations against Blagojevich. Genson said the wiretaps were inappropriate, if not illegal.
Genson said he expected federal grand jurors to eventually indict his client, which likely would unseal many of the documents in support of the charges, perhaps marking the point where his legal attack may truly begin.
Besides the Senate-seat-for-sale allegations, the governor is accused of trying to strong-arm the Chicago Tribune into firing editorial writers who criticized him and pressuring a hospital executive for campaign donations.
The accusations outraged lawmakers from the president-elect on down and many demanded Blagojevich resign. He has steadfastly ignored such pressure has continued to show up to work at his Chicago office and sign bills.
State lawmakers have appointed a committee to investigate Blagojevich and issue a recommendation on whether he should be impeached. The 21-member, bipartisan Illinois House panel began meeting Tuesday. If it recommends to the full House that Blagojevich should be impeached, the state Senate would then decide whether the governor is guilty.
Panel members have pledged to do nothing to hinder the investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, but have asked for details of his case.
In a letter released Friday, the committee sought copies of the recorded conversations, the names of people listed only by code names in last week’s criminal complaint and the names of anyone granted immunity by prosecutors.
The letter also lists dozens of people the committee would like to question — but only if “our inquiry does not interfere with your criminal investigation into the governor’s office.”
The potential witnesses include high-ranking Blagojevich aides both past and present; people, such as Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who already have been convicted in the federal probe; and people who may have been pressured improperly to give money or aid to the governor.
Fitzgerald’s office had no comment on the committee’s request or when it might respond, spokesman Randall Samborn said.
Impeachment committee members say they expect Fitzgerald to deny many of their requests. But even if he gives them little room to investigate the criminal allegations, they say, the committee still can consider the evidence described in the federal complaint against Blagojevich.
With or without Fitzgerald’s help
The impeachment process appears certain to grind on, possibly into next year, with or without Fitzgerald’s help. Without it, the committee probably will emphasize some lower-profile allegations of misconduct against Blagojevich: defying the Legislature, failing to honor reporters’ Freedom of Information requests, and trading state jobs and contracts for campaign contributions.
Also, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan — a top contender for in the 2010 race for governor — moved to push the governor out of office failed. The Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected her request to declare him unfit to serve.