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Why Is Blagojevich Showing Up Now?


This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, the psychology behind familicide, when men kill their families.

COHEN: But first, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich finally appears at his impeachment trial today. He initially boycotted the proceedings by spending most of his week on a media blitz in New York City. Here with the latest news from Illinois is NPR's Cheryl Corley. She's at the impeachment trial in Springfield. And Cheryl, Rod Blagojevich has stayed away from Illinois until now. Why the change of heart?

CHERYL CORLEY: Well, the governor came back home and came to Springfield, to the capital, because he said he wanted to address the senators to their sense of fairness. And it was interesting. He really pleaded with them to stay in office, telling the lawmakers that he had had no chance to prove his innocence. Now, governor Blagojevich, as you mentioned, has not been here since the beginning of this trial. He has opted not to attend because he says the proceedings have been rigged. And he maintained today, as he did during all the media blitz of interviews that he conducted, that the impeachment trial rules did not allow him to prove or disprove the criminal charges against him. The governor has been accused of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat that President Obama held, among other things. And the prosecutors - U.S. prosecutors had said that the witnesses and many of the FBI wire-tap recordings that are part of that criminal case should be kept out of this political arena.

COHEN: So when he finally did speak there in Springfield, what did he have to say?

CORLEY: Well, he said as he has been saying all along that he did nothing wrong. He asked the lawmakers, how could they throw a governor out of office who had been begging and pleading with them to bring witnesses in to prove his innocence. He said a crime had not been committed and had not been proven, that the conversations that the government recorded were just typical political conversations, albeit that he might have used some foul language, but nothing criminal. And he said that if he believed that he had abused his power, he would have taken some action. And here's what he had to say.

(Soundbite of Governor Rod Blagojevich speaking at his impeachment trial)

Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): Now, if I felt I did something wrong, I would have resigned in December. I wouldn't put my family through this, I wouldn't put you through this, I wouldn't people - put the people of Illinois through this. But I didn't resign then, and I'm not resigning now because I have done nothing wrong.

CORLEY: So there have been a lot of speculations that the governor might come here today and announce that he was resigning, but as you can tell from that very strong, emotional audio clip that we just played, that was not on his mind at all.

COHEN: He wasn't the only one speaking today. The impeachment prosecutor, David Ellis, also had a turn. What did he say?

CORLEY: Well, David Ellis was, as you can imagine, just the opposite, the prosecutor for the House of Representatives, who voted overwhelmingly to impeach the governor. He said the governor was guilty of widespread abuse of power. And he said the governor's own words demonstrated, time and time again, his efforts to use his power for his own personal gain. Mr. Ellis again played the audio clips that the government had allowed to be used in this trial, which he said show that the governor wanted to use his ability to appoint a U.S. Senator as a bargaining chip and was really involved in pay-to-play issues of providing contracts to people, or not doing that unless they would contribute to his campaign. So he just said, it's time for the governor to be removed from office.

COHEN: So Cheryl, what happens next at this impeachment trial?

CORLEY: Well, the prosecutor gets to give a rebuttal. Then the senators will actually vote whether or not to remove Governor Blagojevich from office. They get five minutes each to say what they have to say, and their are 59 senators, so it might take a while.

COHEN: And Cheryl, how are all the people of Illinois feeling about all this right now?

CORLEY: Well, I think it's really mixed. I think a lot of people are sad, really, that it has come to this, where you have a governor who is facing this whole impeachment process, as it has never happened here in Illinois, and it's just been quite a saga for the state, and I think some people are ready for it to come to an end.

COHEN: NPR's Cheryl Corley in Springfield, Illinois. Thank you, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Cohen
Alex Cohen is the reporter for NPR's fastest-growing daily news program, Day to Day where she has covered everything from homicides in New Orleans to the controversies swirling around the frosty dessert known as Pinkberry.
Cheryl Corley
Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.
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