Blagojevich says he's never considered a plea deal
Rod Blagojevich said Saturday he never considered a plea deal with federal prosecutors even though the impeached Illinois governor could face the possibility of spending decades behind bars if a jury finds him guilty during his upcoming second trial on corruption charges.
Blagojevich spoke to The Associated Press in the dining room at his Chicago home, just a few feet from the office where he was recorded by secret FBI wiretaps allegedly trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
"There will never ever, ever, ever be me admitting to things that are false and not true," he said, when asked if the idea of a plea deal had crossed his mind. "I acted honestly, with my heart in the right place, with honest intention."
The ex-governor's first trial ended last year after a jury deadlocked on 23 of 24 counts against him. They found him guilty on one count -- lying to the FBI -- for which he could face up to five years in prison. For his retrial, which gets under way on Wednesday with jury selection, prosecutors have dropped some of the charges and say they plan to present a more streamlined case.
Sitting with his family dog Skittles on his lap, Blagojevich, now 54, sounded defiant and confident, but he also said he fully understood he stood to lose a lot if he didn't prevail at the second trial.
"I hate to admit it," he said. "But the truth is there is always an element of fear that if things don't go as they should, the consequences are not something to look forward to."
Those consequences include the possibility of going to prison for a decade or more. He faces 20 charges, including bribery and fraud, during his retrial and each of the counts carries maximum prison sentences of 10 years or more.
But Blagojevich, who appeared on the NBC reality show "Celebrity Apprentice'" after his first trial, said he hasn't dwelled on the prospect he could go to prison.
"I don't let myself go there," he said. "When I ran for office, I never thought, 'What will you do if you don't win?' And I never lost an election."
He said he has talked to his two daughters about the prospect of him going to prison and has tried to assure them that: "No matter what happens, you will be fine."
The family dog was bought after his arrest in part to help his daughters deal with the stress of their father's legal troubles, he said. He joked that he could tell them that, "If the worst happens (and I go to prison), you can get another dog and call him daddy."
The twice-elected governor added that he didn't want his children going into politics, saying, "It is a cynical, phony, BS business."
Before his first trial, Blagojevich told anyone who would listen that he was sure to testify, and his lawyers also told jurors he would take the stand. But they never called him to testify, and many saw that broken promise as a legal blunder.
On Saturday, Blagojevich steered clear of making any promises about his second trial. He said he wanted to testify and has been preparing for that possibility by reading through court documents but said a decision would only be made during the trial.
When asked about the FBI tapes that were played in court during his first trial, he said he was merely wheeling, dealing and brain storming. He said prosecutors were trying to "criminalize conversations and discussions of ideas."
On one of the tapes, which was recorded on Nov. 7, 2008, Blagojevich tells an aide that word has been passed on to the White House that Obama friend Valerie Jarrett could be named to the Senate seat if Blagojevich got an appointment as the secretary of health and human services.
"She now knows that she can be a U.S. Senator if I get, uh, Health and Human Services," Blagojevich tells the aide.
Blagojevich defended the remark on Saturday, saying he wasn't doing anything wrong, just "raising hypotheticals in routine political discussion."