SPRINGFIELD, ILL. — After boycotting his impeachment trial for nearly a week, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich accepted the Illinois Senate's challenge to confront his accusers: With his political life on the line, he will present the closing argument today in his defense.
Showing his trademark flair for the dramatic, the two-term Democrat reversed course Wednesday after a multi-day tour of national talk shows, where he branded the impeachment trial a rigged political hanging.
His reversal answers the challenge of fellow Democrats, including Senate President John Cullerton, who had accused the governor of hiding and lying about Senate rules for the impeachment trial by claiming he couldn't call witnesses or challenge evidence.
The governor, 52, has denied wrongdoing since his arrest last month on a variety of federal corruption charges, including scheming to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.
But several senators said the governor's gesture was too little, too late. He and his attorneys refused to participate in any aspect of the trial.
Blagojevich's attorneys did represent him at the legislative hearings before the House's overwhelming vote to impeach him.
"I don't know what his game plan is or what his intent was," said state Sen. Ira Silverstein, a Chicago Democrat. "I mean that baffles a lot of us today because there could have been questions posed by his attorney. There's a lot of hearsay that was involved here, and they could have attacked witnesses. But they didn't do anything."
Some senators wondered whether the governor was making a final grandstand play, perhaps ending with his resignation to deprive the Senate of the opportunity to remove him from office. But a spokesman for the governor waved off that notion.
"Sen. Cullerton asked him to come down," Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said. "So he's taking him up on that and wants to give his closing arguments. . . ."
"I don't think he's going down there to resign, I think he's going to make his appeal to senators," Guerrero said.
Cullerton had echoed the thoughts of many senators who maintained the governor did himself a major disservice by refusing to present a case or defend himself while he simultaneously complained that the evidence against him was being taken out of context.
"If he wants to come down here instead of hiding out in New York and having Larry King asking questions instead of the senators, I think he's making a mistake," Cullerton said earlier. "He should come here and answer the questions."
Making a closing statement would differ from testifying, which would have allowed senators and the impeachment prosecutor to question Blagojevich.
Sen. Dan Cronin, a Republican, called the governor's request "cowardly but consistent with the way he has governed."
Blagojevich's new outside public relations representative issued a news release saying the governor -- who has by some counts done nearly two dozen interviews in recent days -- would not be available for comment before the closing argument in Springfield.
"The governor is urging supporters to call senators and urge them to allow the governor to call witnesses showing he has done nothing wrong," said the release from the Publicity Agency.
But the presentation of evidence was concluded Wednesday, with no submissions from the governor.
Because he made no official appearance at his trial, Blagojevich must get Senate permission to speak.
He is expected to be allowed up to 90 minutes for his closing argument, after the 60-minute closing argument by House prosecutor David Ellis.
The prosecutor is allowed 30 minutes of rebuttal after the defense argument.
After that, senators are expected to deliberate as a jury. The vote could come as soon as late today. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote -- at least 40 of 59 senators -- and would remove him from office.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Republican, said Blagojevich's last-minute decision to show up fits with his six-year pattern of avoiding the details of any topic before him and trying instead to deflect criticism.
"He's all about PR," Radogno said. "He's all about press releases. That's how he's governed the whole time he's been here. He's gone around the legislature. He's gone directly for the TV cameras."
Lawmakers have declared that they are not pre-judging the governor but at the same time several have predicted that his days in office are down to single digits.
Radogno said Blagojevich shouldn't expect to fly home on the state plane that will take him from Chicago to Springfield.
"I hope he has a ride home, because I don't think he'll have the State Police to take him," Radogno said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.