SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Taking his defense to the airwaves rather than his impeachment trial, Gov. Rod Blagojevich lashed out at his accusers Monday and revealed he had considered naming Oprah Winfrey to the Senate.
On the day his Senate trial was to begin, Blagojevich was hundreds of miles away in New York, appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “The View” before a scheduled appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”
“I’m here in New York because I can’t get a fair hearing in Illinois, the state Senate in Illinois,” Blagojevich said in between TV appearances. “They’ve decided, with rules that are fixed, that don’t allow me as a governor the right to be able to bring in witnesses to prove that I’ve done nothing wrong.”
The embattled governor told ABC that the idea of nominating Winfrey to fill President Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat came to him as he explored potential candidates for the job, which federal prosecutors allege he tried to sell to the highest bidder.
“She seemed to be someone who would help Barack Obama in a significant way become president,” said Blagojevich, who had been discussing a replacement since before the November election. “She was obviously someone with a much broader bully pulpit than other senators.”
Blagojevich, 52, worried, though, that the appointment of Winfrey might come across as a gimmick and that the talk show host was unlikely to accept. In the end, Blagojevich appointed former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris to the vacant seat.
Winfrey, meanwhile, said she didn’t know she was under consideration until being told of Blagojevich’s comments Monday. She said she would have turned him down.
“I’m pretty amused by the whole thing,” Winfrey told “The Gayle King Show” on Sirius XM Radio. “I think I could be senator too. I’m just not interested.”
The Democratic governor’s comments about Winfrey came just hours before his impeachment trial was set to get under way in Springfield. He is refusing to take part, arguing that the rules are so biased that he can’t possibly get a fair hearing. “The fix is in,” he said on ABC.
“I’m talking to Americans to let them know what’s happening in the land of Lincoln,” he added. “If they can do it to a governor, they can do it to you.”
Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday that Blagojevich should be defending himself at the trial. “Barbara Walters is not on his jury,” the Illinois Democrat said, referring to the “View” co-host.
Blagojevich is accused of abusing his power by scheming to benefit from the Senate appointment, circumventing hiring laws and defying decisions by the General Assembly.
He reiterated his innocence Monday, telling ABC that “I did nothing wrong. And if I did something wrong, I would have resigned.”
At one point he said: “Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?”
State senators have denied Blagojevich’s claims that the trial is unfair.
The U.S. attorney has asked senators to bar testimony from anyone federal prosecutors say would jeopardize the criminal corruption trial against the governor, Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy told ABC on Monday. Murphy noted that Blagojevich and the impeachment trial prosecutor have the same limitations.
“The suggestion that this is somehow unfair to the governor is the most self-serving, ludicrous statement I have ever heard in my life,” Murphy said. “It couldn’t be fairer for this guy.”
Addressing the federal wiretaps in which Blagojevich is heard talking about selling or trading the U.S. Senate appointment, the governor said his comments were snippets of conversations that were “completely out of context.”
He maintained that the conversations were “part of a political process to leverage to be able to pass a public works program, expand health care and get a deal where we don’t raise taxes on people,” he said.
During a grilling by Walters on “The View,” Blagojevich wouldn’t confirm or deny comments on the wiretaps attributed to him by prosecutors.
His Dec. 9 arrest was the final straw for lawmakers, who had spent six years butting heads with Blagojevich. The House quickly voted 114-1 for impeaching the governor. That sent the case to the Senate, where it would take a two-thirds majority to convict Blagojevich and throw him out of office.
Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn would replace him, becoming Illinois’ 41st governor.
Whatever the Senate decides, the criminal case against Blagojevich won’t be affected.
In recent days, Blagojevich has compared himself to the hero of a Frank Capra movie and a cowboy being lynched for a crime he didn’t commit. He said that when he was arrested on federal corruption charges, he took solace from thinking of other jailed leaders — Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.