Blagojevich pleads 'innocent,' repeats he wants all tapes aired
Declaring he's "laying down the gauntlet," Rod Blagojevich insisted Wednesday that jurors in his federal corruption case should hear all 500 hours of wiretap tapes of him talking. Then, he promised, they can hear him talk some more from the witness stand.
"Play all the tapes," the former governor said after a hearing in U.S. District Court, a feat that would occupy the court for 62 eight-hour days.
"I challenge the government," Blagojevich said, adopting a gruff, tough demeanor. "If you are on the side of truth and justice, as you say you are, and if this was a crime spree, as you say it was, then don't hide behind technicalities. Play all the tapes. Play all the tapes. Play the truth, and play the whole truth."
The wiretaps made in 2008, according to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, show Blagojevich in the midst of a "political corruption crime spree."
Blagojevich put forth his challenge after a brief court hearing in which he entered a plea of "innocent to each and every charge" contained in the new federal indictment filed against him last week.
"He didn't enter a plea of 'not guilty.' He entered a plea of 'innocent!'" Blagojevich defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. boasted afterward.
To reporters, Blagojevich also repeated his intention to testify in the trial. "I'm not just here talking the talk," he said. "I'm going to walk the walk - right up to the witness stand."
Adam repeated Blagojevich's statement that, instead of the transcriptions that have been released apparently showing Blagojevich trading political favors for contributions and auctioning off Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat, the tapes in their entirety "will prove him innocent."
Adam said the defense team has listened to all the wiretap tapes and wants the right to use them. "We are saying either side can play any minute of any tape that they want to play," Adam said, allowing that despite Blagojevich's statements, it might not be necessary for the court to hear every second. "We're not going to play tapes about him, the governor, and somebody else talking about the Atlanta Hawks."
Adam said he had filed a motion earlier in the day along with a Blagojevich affidavit saying he "waived the right to challenge" use of the tapes in court.
"I know that I have a constitutional right to try to suppress the tapes," Blagojevich said. "And as a former prosecutor, I believe there's a good chance that would be granted. However, I'm not going to hide behind my lawyers, and I'm not going to hide behind some technicalities in the law to try to block these tapes from being heard."
The new 24-count indictment filed last week did not make any new accusations of criminal conduct on Blagojevich's part, but reconfigured the charges against him away from "honest services" fraud and more toward racketeering. The "honest services" law is being reconsidered by the U.S. Supreme Court and may be sharply curtailed in a ruling due later this year.
The actual hearing, in a Dirksen Federal Building courtroom packed with reporters, lasted only a few minutes, with Blagojevich entering his plea, and then Judge James Zagel setting a March 15 deadline for any motions to alter the trial date, now set for June 3. "It would be unlikely that I would change the trial date," he warned.
He set March 17, St. Patrick's Day, for the next status hearing in the case. "Everybody wear a green tie," Zagel added.