Opinion: Gov. Rod Blagojevich to Rachel Maddow: ‘The fix is in’


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We reported here yesterday on the Magical Mystery Media Tour of Gov. Rod Blagojevich through the standard cable/network shows, successfully drawing attention away from his impeachment trial in the Illinois Senate and making his case to American TV viewers, none of whom will be voting on removing him from office in a few days.

It’s all great political video entertainment until the next waterborne plane crash or eternal urban police chase.


But better than that was Rachel Maddow’s probing interview of RB on MSNBC last night. We don’t often publish the full transcripts of interview shows. And we’re still not. But her questions got the governor to explain himself so fully, which is to say blatantly, that we’re printing a goodly chunk of their exchange here and then we’ll steer you over to Rachel’s website for the full deal if you want it.

Excerpts of Blagojevich-Maddow interview, Jan. 27, 2009:

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 on 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 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 into 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’ve elected me 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 toHarry Reid to Sen. 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 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. But you could produce statements, if you thought they could provide them, that would be exculpatory.

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there are two key rules, and I don’t want to get into the technicality of it because it’ll bore your listeners. But there’s 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’s said those witnesses from Rahm Emanuel and 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 it’s 8B. That one says that they can actually make criminal allegations against you and not have to prove them.

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 led by Mother Teresa saying that you did nothing wrong. It won’t matter because they’ve already established by just having that as part of their record as evidence.

MADDOW: Well, do you see it 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?

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....

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 roadblocks. The Supreme Court ruled he had to release those tapes.... 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 the 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: 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, actually, it depends on the polling that you know.

MADDOW: You don’t want to be in Dick Cheney territory at all, though, in terms of approval ratings.

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me tell you something. Once the economy plummeted and we had the financial crisis, down went approval ratings for everybody in high office. Whether it’s a governor of mayor. Certainly President Bush, Dick Cheney and everybody else.

The people are angry. They’re worried. They’re fearful. The economy’s

terrible. And it’s among the reasons why, you know, it’s 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, virtually everything, 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 ... you have had a very rocky tenure as governor in terms of not only your relationship with the Legislature but in terms of the way the public has seen you.

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, yeah, and I think part of that is because there’s been, you know, when you’re out there challenging a 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 they discover they have cancer, and go around the Legislature to do it.

And when you’re fighting them to be able to provide healthcare to 35,000 poor people that the Bush administration took healthcare away from in September 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 healthcare and elderly issues?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there’s 13 articles of impeachment. And those are some of them.... 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 citizens so they can afford both their groceries and their medicine.

That’s an impeachable offense. The people reelected 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 importation of prescription drugs, the policy differences around that, the way that was done is absolutely part of the articles of impeachment. But there is also other stuff.... 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.

MADDOW: And you didn’t do that?

BLAGOJEVICH: Absolutely not.

MADDOW: Well, on the wiretaps, you’re quoted saying, “It’s a [bleeping] valuable thing. You don’t just give it away for nothing. 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 say things like that if you weren’t trying to exchange something of value for the Senate seat?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me answer that two ways. First, I can’t comment specifically on that because I haven’t heard those tapes. But assuming that’s what it is, if you hear all the tapes, and you hear the whole thing in 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’s what actually were on the tapes because we haven’t had a chance to hear it. But playing 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 healthcare 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 five senior senators -– Sen. Dick Durbin about facilitating Sen. Menendez.

Harry Reid and I discussed the Senate seat. 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 and 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 that there were a lot of ideas talked about. That we explored different options. We looked and tried to think outside the box, like Oprah Winfrey, for example.

Some ideas were good. Some were stupid. Some you can’t do. Just natural discussions when you’re trying to get results that ultimately leads to the place that’s right for people.

MADDOW: When you, again, this is from the wiretapped calls, and I realize you’re not gonna 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: Well, how about helping us pass healthcare and a jobs bill? And helping the people of Illinois.

MADDOW: I will appoint person X instead of person Y unless you do this favor for me?

BLAGOJEVICH: No, no, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply saying, I’m in a 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 ... 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’s lines so somebody thinks 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.

The full Maddow-Blagojevich transcript is available here.

Photo credits: Andrew Dallos / MSNBC (top, Blagojevich and Maddow); Chicago magazine (three faces of Blagojevich); Justin Sullivan / Getty Images (Blagojevich and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).