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Blagojevich says his trial is 'rigged'

On the 'Today' show, the Illinois governor also likened himself to Nelson Mandela. He is set to make rounds on TV talk shows Monday.

January 26, 2009|Rick Pearson

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. — Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich compared himself to Nelson Mandela on Sunday and impugned the integrity of his impeachment trial the day before it was to begin.

Appearing on NBC's "Today" show, Blagojevich said the trial was "rigged and it's fixed."

"I think what you'll see is a roll call that will be pre-designed, and we'll see whether or not I even get one vote," he said.

With state senators serving as Blagojevich's judge and jury and the governor mounting no defense, the trial is expected to conclude within days. A conviction would require a two-thirds vote and result in the governor's removal from office.

In the NBC interview, portions of which aired Sunday and others to be aired today, Blagojevich said that when he was arrested on federal corruption charges last month, "I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi, and trying to put some perspective in all of this."

The governor was referring to civil rights leaders Nelson Mandela of South Africa, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and India's Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

Federal prosecutors also said their wiretaps caught Blagojevich threatening to withhold money for children's healthcare unless he got campaign donations from a hospital executive and offering to trade state aid to the Tribune Co. in exchange for the Chicago Tribune firing unfriendly editorial writers. Tribune owns several newspapers and television stations, including the Los Angeles Times and KTLA.

Several politicians have called on Blagojevich to resign, but he has refused -- as he did again Sunday.

"And for me to just quit because some cackling politicians want to get me out of the way because there's a whole bunch of things they don't want known about them and conversations they may have had with me . . . would be to disgrace my children when I know I've done nothing wrong," he told NBC.

Blagojevich is scheduled to appear today on "Good Morning America," "The View" and "Larry King Live."

Blagojevich's burst of media outreach prompted a tart rejoinder from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). The governor should be defending himself at the impeachment trial, Durbin said, because the extra media attention won't impress state senators.

"Barbara Walters is not on his jury," Durbin said, referring to the veteran journalist who co-hosts "The View."

Over the weekend, Illinois House prosecutors moved to ask that four secret recordings of the governor, part of the federal criminal charges that led to his arrest, be played in the Senate. The recordings involve alleged attempts by the two-term Democratic governor to secure campaign funds from the horse-racing industry in return for signing a bill to divert casino gambling revenue to horse tracks.

On "Today," Blagojevich maintained that some of the state senators who will decide his fate don't want him to present defense witnesses.

"Let me say there are some of those that are sitting in on judgment of me on Monday in the state Senate that were on telephone calls with me during that period of time" when his phones were tapped, Blagojevich said.

The governor's arrest was the final straw for state lawmakers, who had spent six years butting heads with Blagojevich. The House quickly voted 114 to 1 to impeach him.

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rpearson@tribune.com

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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