The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 01/27/09
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST (voice over): Tonight on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW:
Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois sits down for our turn in his 48-hour media blitz.
Did he try to extort the “Chicago Tribune”? What did Blagojevich want in exchange for Barack Obama‘s Senate seat? Does Blagojevich think he should have had the right to appoint Roland Burris to the Senate in the first place? Does the governor feel guilty? And what will his defense be if and when he‘s ultimately charged with criminal political corruption?
Once we‘re done, former U.S. attorney, Scott Mendeloff, will join us to review Governor Blagojevich‘s responses and answer the key question: Did he admit, right here with us, to criminal wrongdoing?
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s sit-down with Rod Blagojevich starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Governor Blagojevich, thank you for being here. It‘s nice of you to take the time.
GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, (D) ILLINOIS: Thank you.
MADDOW: You have handled this ordeal with a lot of political skill, so far. This media tour that you have done in New York has really effectively overshadowed a lot of what‘s going in the Illinois State Senate right now. I would also say that your appointment of Roland Burris to the Senate seat—it was accepted by the Senate, which was a big embarrassment to the U.S. senators who said that they would not accept him. Those are politically skillful moves.
Do you feel like, weirdly, in a way, that you‘re sort of winning, that there‘s a chance you might politically survive this ordeal?
BLAGOJEVICH: No, I don‘t. I think the fix is in, in the state senate
unless they change their rules and give me a chance to defend myself.
And most importantly, give the people of Illinois, who elected twice to office, a chance to bring all the evidence that‘s relevant to show that I‘ve done nothing wrong.
Every taped conversation, witnesses from Rahm Emanuel, to Dick Durbin, to Harry Reid, to Senator Menendez, to Valerie Jarrett—every single witness who might testify at a criminal case, bring them all in now, because I‘d like the whole truth to come out sooner rather than later and let that Senate impeachment process take what it‘s doing, and honestly and objectively, determine whether or not there was anything done that was wrong.
And once they hear the whole story, they‘ll find out that I didn‘t do anything wrong and I did a lot of things right.
MADDOW: Why not present statements from those witnesses that you described? You obviously can‘t produce them because of the rules under which the impeachment proceedings are happening.
MADDOW: But you could produce statements if you thought they could provide them, that be exculpatory, why wouldn‘t you do that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there are two key rules and I don‘t want to get to technicality because it will bore your listeners. But there are two specific things that they have in those Senate rules that essentially make it clear the fix is in. First, under Rule 15F, any witness that you might want to call has to be approved by the prosecutor, the U.S. attorney. He said those witnesses from Rahm Emanuel as well as others can‘t be allowed.
MADDOW: But you could have a statement from any of them?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I‘m not so sure that that‘s actually true. The other part of it is and that‘s the more onerous one, is rule, I believe, is 8B. That one says that they can actually make criminal allegations against you and not have to prove them up. They don‘t have to bring evidence in, simply the report from the House is enough to be accepted as fact and cannot be objected to or challenged.
That means you can bring in 10 angels and 10 saints lead by Mother Theresa saying that you did nothing wrong, it won‘t matter, because they‘ve already established by just having that as part of the record as evidence.
MADDOW: Do you see this as a good thing or a bad thing that we actually got the audiotapes of some of the wiretapped conversations played today in the Senate? That is something new. It just happened today. Are you happy that those tapes were played? Do you want more of them to be played?
BLAGOJEVICH: I want every tape, every one of them, every taped conversation to be heard so the whole story can be heard in the full context. Conversations, ideas, thoughts, potential senators here, potential senators there, how do we get results for people. All those conversations would be, in my judgment, ought to be heard so that everybody hears the right story.
I consider myself the anti-Nixon. Remember, during Watergate, Richard Nixon fought every step of the way to keep his tapes from being heard. And then, finally, he ran out of road blocks, Supreme Court ruled, he had to release those tapes and there was one that showed that he had obstructed justice.
I want just the opposite. I want them all heard now—right away—so the whole story can be heard, because I know, I know that I never had a conversation where I intended to violate any law and I know that I didn‘t break any law. And so, what I‘d like is a chance to be able to get that done sooner rather than later.
And before those senators throw out a governor who was elected twice by the people, they ought to give the people‘s governor, who was elected by them, a fair opportunity to do what every citizen has a right to do, and that is to confront witnesses and be able to show that if someone said you did something wrong, you didn‘t do something wrong.
MADDOW: Now—I mean, in terms of public support though, I mean, even before the arrest, your public approval ratings in Illinois were lower than Dick Cheney‘s. I mean, you were not getting a lot of support from the public. Why do you think that was?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, it actually depends on the polling that you‘d, you know .
MADDOW: You‘re on (ph) to be in Dick Cheney territory at all though.
BLAGOJEVICH: Let me tell you something.
MADDOW: All right.
BLAGOJEVICH: Once the economy plummeted and we had the financial crisis, downward approval ratings for everybody in high office, whether it‘s a governor or a mayor, certainly, President Bush and Dick Cheney and everybody else. The people are angry; they‘re worried, they‘re fearful. The economy is terrible.
And it‘s among the reasons why, you know, it was cemented what was likely to be a Barack Obama victory anyway. And the desire and hunger for change. So, I would suggest that what you‘re referring to has a lot—which have anything to do with that.
MADDOW: So, you think it was just part of broader national trends?
You don‘t think there was anything specific going on? I mean, your number
you have had a very rocky tenure as governor, in terms of—not only your relationship with the legislature .
MADDOW: . but in terms of the way the public is seeing you.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, yes. And I think part is because there‘s been, you know, when you‘re out there challenging the legislature, and you‘re mixing it up, not for you, but to give every senior citizen free public transportation, to give every uninsured woman access to mammograms and pap smears and treatment—God forbid—if it‘s discovered they have cancer, and go around the legislature to do it.
And when you‘re fighting them to be able to provide health care to 35,000 poor people, that the Bush administration took health care away from in December of 2007, and your fellow Democrats in the House led by the speaker, Mr. Madigan, are blocking, protecting those families, and you find a way with lawyers to go around the legislature to help those families .
MADDOW: Do you think that‘s why they‘re impeaching you, though? You think it‘s because of your policy conflicts with them on health care and elderly issues?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there‘s 13 articles of impeachment. Those are some of them.
MADDOW: I‘ve read them. There are some of them.
BLAGOJEVICH: And how about this one? They want to impeach me because I went to Canada in defiance of the FDA, in my first term, to get cheaper prescription medicines for our senior citizen so they can afford both their groceries and their medicines. If that‘s an impeachable offense, the people re-elected me on that, they should also impeach the governor of Wisconsin, the governor of Kansas, the governor of Vermont. And why not expel John McCain and Ted Kennedy too because they worked with me on the issue of reimportation of prescription drugs?
MADDOW: That issue, the reimportation of prescription drugs, the policy differences around that, the way that was done is absolutely the part of the articles of impeachment, but there‘s also other stuff.
BLAGOJEVICH: Right. You can say, yes.
MADDOW: Do you agree that it would be wrong, it would be criminal for you to try to exchange Barack Obama‘s U.S. Senate seat, that appointment, for something that would be of value to you? You agree that that would be wrong?
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, absolutely.
BLAGOJEVICH: Personal, you know, one for the other, personal gain?
MADDOW: Yes. And you didn‘t do that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Absolutely not.
MADDOW: Well, on the wiretaps you are quoted as saying, “It‘s a bleeping valuable thing,” you don‘t just give it away for something. “If they‘re not going to offer anything of value, I might just take it, I‘ve got this thing and it‘s bleeping golden, I‘m not just giving it up for bleeping nothing.”
In what possible context could you face to say things like that if you weren‘t trying to exchange something of value for the Senate seat? What other contexts would bring that (INAUDIBLE)?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me answer that two ways. First, I can‘t comment specifically on that because I haven‘t heard all the tapes. But assuming that‘s what it is .
BLAGOJEVICH: . if you hear all tapes and you heard the whole thing and its context, if I feared that that was something sinister or onerous, would I want all those tapes heard?
And in addition to that, just playing devil‘s advocate, I‘m not acknowledging that that‘s exactly what‘s on the tapes because we haven‘t had a chance to hear it. But to play the devil‘s advocate in assuming it was—why can‘t the construction of that be: I want them to help me pass a public works program, a jobs program that the Democratic speaker, Mr. Madigan, has been blocking? I want them to help me help 45,000 working people get health care that the Democratic speaker in the House has been blocking. I want them to help me have a law that requires insurance companies to cover people with preexisting medical conditions that the Democratic speaker has been blocking.
MADDOW: Even if you wanted food for the hungry—I mean, even if you wanted justice itself in exchange for the Senate seat, you‘re not supposed to exchange anything for the Senate seat.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I don‘t disagree that one for the other isn‘t. But there are political negotiations and leveraging which is all very much part of the process. And again, if those tapes were all heard, you‘d hear discussions that I had with people from my senior senator, Dick Durbin, about facilitating; Senator Menendez; Harry Reid and I discussed the Senate seat—a heck of a lot of other people.
And I would like every one of them to be able to testify under oath, sworn testimony, in that impeachment trial about the context, the nature of those conversations.
MADDOW: Are you saying though that they would testify as to what you were trying to get in exchange for the appointment?
BLAGOJEVICH: I‘m simply saying, if they told the truth, they‘d be part of a big story and a larger story that would, I think, show, you know, that there were a lot of ideas talked about, that we‘ve explored different options. We looked and tried to think outside the box, like Oprah Winfrey for example.
BLAGOJEVICH: Some ideas were good, some were stupid, some you can‘t do—just natural discussions when you try to get a result that ultimately leads to the place that‘s right for people. And when this whole story is told, it‘s going to show the decisions and all the rest. Ultimately, were about putting people to work, expanding health care, and holding the line on taxes for middle class families.
MADDOW: When you—again, this is from the wiretapped calls and I realize you‘re not going to testify to their veracity, but they are out there and the transcripts are there and some of them were played today in the Senate—speaking about Barack Obama‘s advisors, “They‘re not willing to give me anything but appreciation in exchange for the Senate seat. Bleep them.”
What would you want other than appreciation? What could be kosher to exchange for a Senate seat?
BLAGOJEVICH: How about helping us pass health care and a jobs bill, and helping the people of Illinois. Don‘t just leave Illinois now.
MADDOW: I will appoint person X instead of person Y unless you do this for me? Is that you mean?
BLAGOJEVICH: No, the one for the other is not—that‘s not what I‘m saying. I‘m simply saying—I‘m in the political business, when Barack Obama agrees to raise $10 million for Hillary Clinton to get out of the race, that‘s the natural political sort of thing that happens in this business. It‘s appropriate, nothing is improper about it.
Again, in the full context, discussions and the explorations of ideas and thoughts, and whether you could or couldn‘t do something, you should be able to do that in a free country that guarantees the right of free speech, especially when you‘re doing it in what you think is the sanctity of your home, and you want to do it out of your home phone because you don‘t want any interconnection with the government lines for some of the things you‘re talking politics on a government phone. Again, when the whole story is heard and put in the proper context, I think you‘ll see a process that ultimately would lead in the right place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Coming up, my interview with Governor Blagojevich continues. The wiretap suggests that he tried to extort the “Chicago Tribune” into firing editorial board writers who criticized him. Well, Governor, did you? That‘s next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is on the subject of “The Tribune,” again, what is alleged in the criminal complaint is that you directed your chief of staff to tell “The Tribune” owner that if they wanted help on financing the sale of Wrigley Field, that “The Tribune” must, quote, “fire all those bleeping people, get them the bleep out of there and get us some editorial support.”
Would you put that—would you make a state action contingent on a newspaper firing people?
BLAGOJEVICH: Absolutely not.
MADDOW: You didn‘t say that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Let—again, I haven‘t heard those things. Let me tell you the story about the Wrigley Field deal. That was my idea to find away to help the Chicago Cubs stay at Wrigley Field after Sam Zell, the new owner, blocked the Cubs. And he had told me in a meeting that he thinks Wrigley Field should be torn down and we ought to have a Coors Field-like place.
And I was horrified as a Cub fan, and as somebody who loves the people of Illinois, knows Wrigley Field as a special place, the third biggest tourist attraction in the state. And if they can tear down Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field, it could happen to Wrigley Field, too. So, what can we do to protect the people of Illinois and that special place where the Cubs played, the historic place, Wrigley Field?
So, we began this process to see—then we started working with Zell and his representatives and the Cubs on a complicated financing agreement through the Illinois Finance Authority. That was working perfectly and smoothly and I kept pushing and prodding, it became one of my big priorities. And so, a lot of that, too, that‘s being said is taken completely out of context and I will say there‘s a published report with “The Tribune” executive that made it clear no one ever, ever approached him in any way to suggest that there was some effort to do something like that.
MADDOW: “Fire all those bleeping people.”
BLAGOJEVICH: Again, you .
MADDOW: I mean, that‘s what is .
MADDOW: I understand that there‘s a connection being drawn by the prosecutor, being—he‘s alleging that there‘s a connection being drawn by you, between that IFA deal, that financing deal, and your desire to get some people on that editorial board kiboshed.
MADDOW: Are they too totally separate things? Did you not want anybody kiboshed from the editorial board or are they just not connected?
BLAGOJEVICH: I can‘t go into the details, but I will say, before—look, there was talk of impeachment long before this happened to me. It was happening throughout the last session in the House because I was finding legal ways to expand health care, help uninsured women get breast and cervical cancer programs, and do things to get senior citizens free rides, and they were angry. They thought that I was too aggressive with the executive use of my office. And so, there was talk of impeachment long before that.
When the election came and went, that was a real possibility in the new session, because there was new leader in the Senate who was close and allied with the House speaker. And so, we had to consider the possibility that that could happen. And that they would say that this governor goes around the legislature and does too many things to get things done.
That Cubs deal was an example, a legal process, but an example of the legislature not willing to do something to keep Wrigley Field in Illinois. So, we found a creative way through the Illinois Finance Authority to keep the Cubs in a place where it was in their interest and the interest of the people I thought where they could stay.
MADDOW: If all the things .
BLAGOJEVICH: That was something .
BLAGOJEVICH: The sort of thing that they would—that they would say is an impeachable thing because I‘m using the executive office, they think without the legislative approval. “The Tribune” editorial board was advocating that I‘d be impeached for those sorts of things. And so, again, without going into detail, they‘re getting the benefit of these things to try to help the Cubs.
We just would prefer that they don‘t—look, the things that they‘re advocating that I be impeached on, that it would be nice if they laid off on an issue like that .
MADDOW: Did you tell them to lay off?
BLAGOJEVICH: No, and there was never any discussion at anybody at “The Tribune.”
MADDOW: John Harris never told them to lay off on your behalf?
BLAGOJEVICH: Never directed him to do any of them. But, again, I shouldn‘t get into this. That‘s the wrong thing to do. There‘s a Supreme Court rule that says you shouldn‘t talk about the specifics of the cases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Coming up: My sit-down with Governor Rod Blagojevich continues. The governor claims the attacks on him by the Illinois legislature are motivated entirely by politics. But Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald isn‘t a politician. So why is he after Blagojevich? The governor‘s response—next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I understand—I heard loud and clear your objections to the Senate trial that‘s going on right now, and certainly, the rules there are restrictive and you‘ve made your complaints known very well and very widely over these last couple of days with all these media interviews. But I wonder, after all this happens, you are probably going to go to trial in an actual courtroom, a criminal trial on this.
Will you also—will you defend yourself in that setting or will you also mount no defense like you have in the Senate? Will you defend yourself in court?
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, absolutely.
MADDOW: You will.
BLAGOJEVICH: Are you kidding me? Absolutely. Yes.
MADDOW: Do you think that Patrick Fitzgerald .
BLAGOJEVICH: I intend to be vindicated. I intend the truth to come out and I intend to clear my name and be shown for the, you know, the person that I am and that‘s one who is always, you know, fought hard on behalf of the people, those without a voice, to expand health care for those who otherwise couldn‘t get it, and to do it in a way that doesn‘t burden the middle class by raising taxes on them, but to do it in other ways that put pressure on the system and ask those, like big corporations who haven‘t paid their fair share to pay their fair share.
MADDOW: You have said that this effort to remove you from office is motivated by politics, that there were efforts to impeach you before the arrest and all these things.
BLAGOJEVICH: That‘s true.
MADDOW: Was Patrick Fitzgerald in on that? I mean, do you believe that he‘s also motivated by politics here? I mean, it‘s not just the legislature that may be jealousy of you, it‘s not just politicians who may disagree with you, it‘s not just corporations—this is a U.S. attorney. Do you think he‘s part of that sort of a conspiracy or that that sort of a political move?
BLAGOJEVICH: If you ask, do I think there‘s some broad conspiracy with the U.S. attorneys, I don‘t believe that at all. Look, I‘m a former prosecutor. And I still look at prosecutors, including .
BLAGOJEVICH: . the prosecutors in Illinois .
BLAGOJEVICH: I still believe they‘re the good guy and they‘re trying to do the right thing. And I feel like I‘m on the same side as them, and I have this delusion, which I know is a delusion that they‘ll wake up sometime like tomorrow morning, and then maybe they‘ll realize there‘s just one big misunderstanding here. That‘s likely not to happen.
But, no, I believe that different people have, whatever their motivations are, and I shouldn‘t be trying to speculate or guess what it might be, but I don‘t, at all, feel like there some, you know, conspiracy with these different people trying to that.
MADDOW: Involving them.
BLAGOJEVICH: I have no reason to think that.
MADDOW: You lost your lawyer this week, Mr. Genson has quit. Do you know why?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I have a legal team. He‘s one of the lawyers. He‘s a great lawyer. He‘s—I liken him to a modern day F. Lee Bailey who‘s from the San Francisco Bay Area where you‘re from.
BLAGOJEVICH: But he made a decision and I, you know, sad to see him go and, you know, he‘s a great lawyer.
MADDOW: He said—what he said was, “I‘ve been practicing law for 44 years, I have never required a client to do what I say, but I do require them to at least listen to what I say.” He‘s implying that you weren‘t listening to some of his advice. Is there something he advised you to do that you disagreed with him on? You didn‘t .
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, having this interview with you and other interviews.
MADDOW: Yes, he doesn‘t want you to go (INAUDIBLE).
BLAGOJEVICH: No, he‘s a good lawyer and I understand that position. You know, traditional lawyers like that would say to his client or a client, “Don‘t say anything, just, you know, do, lay low and let‘s not take any chances and don‘t say anything because whatever you can say could be used against you.”
But, see, I am the governor of a state and I was elected by the people, and it‘s not a simple thing for me to simply allow all these different things that are being said, this rush to judgment, the annihilation of the presumption of innocence which is what has happened in this case and all throughout, it happens in others. And for me then to essentially not fulfill at least a lot of my responsibility to the people who I owe it to, explain to them that their governor didn‘t do anything wrong.
And so, while I‘m being very careful and I have to be careful that I don‘t get into the details of the case and—because that‘s not appropriate, at the same time and hope I didn‘t do some—although I may have slipped in (ph) a little of that—at the same time, I feel a real urgent need for myself to tell the people who trusted me that they didn‘t break their trust, that I didn‘t let them down, that I didn‘t do anything wrong. And that when the whole story is told, they‘ll see, you know, a process that was complicated and a lot of ideas and conversations. You know, some words, like profanity that I wouldn‘t have used had I known somebody was listening.
BLAGOJEVICH: But they‘ll see that the whole end game was about making their lives better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Stick around, my interview with Governor Rod Blagojevich continues. You didn‘t think I would skip Roland Burris, did you? Does the governor regret appointing a man who will forever be thought of as senator asterisk to Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat? Does the impeached governor think he should have had the right to make that appointment in the first place?
Stay with us. This is getting good.
MADDOW: There‘s one thing here that I find inconsistent between your actions and your explanation of them. And you‘re very good at explaining where you‘re coming from and this is where I have the disconnect.
Because you appointed Roland Burris after you had been arrested, after the wiretap transcripts were released, Illinois is now stuck for two years with a senator who has zero political potency. It‘s no slur on Mr. Burris or anything that brought him to point or what caused you to appoint him.
But his legacy is now tainted by his association with this criminal case against you and the people of Illinois are stuck for two years with an impaired senator - politically impaired senator. Do you feel guilty about that? That‘s not in their best interest.
BLAGOJEVICH: No. In fact, I feel like I did my duty. Let me explain something to you. And in spite of all the hue and cry from my senior senators, Senator Dick Durbin, we‘re not taking him. Harry Reid - we‘re not taking him. We‘re not going to seat him.
If I didn‘t make that appointment, I would have jeopardized our state. Our state would have been denied a U.S. senator, a vote and a voice in the United States Senate.
MADDOW: For a period of time.
BLAGOJEVICH: That, on my judgment, would have been an impeachable offense because I have a constitutional duty to appoint a senator and fill a vacancy so Illinois is properly represented.
Now, they said, after all this happened, these lawmakers, that they were going to pass a law and allow the people to make that decision. I support that.
MADDOW: You wouldn‘t have vetoed that.
BLAGOJEVICH: I would have signed it. The people should choose, not governors. Governor Paterson here or me - we shouldn‘t be in a position to do that. The people should decide it.
But when they talked a big game and didn‘t do it, then the only alternative was to listen to them and not appoint anybody which is what they were doing because they had their own deal in place for who they wanted. Or to make the best possible choice I could make at that time.
Now, who did I pick? I picked a historic figure and I picked a senator for the U.S. Senate where there wasn‘t an African-American after Barack Obama was elected president.
I picked a historic figure in Illinois who is the first African-American elected to statewide office, who, as a young man, was a law clerk for Thurgood Marshall, who was former attorney general in our state for two terms, comptroller in our state for two terms, a man of impeccable integrity, and a man who will get reelected, a man who is going to not just be senator for two years, but he said he‘s going to run again. And I am certain he will get re-elected.
MADDOW: Do you see, though, that he‘s there‘s tarnish on his
political legacy because of the way in which he was appointed, because you
could have waited. You could have said, you know, “This should be settled
this appointment should be made once these allegations against me are settled either by the person who replaces me or by me once I have cleared my name.”
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, no, because first, Illinois would have suffered because we wouldn‘t have had a senator and I was not going to resign for something that I didn‘t do that was wrong and be run out of town because other people had a political agenda and they had their own senators that they wanted.
And secondly, Roland Burris and his career as a senator and his record before that is not at all involved in any of these allegations about me.
BLAGOJEVICH: And it‘s so unfair to him to hold him somehow responsible for allegations on me. He‘ll be judged on his own record as senator. And I predict he‘ll do a great job. He‘ll be reelected and I‘ll point out, he has never lost a statewide office to a Republican.
Now, he‘s lost the primaries to Democrats. He lost to me for governor in 2002. He lost to Mayor Daley for mayor in Chicago. He lost to Paul Simon for the Senate seat.
MADDOW: You‘re not selling his record all that great here.
BLAGOJEVICH: But he has won every statewide office against Republicans. And I don‘t see a Democrat in Illinois who would want to challenge a man like that, a historic figure and the only African-American in the United States Senate. Why would a Democrat in Illinois want to run against him?
BLAGOJEVICH: But he‘ll win. He‘ll win that race and he‘ll win big.
MADDOW: You probably have a political ally in Roland Burris for life now. You don‘t have very many other political allies. You have become a national figure in a way that I‘m sure was not the way that you wanted to become a national figure. Are you mad?
BLAGOJEVICH: I‘m not mad. I‘m philosophical about it. Dr. King had a quote. He said, “In the end, you remember not the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends.”
And when something like this happens to you, it becomes very
lonely and people who were in your office just the day before, people who
were calling you constantly because they had needs and wants, and were
excessively obsequious and if this was a private conversation, I would have
another way to say it, kissing -
BLAGOJEVICH: You know, once this happened, you know, they were nowhere to be found and if you tried to call them, they wouldn‘t call you back. So you know you don‘t even bother calling them.
But that‘s kind of part of this business. And I understand a lot of it. That‘s why Harry Truman said in Washington as applied to politics, “You know, if you want a friend, get a dog.” And that‘s why you find comfort with your family. And for us, my wife and I, the most difficult part is our two daughters, our little girl, our 12-year-old especially who‘s a lot more aware of what‘s happening than our little 5-year-old.
And that‘s another reason why I‘m simply not going to acknowledge things that are not true or say I did something wrong when I didn‘t because I don‘t want to shame my children. Much better for their father to fight to the very end for principles that are bigger than him and this one is the office of the governor and the right to be able to show that he didn‘t do anything wrong that‘s being taken away from the people of Illinois than to simply accept something and somehow look like you did something wrong when you didn‘t.
So you know, chances are I‘ll be looking for work in the next several days. But we‘ll get on and I‘ll vindicate myself. The truth will come out.
MADDOW: You‘ll be working full time on your criminal defense?
BLAGOJEVICH: I‘ll have to find some employment someplace and I‘ll do that. We‘ll rebuild our lives and we‘re not unlike the tens of thousands - hundreds of thousands of people across America who unfortunately are losing their jobs because this economy is so bad. And like them, we‘ll get back to basics and we‘ll begin the process of rebuilding our lives.
MADDOW: Governor Blagojevich, thank you for taking the time.
BLAGOJEVICH: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Good luck to you.
BLAGOJEVICH: Thank you so much. Thank you.
MADDOW: So that was my close encounter with Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois today. I do have one further question and it is not for the governor. For this, I‘m going to need an expert. Did he just confess to me that he broke the law, but that he thinks it‘s OK because he broke the law for a good reason?
Actually, second question - is he mounting a Robin Hood defense for how he tried to sell Barack Obama‘s Senate seat?
OK. Third question - did he just explain his state of mind for extorting the “Chicago Tribune?”
Coming up next, we‘ll get an expert opinion on these and other matters from former federal prosecutor Scott Mendeloff on the self-condemning news that I think the governor just made right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: While I‘m being very careful and I have to be careful
that I don‘t give any of the details of the case, because that‘s not
appropriate. At the same time, I hope I didn‘t some of them. I‘m asked
within a little of that -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: May have flipped just a little? Just how might the governor have flipped up just a little in this interview? I will ask former federal prosecutor Scott Mendeloff if Gov. Rod Blagojevich accidentally incriminated himself in tonight‘s interview.
MADDOW: Impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been on American television more in the last two days than any other single person in the whole world including President Obama. Because of that - because, honestly, I haven‘t been in this particular business for all that long, I knew that meeting him today was going to be strange just in human terms, getting to meet him in the flesh instead of on the LCD.
I knew that would be strange. I did not know that the exact moment of meeting him would be quite so strange. See, there just so happened to be a ginormous, 50-inch high definition TV on the wall right next to the door of the conference room where we had scheduled this interview.
It was about 2:30 in the afternoon today. And what was on this giant TV at the moment that he arrived, the TV that I was standing right in front of, watching intently and taking notes?
What was on that TV was Rod Blagojevich, on tape, his wiretapped phone calls being played before the Illinois State Senate. That is what was showing on this giant television right next to a door. And then the door right next to the giant TV opened and in he walks while I‘m watching him.
And I turned from watching the wiretapped tapes of Gov.
Blagojevich being played on national television and say, “Hello, Gov.
Blagojevich, nice to meet you,” to which he responded, “That was weird.”
Say what you will about him, the governor nailed that moment in those three words. And that was the beginning of our interview today. While the State Senate was debating whether or not to convict him and remove him from office, he and I began our discussion about the allegations against him.
Given what the governor told me today, it occurs to me that the Illinois State Senate and maybe Patrick Fitzgerald the prosecutor might want to take a close listen to exactly what the governor said to me today.
Because Governor Blagojevich may have moved the story forward tonight, I think it‘s not inconceivable that tonight‘s transcripts, tonight‘s tapes may end up in the criminal proceedings against him.
After all of these TV interviews that he‘s done, the governor may have opened up a little more than he wanted to. The he may actually have confessed to some wrongdoing here.
In just a moment, we will get an expert opinion from a former federal prosecutor on that. The things to keep in mind here, first and most importantly, in our discussion of whether there was a quid pro quo, he admitted wanting to get something tangible in return for Barack Obama‘s vacant U.S. Senate seat. Listen to his response after I quoted back one of his wiretapped phone calls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Speaking about Barack Obama‘s advisors, “They‘re not willing to give me anything but appreciation in exchange for the Senate seat. Bleep them.”
What would you want other than appreciation? What could be kosher to exchange for a Senate seat?
BLAGOJEVICH: How about helping us passing healthcare and a jobs bill and helping the people of Illinois?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “How about helping us pass healthcare and a jobs bill. That‘s what Mr. Blagojevich openly told me he wanted in exchange for the Barack Obama Senate seat appointment.
I mean, obviously, that‘s not as lurid as the criminal complaint against him which alleges that he wanted the job for himself, a job for his wife, a cabinet appointment, campaign donations in exchange for that seat. But he is admitting that he was looking for something in return for that appointment.
Quid pro quo is quid pro quo even if you‘re asking for something good, isn‘t it? Wanting something, anything in return for a Senate appoint, it would seem, qualifies as improper. Or maybe that‘s just politics. Or maybe it‘s both improper and just politics. We will take legal advice on that in just a moment.
The second piece of news here was the governor‘s admission about his feelings toward the “Chicago Tribune” editorial board, how they should have backed off of their criticisms of him because he was helping the Tribune Company purchase Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs.
We‘re going to show you a real quick clip of that portion of the interview here. Watch his face in the clip. It‘s almost like he is trying to get the words back into his mouth as they are coming out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: They‘re getting the benefit of these things to try to
help the Cubs. We just would prefer that they don‘t - look, the things
that they‘re advocating that I be impeached on - it would be nice if they
laid off on an issue like that and I‘m -
MADDOW: Did you tell them to lay off?
BLAGOJEVICH: No, and there was never any discussion with anybody at the Tribune.
MADDOW: And John Harris never told them to lay off on your behalf?
BLAGOJEVICH: Never directed to do any of that. But again, I shouldn‘t get into this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: “I shouldn‘t get into this.” Too late for that. He‘s arguing here that because the state‘s Wrigley Field financing deal was going to benefit the Tribune Company, the Tribune should have laid off editorializing against him on unrelated matters.
He denies sending his chief-of-staff to extort them on those terms. He denies extorting them himself on those terms. But he admits that that‘s what he was thinking.
As I see it, that‘s one piece of evidence that about what he told someone to say to the Tribune away from a conviction or extortion and abuse of power. Right? We‘ll get advice on that as well.
The third piece of news was volunteered by Gov. Blagojevich as he explains that he made a strategic decision to place phone calls about the vacant Senate seat from his home rather than his office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: You should be able to do that in a free country that guarantees the right of free speech especially when you‘re doing it in what you think is the sanctity of your home. And you want to do that out of your home phone because you don‘t have any interconnection with the governor‘s line so someone thinks you‘re talking politics on a government phone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Talking politics on a government phone? The obvious question here is, why would discussing a Senate appointment be considered talking politics in a bad way? And why would an official duty like that need to be carried out in the sanctity of your home rather than in the governor‘s office?
Also, speaking about Senate seat, in a pretty surprising acknowledgment, the governor said he does not believe that he should have had the power to appoint Roland Burris to the Senate in the first place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: The people should choose, not governors. Governor Paterson here or me, we shouldn‘t be in a position to do that. The people should decide it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I‘ve got to say a lot of people are with him on that one. Sen. Russ Feingold will be on this show tomorrow night talking about his proposed constitutional amendment that would do just that, that would take the power to appoint senators away from governors. I‘m thinking of it as the “Blagojevich Amendment.”
But finally, we got a preview of Mr. Blagojevich‘s possible criminal defense strategy, which is that talking about doing things is never illegal. It‘s certainly not the same as doing illegal things.
Here he is discussing the potential criminality of these wiretapped phone calls.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: It‘s appropriate, nothing improper about it. Again, in the full context, discussions and the explorations of ideas and thoughts and whether you could or couldn‘t do something, you should be able to do that in a free country that guarantees the right of free speech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that you don‘t have the free speech rights to conspire criminally. According to Gov. Blagojevich himself, his former attorney Ed Genson quit in part because he disagreed with the governor‘s media blitz strategy.
Tonight, we may have found out why. Did the governor move this story forward tonight in a way that is going to be bad for him? Did he just get himself in even more trouble here?
Joining us now is a man who really is an expert on these things, Chicago attorney Scott Mendeloff. He‘s a former federal prosecutor. He helped lead the government‘s prosecution of Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing case. He has a long history of prosecuting public corruption. Mr. Mendeloff, it‘s very good to have on you the show tonight. Thank you for being here.
SCOTT MENDELOFF, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Gov. Blagojevich is trying sort of a Robin Hood defense here. He admits that he was looking for something in exchange for that Senate seat appointment. He just says he was looking for a good thing to exchange it for. Is he in any legal trouble for admitting that?
MENDELOFF: Probably not on that point. But the fact is that what
he‘s done and the reason why Ed Genson didn‘t want him to appear is because
he‘s locking himself in to an absolutely untenable defense by saying he was
doing all this to benefit the people of Illinois,
He has to confront the fact that as you said there are loads of instances in these tapes where he‘s trying to feather his own nest, where he‘s trying to obtain jobs for his wife, for himself, ambassadorships, and campaign contributions. That doesn‘t help anybody but himself. And to cast this in the way that he did really sets him up for absolute disaster.
MADDOW: Well, he says that his activities, the things that he was wiretapped saying was essentially - it was just talk. He says it‘s not criminal to talk about doing something improper if you don‘t actually do it. But aren‘t we in that criminal conspiracy territory there?
MENDELOFF: We sure are. And as a matter of fact, the tapes indicate they didn‘t just talk. He sent his aides to be with the Tribune to try to talk to people about getting campaign contributions in return for making appointments to the Senate seat and all sorts of other things where they actually took steps to advance their criminal conspiracy. So once again, his attempt to try to spin these tapes just isn‘t going to work.
MADDOW: On the charges related to the Tribune, we just heard him admit that his state of mind is that the Tribune ought to have gone soft on him editorially because of this state action that would have financially benefited that company. He‘s sort of conceding state of mind and motive here. In legal terms, how much more do you need to convict him of abuse of power or extortion for something like that?
MENDELOFF: Well, one of key things you have to establish is state of mind and intent, and that goes a long way. Another part of your interview that really is going to help in terms of this is when he says that nobody actually went to the Tribune to try to make this happen.
Now, what he‘s done is he‘s posed himself, contrary to what undoubtedly will be somebody from the Tribune coming to testify that, in fact, yes Mr. Harris did come and tried to twist their arms. So now, the jury is going to have to disbelieve not only the tapes but also somebody from the Tribune who had no reason to lie.
MADDOW: What if somebody - what if his deputy governor has chief-of-staff who was also arrested? What if one of those people testifies and says, “Yes, the governor told me to go to the Tribune and extort them in this way.” But it didn‘t go down that way. They didn‘t follow through. Is the order enough to convict him?
MENDELOFF: Yes, absolutely.
MADDOW: Well, I think if you believe what‘s in the criminal complaint, that may be the first - that may be the easiest thing to send him to jail on this one.
What do you make of his admission that he was making calls about the Senate seat decision on his home phone instead of his office phone?
MENDELOFF: It‘s one of the many things that he says that just shows his corrupt state of mind. He says in many instances on these tapes to his aides, “Make sure when you go talk about this, you do it person to person or don‘t talk over the phone.”
You don‘t do that if it‘s legitimate politics, do you? No. So this is just another example of him really betraying his own defense, the reason Eddie Genson, I‘m sure, didn‘t want him to do it.
MADDOW: Scott, in terms of the other players in this drama, his wife Patty, for instance, she does appear on the tapes as well according to the criminal complaint. Is she in any criminal danger here?
MENDELOFF: Well, obviously, I haven‘t been in the U.S. Attorney‘s Office for over 10 years, but if I was evaluating this case, she would get indicted.
MENDELOFF: The tape - for conspiring on this. She absolutely appears over and over again in the tapes indicating things that, at least from my reading of the tapes, appear to be advancing the scheme.
And also, the fact that he‘s trying to, as part of this Senate seat issue, get her a job, if she knows about that and is in any way advancing it, she‘s got problems on that one, too.
So I think what he should be doing is being in the U.S. - getting the U.S. Attorney‘s Office to try and negotiate a deal to save his wife.
MADDOW: How strong overall do you think that the government‘s case is? We obviously haven‘t seen an indictment yet. We have sent the criminal complaint. Do you have any insight into why we might not have yet seen an indictment?
MENDELOFF: You know, the U.S. Attorney‘s Office in Chicago from days before I was there, while I was there and to today, do things very carefully and highly professionally. And I‘m sure they are still gathering evidence and putting it together in a high profile case like this. They‘re not going to leave any stone unturned. And when they bring the case, it will be a Cracker Jack case. So I think that‘s the reason.
MADDOW: Scott, one last question.
MADDOW: I know that you‘ve done this for 25 years, public corruption cases up and down the ticket, as they say, in terms of what sort of positions people have held that you‘ve prosecuted them. Is this sort of what people always say, that this is just how politics is done? You‘re trying to criminalize politics?
MENDELOFF: Every time - you know, in a lot of these cases, that‘s one of major defenses. This is just how it happened. In the court system, they used to say, “Well, people pay bribes to clerks to get their cases called early. That‘s just the way it happens.”
Well, one of things that you see in Chicago over and over again, in all these cases, is that the Chicago populace, people of the state, don‘t have any patience for this kind of corruption.
And in this case, after we‘ve been so proud to see Barack Obama elected president, that this governor would drag us through the mud like this, I‘ve got to tell you, I think that the jury is going to be pretty angry at him.
MADDOW: Scott Mendeloff, former federal prosecutor, thank you for taking the time to come on the show tonight and help us work this out. I really appreciate it.
MENDELOFF: More than my pleasure.
MADDOW: Coming up on countdown, Karl Rove gets subpoenaed by Congress again. Keith asks John Dean whether Mr. Rove might actually have to show up this time.
And next on this show, I decompress with my friend Kent Jones who joins me to talk about my date with Gov. Blagojevich today. Weirdly, I almost feel like I need a talking down.
MADDOW: We‘re joined now by the official pop culturist of the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, my friend, Kent Jones. Hi, Kent. What do you think of the governor today.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. Kind of fascinating, you know. Here‘s the thing that stuck with me, he wants the tapes played, you know?
MADDOW: All of them.
JONES: All of them, you know, and then remixed and then played in a club, totally OK with that. You know, you don‘t see anyone in public life that‘s like that.
JONES: No one.
MADDOW: He said he was anti-Nixon and he wants all of tapes released.
JONES: The anti-Nixon. Yes. It‘s like - the poker term is all-in.
JONES: If went all-in, I don‘t know if he‘s got threes or kings, but he‘s all-in and he‘s loving it. He seemed like he was kind of enjoying it, don‘t you think?
MADDOW: It was funny. First of all, I kept asking, “What context makes this OK?” And he couldn‘t give me context that would make any of those comments OK. But I guess the idea is that if every tape played, then we‘d all see him in a positive light. It‘s hard to believe.
I did say the one moment where he really lit up in terms of like, his eyes got bright and so the body language, was when we was talking about having really gotten one over on the Senate.
MADDOW: About Harry Reid and Dick Durbin and those guys thought they were going to stop him.
JONES: Fancy Washington guys.
MADDOW: Yes. So it‘s obvious that he gets a lot of pleasure out of just the combat of it, which, you know, it‘s kind of neat, except when it‘s real. When it‘s real politics, it‘s not just a fight.
JONES: Except when it is real.
JONES: He said you were from the bay area. Did he Google you?
MADDOW: No, he asked me at the beginning.
MADDOW: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It‘s smart that way. Thanks, Kent.
MADDOW: And thank you for watching tonight. We‘ll see you here tomorrow night. The transcript of our interview of the governor is at our Web site, Rachel.MSNBC.com.
“COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Good night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.>
Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.
User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s
personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,
nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion
that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or
other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal
transcript for purposes of litigation.>