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Transcript: One on one with Rod Blagojevich

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow talks at length with the embattled Illinois governor

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, ‘RACHEL MADDOW SHOW:’  Governor Blagojevich, thank you for being here.  It’s nice of you to take the time.


  Blagojevich, 'the anti-Nixon'
Jan. 27, 2009: Jan. 27: Embattled Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich explains to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that in spite of his political stunts and media tour he's not confident of the outcome of his trial in the Illinois Senate - though unlike Richard Nixon, he wants all of his tapes to be made public.
You  have handled this ordeal with a lot of political skill—so far.  T his 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 Durban 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.  But you could produce statements, if you thought they could provide them,  that would be exculpatory, why not do that?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there are two key rules, and I don’t want to get into the technicality of it, ‘cause 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 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 ten angels and ten 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 audio tapes 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 roadblocks, the 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 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 arrests, 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:  (COUGHING) 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, 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, your number, 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 impeachments.  And those are some of them.

MADDOW:  I’ve read (UNINTEL).  They are similar.

BLAGOJEVICH: And how about this one?  They want to impeach me ‘cause 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 were 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 re-importation 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.

BLAGOJEVICH: Right.  You can say it.  Yeah.

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.

MADDOW: Yeah.  Did…

BLAGOJEVICH: A personal, you know, one for the other personal gain?


BLAGOJEVICH: 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—say things like that if you weren’t trying to exchange something of value for the senate seat?  What other context would make …

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me answer that two ways.  First, I can’t comment specifically on that, ‘cause 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, ‘cause 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 – Senator Dick Durban about facilitating Senator 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 a results that ultimately leads to the place that’s right for people.  And when this whole story’s told it’s gonna show the decisions and all the rest, ultimately, we’re about putting people to work, expanding healthcare, 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 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.  Don’t just leave Illinois now. 

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 that you—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.

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