His political career in tatters and Illinois government in limbo, a defiant and unapologetic Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Friday he is innocent of the federal corruption charges leveled against him, will fight to clear his name and won't resign.
"I am here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing," Blagojevich said. "I intend to stay on the job, and I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong."In pleading with the public for patience and to presume his innocence, the two-term Democratic governor publicly addressed for the first time the sweeping federal corruption allegations that led to his arrest at his North Side home Dec. 9.
His stance means the state's leadership void is likely to persist for months as he and his lawyers fight criminal charges in court and political charges in Springfield impeachment hearings. As the Blagojevich saga plays out, Illinois is no closer to getting a U.S. senator to replace President-elect Barack Obama and state government remains largely on hold in the midst of a growing budget meltdown.
Blagojevich's dramatic 3-minute statement, however, did nothing to slow down a special House committee weighing his impeachment. The panel's bipartisan leadership responded to the speech by preparing a letter to the governor once again inviting him to appear before them to answer questions and give his side of the story.
"I expected him to take this tack, and I'm just carrying on my course, and that means digging in as deeply as we feel we must," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, the Chicago Democrat who is chairwoman of the impeachment panel. "He's welcome to protest his innocence, but we're back in Springfield on Monday continuing with the hearing concerning the governor's probity and conduct in office."
Speaking under extraordinary circumstances, the governor delivered a response that was vintage Blagojevich: a bombastic attack on his political enemies, including a famous quote. He portrayed himself as a "lonely" victim of "powerful forces" and "political enemies" seeking to dislodge him from his post while he had the most important ally of all -- the truth.
"And 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 before taking a dig at Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and Atty. Gen Lisa Madigan for their high-profile TV appearances demanding that he step down.
Blagojevich did not address the specific criminal charges he faces, which include allegations he attempted to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Obama, trying to wring campaign donations in exchange for state money and contracts and dangling the prospect of state help for the sale of Wrigley Field in return for the firing of Tribune editorial writers. The ballpark and newspaper are owned by Tribune Co.
Instead, Blagojevich vowed to answer the allegations "in a court of law, and when I do, I am absolutely certain that I will be vindicated."
Blagojevich also used his appearance to recite portions of Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If," something he has done frequently to reporters in the past when facing intense criticism.
"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, and make allowance for their doubting too," the governor said. At one point, the normally assured-sounding governor paused in delivering his brief, prepared remarks as if to catch his breath.
One of the governor's attorneys, Sam Adam Jr., offered a slim possibility of Blagojevich stepping aside before a courtroom decision.
"If it doesn't work, if it is too hard, if the people of Illinois suffer, he will step aside," Adam said, adding that Blagojevich personally expressed those views to him.
Adam addressed questions from reporters at a packed news conference, at times yelling into a microphone. But he provided little guidance as to when a threshold of suffering would be reached in a state facing a huge budget deficit, unpaid bills to health-care providers and an ethics cloud hanging over the governor's mansion.
"I'll tell you when you know it's gone too far and he needs to step aside, and that's when nothing at all can be done on behalf of those that need it," he said. "I can't tell you that four or five days before Christmas. Three or four days before Easter, we may have a better idea here. So when the Easter Bunny comes knocking, we may have an announcement to make, but until then, you've got to give us a chance to find out if we can do this."
Quinn, the potential governor-in-waiting, said the Blagojevich scandal had thrust Illinois government into "paralysis." The two-time Blagojevich running mate even suggested during "perilous times" of terrorism, the governor was incapable of fulfilling his role to protect and provide for the common defense of Illinois residents.
"Gov. Rod Blagojevich cannot today fully protect the people of Illinois in his current situation," Quinn said. "Wake up, the people are in jeopardy. And the governor needs to realize that ... and it's time to step aside."
Republicans, hoping the scandal returns them to past glory of a quarter-century of control of the governor's office in a state that has turned heavily Democratic, used the governor's remarks to once again call for a special election to fill Obama's U.S. Senate seat. State law now gives appointment power to the governor.
"We heard 'fight, fight, fight' instead of 'resign, resign, resign,'" said Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine). "This governor has lost his ability to lead."
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STATEMENT FROM GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH
Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 3-minute statement Friday:
"Thank you very much. I'm here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, that I intend to stay on the job and I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight, I will fight, I will fight. Until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong.
"And I'm not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob. Now that's what I'm going to do. Let me tell you what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to do what my accusers and political enemies have been doing. And that is talk about this case in 30-second sound bites on 'Meet the Press' or on the TV news. Now, I'm dying to answer these charges, I am dying to show you how innocent I am. And I want to assure everyone who is here and everyone who's listening that I intend to answer every allegation that comes my way. However, I intend to answer them in the appropriate forum, in a court of law, and when I do, I am absolutely certain that I will be vindicated.
"Rudyard Kipling wrote, 'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, and make allowance for their doubting too, if you can wait, and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don't deal in lies, or being hated, don't give way to hating.' Now I know there are some powerful forces arrayed against me. It's kind of lonely right now. But I have on my side the most powerful ally there is, and it's the truth. And besides, I have the personal knowledge that I have not done anything wrong. To the people of Illinois, I ask that they wait and be patient. 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. The right to your day in court. The same rights that you would expect for yourselves.
"And one last thing. To all of those, to those of you who have expressed your support of Patti and me during this difficult time, I'd like to thank you for your thoughts, I'd like to thank you for your prayers and I'd like to thank you for your good wishes. Patti and I cannot express to you how grateful we are for your kindness. Merry Christmas, happy holidays."
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