YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Trial begins without star of the show

January 27, 2009|Rick Pearson and Frank James

SPRINGFIELD, ILL., AND CHICAGO — As Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's impeachment trial began in Springfield, Ill., on Monday, the governor stayed away -- far, far away.

He appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," "The View" and "Nightline"; NBC's "Today"; CNN's "Larry King Live"; and Fox News with Geraldo Rivera. Today, he's scheduled on CBS' "The Early Show."

"I'm here in New York because I can't get a fair hearing in Illinois," Blagojevich said between TV appearances.

As he wooed viewers, he confided that he'd considered appointing Oprah Winfrey to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Obama.

He refused an invitation to do an imitation of Richard Nixon -- well, almost.

He said his conviction by a two-thirds vote of the state Senate was a "fait accompli." "But I'm a big boy, and I'll get over it," he told Larry King.

He denied likening himself to Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas K. Gandhi in an NBC interview released Sunday. Those comments were taken out of context, he said, but he often thinks of those civil rights figures for inspiration.

And he rejected the idea of resignation, saying, "No, that would be the worst thing I could do because I'm an innocent man who's not done anything wrong."

Meantime, in Illinois, his impeachment trial opened without him. The presiding judge, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, told senators: "This is a solemn and serious business we're about to engage in."

When Fitzgerald asked whether the governor was present, there was a long silence. The seats set aside for Blagojevich and his attorney were vacant.

Fitzgerald ordered the proceedings to continue as if Blagojevich had entered a not-guilty plea.

Prosecutor David Ellis challenged Blagojevich's televised complaints that the trial was rigged, saying the covert recordings by federal investigators and evidence of the governor's repeated abuse of power were all that senators needed to convict and remove him from office.

"We will ask you to convict Gov. Blagojevich because of his own words, not those of anybody else," said Ellis, who was appointed by House lawmakers after they impeached Blagojevich. "We are holding him accountable for things that he said and he did."

Conviction requires agreement of 40 of the 59 state senators. His trial is to continue today with a select segment of four covert recordings. Federal and House prosecutors say those recordings show Blagojevich trying to shake down a horse-racing industry official for campaign donations in exchange for signing a bill to divert casino gambling revenue to horse tracks.

However bright the television lights, Blagojevich couldn't escape the impeachment trial. The talk show hosts he courted questioned why he wasn't in Springfield.

An exasperated Barbara Walters on "The View" asked Blagojevich whether he was "wasting time" on TV by refusing to acknowledge the accuracy of secret recordings of him allegedly trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat as part of an "expletive golden" opportunity.

According to the transcript of the recordings, Blagojevich said: "I've got this thing, and it's [expletive] golden, and I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I'm not gonna do it."

Walters, appearing from Los Angeles, repeatedly asked about the comment but the governor dodged and weaved. Finally, he said: "I can't confirm or deny anything when I haven't had the chance to hear all the tapes."

"Whatever the tapes are, they will speak for themselves," he said. "I was working to try to make the right decision for the people of Illinois."

He faces federal corruption charges for, among other things, the alleged effort to sell the U.S. Senate seat. The person he eventually appointed, Roland Burris, is not suspected of wrongdoing.

Blagojevich's acknowledgment, also on "The View," that he'd thought about appointing Winfrey prompted panelist Joy Behar to note that if he had picked her, "All you get out of that is a car" -- an allusion to Winfrey's past generosity to those in financial straits.

Winfrey said she would have turned him down.

"I'm pretty amused by the whole thing," she told "The Gayle King Show" on Sirius XM Radio. "I think I could be senator too. I'm just not interested."

During "The View," Blagojevich sat on a couch between Whoopi Goldberg and Behar, laughing with them at times while portraying himself as a victim of a political vendetta.

As his appearance was ending, Behar said she'd heard that he did a good impression of Nixon.

"Just say, 'I am not a crook,' " she said. "Say that."

"I'm not going to do that," Blagojevich said. "But let me make this perfectly clear, let me make this perfectly clear: I didn't do anything wrong."


Tribune staff writer Ray Long and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles