Rod Blagojevich press conference - 23 January 2009

Press Conference (01/23/09)
by Rod Blagojevich

Delivered on 23 January 2009.

I'm here to explain my position about the proceedings that are beginning on Monday, and explain some of the thinking behind the decision that I made and give you some insights on it.

Let me say, this is not an act of defiance, in fact just the opposite. But there are huge, big issues at stake with regard to the proceeding starting on Monday and specifically with regard to the rules and the process that those proceedings provide for[1].

Let me also say how much I would like to be there on Monday, how eager I am to go to Springfield and confront the charges that are being brought against me and how determined and eager and impatient I am to be able to call witnesses so that I can show my innocence and show that, notwithstanding mistakes and errors in judgments from time to time, most of the things that I've done as governor have been the right things and have been things that have helped people."

However, as much as I'd love to participate in the Senate trial and in the Senate process, under the current rules that the Senate provides, they're not allowing me to participate in that process. To participate in a process that denies fundamental fairness, fundamental due process[2], to be part of a process that doesn't allow for calling of witnesses and worse than that, doesn't allow for me or any citizen to challenge charges that are brought against me, is a fundamental violation of the Constitution, it is a trampling of the Constitution.

Specifically, I'm talking about two rules. Rule 15F, which by all intents and purposes prevents me from calling in witnesses like presidential Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, from top presidential staff of Valerie Jarrett, from Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and a whole series of other witnesses that I would eagerly call to testify under oath to show that I've done nothing inappropriate with regard to the decision to pick a United States senator. Under rule 15F, I'm prevented from calling witnesses like that to make that case.

But even if I could call those witnesses, the more onerous rule is rule 8B. Rule 8B essentially says that the charges that the House bring in a report that was not cross examined, not challenged, not confronted, that those very charges cannot be challenged, cannot be contested, cannot be refuted. In short, you can have all the witnesses you want, it doesn't matter because that document alone is going to be accepted as fact.

That is a gross violation of every constitutional principle that exists. It's a violation of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. It's a violation of the cornerstones of the principles that we have to protect us as individuals, to protect our civil liberties, and protect the ability to be able to answer false accusations in a fair way. If they can do this to a governor, they can do this to any citizen in Illinois.

Now, I like old movies and I like old cowboy movies, and I want to explain how these rules work in a more understandable way. There was an old saying in the Old West: There was a cowboy who was charged with stealing a horse in town and some of the other cowboys, especially the guy whose horse was stolen, were very unhappy with that guy. One of the cowboys said "Let's hang him." And the other cowboys said, "Hold on. Before we hang him, let's first give him a fair trial, then we'll hang him."

Under these rules, I'm not even getting a fair trial; they're just hanging me. And when they hang me under these rules that prevent due process, they're hanging the 12 million people of Illinois who twice have elected a governor.

Now, they may be for or against me, they may like me or not, but the people of Illinois have every right to expect that the decision they've made when they've chosen a governor, if he or she is going to be removed from office, that the process ought to at least have fundamental fairness and have all the safeguards that our Constitution guarantees to all of our citizens.

Under these rules, Rule 15F and Rule 8B, under that fact pattern I just gave you, if the cowboy who's charged with stealing a horse was charged with doing that in town, but in fact on the date and time that he apparently stole the horse in town, he was on the ranch with six other cowboys herding cattle and roping steers.

And then he expects that when his day comes to go to court he can bring those six cowboys to say it wasn't him because he wasn't in town, he was on the ranch herding cattle, even if he could bring those cowboys in to say that, under these rules, under 8B, it wouldn't matter.

The complaint that charged him with stealing the horse would convict him because you can't challenge it and you can't have a chance to be able to contest it. Again, not fair, in fact worse: trampling on constitutional rights.

So the principle of whether I stay in office or not is far, far less important than the broader principles of protecting our Constitution and protecting the rights of individuals, the rights of individuals accused falsely or not so falsely. To give them a chance to be able to have their day and protect themselves and let the truth decide what in fact is the truth.

So I'm here today to call on different people to be helpful in this process. Let me first say that I'm calling on the major newspapers across Illinois, every major newspaper and their editorial boards, and here in Chicago specifically I'm calling on the Chicago Tribune editorial board and the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.

Get involved, write editorials and urge the state Senate leadership to change those rules. Give me a chance as the governor of this state to be able to put my case on, show my innocence and show that I've done mostly the right thing for the people of Illinois. But I can't do it unless the editorial boards weigh in and call on those lawmakers to follow the Constitution.

Now, the Chicago Tribune has a tradition of having done this. All you gotta do is go into the lobby of that Chicago Tribune building and there on the walls, emblazoned in marble or bronze, are quotes from a historic, landmark Supreme Court case called Near v Minnesota. It was a case where politicians in Minnesota and gangsters and mobsters in Minnesota were trying to gag a free press. And Colonel Robert McCormick, the legendary owner of the Chicago Tribune, saw what that meant to civil liberties and the First Amendment and he got involved in that case, and through his crusade was able to get that case all the way to the United States Supreme Court and in the United States Supreme Court they ruled that the First Amendment right of free speech is inviolate, that it's protected and that no politicians or government or gangsters can prevent the right of a newspaper or publishers to print what the facts as they learn the facts.

This is no different. This is just a different amendment, the right of the Sixth Amendment, the right to challenge false accusations and give the citizens the same opportunities that everyone expects in the United States of America.

So I call on the Chicago Tribune editorial board and the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board and editorial boards all across the state to look carefully at these two rules, Rule 8B and Rule 15F, and weigh in and encourage the state Senate to change those rules so that I can have a chance to present my case, defend myself, bring witnesses and be able to let the truth of the matter present itself in a fair way.

And while I'm at it, I'm calling on the Senate leadership again -- Senate President Cullerton and Senate leadership -- to do a couple of simple things so that we can get this process moving and the truth can come out. Just change those two rules. Two simple things. Allow me the right to be able to challenge the charges. Allow me the right to be able to call witnesses like Rahm Emanuel, like Valerie Jarrett, like Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Allow me also to call witnesses like Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas or Sens. Ted Kennedy and John McCain, who all worked with me on the issue of reimportation of prescription drugs, going to Canada to get cheaper medicines for our senior citizens so that they can afford their medicines and their groceries, a charge that they're trying to kick me out of office on.

Give me a chance to bring witnesses in like that so I can explain my case. And I'm certain that given that opportunity, we'll not only show that we've done things right, but I'll also show the people of Illinois that I've always been on their side fighting for them.

Thank you.

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