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What I Watched Last Night: Blago on Larry King

Now we know how easy it must have been for the Bush administration to sell its war to the national media. Watching them try to get their heads around the Rod Blagojevich story - following their dismal failure in doing simple research on Roland Burris's peculiar and controversial background - has been nothing short of mind-boggling. For starters, will someone please send out a memo informing our illustrious pundits that an investigation of the governor has been going on for years and allegedly trying to sell Barack Obama's senate seat is really just the least of it? This is about so much more. People are in jail. You'd think that after a two-year presidential campaign in which Tony Rezko's name at least came up briefly, before being swatted away by a media cohort that chose to think more pleasant thoughts than the facts forced upon them, would at least have learned that the now-imprisoned Rezko threatened to taint Obama because of the same investigation into state government that has now snared the governor. The wiretaps and children's hospital and Tribune editorial writer - this is the frosting on the cake. The cake itself will be huge; multi-layered. And the impeachment proceedings, likewise, are not just about the governor's behavior these last few months. It's about an accumulation of behavior - abuses of power large and small - that finally reached a state of intolerability. This means you, Geraldo. Do your homework. You too, Whoopi.

It is with great sadness - but not surprise - that Barbara Walters and Larry King conducted the comparatively best interviews with Blagojevich yesterday. And even they were sorely lacking in preparation. Here's a look at the King interview, with my real-time notes. Edited for space, clarity and comedy.


KING: Governor Rod Blagojevich for the hour . . .

STEVE: For the hour? I'm too tired . . .


KING: Governor, with all you've gone through, whether right or wrong, why not for, the good of family, for the good of the state, resign?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there's a couple of reasons. First, for the good of family, I have done nothing wrong. I have not - I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. And all I ask for is an opportunity to be able to address these allegations and show my innocence.

And if I were to somehow, under all of the pressure, say I can't take it and give up and just quit, then what will that say to my two daughters - my 12-year-old daughter and my 5-year-old daughter - that their dad somehow did some things that he didn't do that people are saying that he did?

And so I'll fight to the very end, first and foremost, and most importantly, because my children need to know that their father is not the person that some of these people are trying to say that I am.

STEVE: Plus, I'm a royal ass.


BLAGOJEVICH: I have not. And the other reason is I haven't done anything wrong. And I have an opportunity now, because I'm being impeached in the Illinois General Assembly, that if I'm given an opportunity to properly bring witnesses, and if the rules were such that actually required the senate to actually show and prove a case, then I could disprove that and quickly put some of this behind us and we could start moving forward.

KING: Can't you attend it? Can't you present witnesses? You can't go there tomorrow and bring people to stand up for you and explain the other side? You can't do that?

BLAGOJEVICH: No. Not only can I not bring witnesses, they are not required to prove a case up . . .

STEVE: I wonder if he can lie while drinking water too.


BLAGOJEVICH: What I would like is for all of those tapes - every one of them - to be down there in Springfield, our state capital, there before the state senate.

STEVE: The last thing he wants is for those tapes to be released. He knows they won't be - at least not until the criminal trial - so he looks good demanding that they be heard.

KING: You mean the parts don't tend to prove you guilty of something, just the parts we know about?

BLAGOJEVICH: They do not. And snippets of conversations taken out of full context is unfair. And if the full context and all the tapes are heard, you'll hear a story of someone who's trying to make decisions and trying to maneuver for the best interests of the people of Illinois.

KING: Why don't you go to Springfield and say what you just said now to them tomorrow?

STEVE: Because I'd rather talk to patsies like you.


BLAGOJEVICH: And not only that, it would dignify an impeachment process that is completely wrong and contrary to every fundamental civil liberty that we, as Americans, enjoy.

It will set a dangerous precedent, Larry. If they can remove a governor elected twice by the people and a legislative branch can do it without being required to prove any wrongdoing, and, conversely, not allowing the governor to prove he didn't do anything wrong, if they can do it to me, they can do it to you and any other citizen and they can do it to other governors in other states. And my successors will not be able to take on the legislature, as I have, to provide health care to children, free rides for public transportation for senior citizens, breast and cervical cancer screenings for all of our uninsured women - the things I've been able to do around the legislature.

No governor will take them on because they'll be afraid they'll be thrown out of office.

STEVE: So this is all about you rocking the system.

KING: On December 9, you were arrested on federal corruption charges, including trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat . . . Do you think he was just making this up?

BLAGOJEVICH: First, as you know, it's not appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing case. There's an Illinois Supreme Court - U.S. Supreme Court - my - an Illinois Supreme Court rule that requires I can't comment on the details of a pending case.


BLAGOJEVICH: I can comment on the political and on the legislative process.

STEVE: You know, without commenting on the criminal case!

KING: Are you saying that Patrick Fitzgerald just had it in for you?

STEVE: Not just Fitzgerald! They're all in on it!

Were you shocked at that announcement by the prosecutor?

BLAGOJEVICH: I was shocked by the whole turn of events that day. I didn't see it . . .

KING: No idea it was coming?

BLAGOJEVICH: No idea it was coming.

STEVE: Then you were the only one.

BLAGOJEVICH: I went to bed the night before and things were promising. And I had pretty much decided what I was going to do about the Senate seat.

STEVE: Give it to Roland Burris?

BLAGOJEVICH: I was so shocked by the whole thing. And then, of course, the rest of history and everything has changed.

STEVE: Like after 9/11.



FITZGERALD: The most cynical behavior in all of this, the most appalling, is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacating by President-Elect Obama. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

The governor's own words describing the Senate seat: "It's a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) valuable thing -- thing. You just don't give it away for nothing."

Another quote: "I've got this thing and it's (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden.

And I'm just not giving it up for (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) nothing. I'm not going to do it. And I can always use it. I can parachute me there."


KING: Did you say that?

BLAGOJEVICH: I haven't had a chance to hear any of the tapes, so I don't know.

KING: Well, but you know if you said that.

STEVE: But I can't come up with a ridiculous explanation until I hear the tapes.

KING: But you'd remember if you said that, wouldn't you?


KING: I mean that's something you'd remember.

BLAGOJEVICH: I'd have to hear the tape.

KING: So then are you denying that you said that?

BLAGOJEVICH: What I'm saying is that I have not committed any crime and I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing and that there were a whole series of conversations. And taking snippets of conversations, not allowing them in the full context, doesn't tell the whole story.

KING: Are you saying if we heard the full conversation, there would be no doubt you didn't do anything wrong?

BLAGOJEVICH: I believe when all those tapes are heard - and that's why I'd like them to begin being heard this week in the impeachment trial - I think they will show a governor who was sorting out a whole bunch of things with a lot of people coming to him because they had candidates and others who were trying to do what's right for the people.

STEVE: At least that's what I'd like to believe.


KING: Did you ever think of appointing yourself?

BLAGOJEVICH: A lot of people kept asking me to consider myself.

STEVE: Name them.


And deep down, I never thought it was a viable option. I said publicly -- and I was -- I always felt that way, that I wasn't interested in it. It never seemed right to me that I can do something like that. I had a job to do as the governor of Illinois.

But that certainly was an option. And, again, when you're trying to consider what the move might be, other people thinking that you might have that option might not be a bad thing to get a good result for Illinois.

KING: Still ahead, then President-Elect Obama's reaction to the Blagojevich allegations.

Stay with us.


KING: What were you saying when Fitzgerald quotes you as saying that this job, the Senate job, is (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden - which would sound like it could be a lot of money?


KING: What did he mean - what did you mean by (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden?

BLAGOJEVICH: I haven't heard the tapes so I - I . . .

KING: Well, you would remember saying something like --that's something you'd remember saying.

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me - let me again say that there's a full context to all these conversations. I wish we could have all those tapes made public tomorrow so that I can show the state senate that I've done nothing wrong and that they shouldn't throw me out of office for mere allegations they don't give me a chance to bring witnesses or evidence to disprove . . .

KING: I know. But you can't comment on one thing?

BLAGOJEVICH: I can say that - I can say this. If this was about me, I could have made myself a U.S. senator the day after President Obama was elected and none of this would have happened. And I'd be comfortably in the U.S. senate with the whole gang over there, you know, being part of an effort to change America and improve things.

STEVE: They just would have had to go to Washington to arrest him.

BLAGOJEVICH: And I can't go into details, because again, as the Supreme Court says, I can't talk about a pending case . . .

STEVE: Fact-check, please.


KING: And you can't tell me what the two words (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden meant?

BLAGOJEVICH: Let me say this. Had I known somebody was listening, I wouldn't have used language like that.

STEVE: I would have said "friggin' golden." Or maybe even just "really golden."


KING: Let's take a call from Springfield, Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this media blitz - this attempt to taint his upcoming criminal trial and to taint the prospective jury pool?


STEVE: But if anyone out there ends up on my jury, remember this interview!



BLAGOJEVICH: If anyone wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead. Feel free to do it. I appreciate anybody who wants to tape me open and notoriously. And those who feel like they want to sneakily and wear, you know, taping devices, I remind them that it kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate.


STEVE: The Nixon analogy never made sense. Federal agents shouldn't use wiretaps?

KING: Why do you think they taped you?

BLAGOJEVICH: I don't know. You'd have to ask them that.

STEVE: Could it be because his chief of staff flipped on him?

KING: Don't you think they must have had some information that would lead to you?

STEVE: I mean, isn't it possible that they were investigating you for years and indicting and convicting everyone around you until they reached the top of the pyramid? Could that be it?


KING: Why would the Supreme Court not allow a potential defendant not to discuss his case?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I don't know if they bar you. But whether it's a law or a rule, it's a - I'm told by lawyers that -

KING: Defendants can't speak.

BLAGOJEVICH: That you're not supposed to comment on an ongoing case.

STEVE: Prosecutors have constraints on them, but I've never heard that defendants do. Defendants talk about their cases all the time.


KING: The current complaint against you quotes a wiretapped phone call in which you say about Obama's Senate seat, quote, "if they're not going to offer anything of value, I might just take it myself."

If they don't offer anything of value, that's pretty explicit, governor. What does that mean other than give me something in return for something?

BLAGOJEVICH: Again, I can't comment on tapes I haven't heard.

KING: How does that sound?

BLAGOJEVICH: There's a million interpretations on what that could mean.

KING: Give me one?

BLAGOJEVICH: I would like them to help me pass a jobs bill. I'd like them to help me pass health care. I'd like them to help me pass a bill that I'm trying to pass to protect homeowners from being kicked out of their house because of mortgage foreclosures.

STEVE: So you're just making up examples right now.

KING: Is that a lot of what you were doing, arguing about bills and items of passage?

BLAGOJEVICH: When the full story -

KING: That's a great defense.

STEVE: If it was true.


KING: Your lawyer quit, why?

BLAGOJEVICH: I have a legal team. One of our attorneys decided to - to announce that he was leaving and - and he's a great legendary lawyer, Ed Jensen. I would say he's the F. Lee Bailey of our time.

KING: Why lose someone like that?

BLAGOJEVICH: He made a decision.

STEVE: Yes. The lawyer who tolerated R. Kelly and Conrad Black couldn't tolerate Rod Blagojevich!


KING: We have another call from Springfield, Illinois. Hello.

CALLER: Hi. I'm an employee of the state. For the past five years that I've been working there, we've been required to take an ethics exam . . . I'm wondering how he can justify using that kind of money in a state that's already in financial crisis.

KING: Does it cost them money to take it?

BLAGOJEVICH: To my understanding, I'm not aware that it does. It doesn't cost me money to take it. But I know that some state employees who have been there for a long time probably didn't appreciate the change. But it's really not a hard test.

STEVE: Then what's the point?


KING: How is your wife taking this?

STEVE: She's preparing to be arrested too.


KING: What do you do with an approval rating of seven?

BLAGOJEVICH: I don't know if that's actually true.

STEVE: No, the pollsters just made it up because they're in on it too.


See also my live-blogging of Blago on The View.


See what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.


Posted on January 27, 2009

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