Blagojevich: Feds won't let me prove my innocence
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich lashed out at federal prosecutors again Wednesday, accusing them of pretrial maneuvers to block the defense from being able to prove his innocence in an upcoming corruption retrial.
Blagojevich had spoken sparingly about his second trial until now. He gave a three-minute statement to dozens of reporters and TV cameras at the steps of his spacious Chicago home, exactly one week before it was set to begin.
"I'm innocent," he said, his voice rising. "I know that. The question is, 'Can we get the truth out?'"
The 54-year-old, flanked by two attorneys, took aim at a motion filed earlier this week by the government. In it, prosecutors asked presiding Judge James Zagel to bar the defense from arguing that if all FBI secret recordings were played, that would prove their client's innocence.
Only around 2 percent of the tapes were played at the first trial, Blagojevich said.
"They took snippets of conversations out of context to distort the truth, to pervert the truth and to twist what is actually happening," he said. He added later, "Every scrap of evidence should be released to the public."
The recordings, made in the weeks before Blagojevich arrest on Dec. 9, 2008, were at the heart of the prosecution's case at the first trial, which ended largely deadlocked. And they will be at the core of their case at the retrial.
By trying to keep his attorneys from pursuing that line of questioning, Blagojevich said, prosecutors were "seeking to prevent me from proving my innocence."
U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Randall Samborn declined any comment later Wednesday.
Blagojevich's brief statement at just after 5 p.m. Wednesday was carefully timed to coincide with the local evening news, and many TV stations in the area covered his statement live.
The ex-governor declined to take any questions. He didn't respond when a reporter asked if he was trying to speak to would-be jurors at his retrial. But his attorney, Sheldon Sorosky said, "Absolutely not." The lawyers didn't answer additional questions.
As he began speaking, joggers, mothers pushing baby carriages and other passers-by in his leafy northwest neighborhood stopped to watch. At least a few clapped when he finished, and one man shouted, "Way to go governor!" Someone held a sign that read, "Rod of Steel. Da man."
Blagojevich faces up to five years in prison on the sole charge the otherwise hung jury convicted him on at the first trial -- lying to the FBI. But conviction on just one of 20 undecided counts could mean he spends more than a decade behind bars.
The most serious and sensational allegation against him is that he sought to sell or trade Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a top job.
Blagojevich also said prosecutors wanted to stop his lawyers form asking witnesses about conversations he had shortly before his arrest with U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and a conversation an aide allegedly had with former White House chief of staff and now Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.
Neither Jackson nor Emanuel is accused of any wrongdoing.
The former governor claimed both conversations, which allegedly took place the day before his arrest, would help demonstrate that he wasn't engaged in any illegal activities.
In a 25-page motion filed Monday, government attorneys say there are no grounds to suggest either that unplayed tapes would help exonerate Blagojevich or that prosecutors intentionally selected recordings that lacked necessary context.
"The court has also made clear that the court, rather than the government, is the final arbiter of what is, and what is not, presented to the jury," the motion says. "Yet the defense has continued to suggest otherwise."