Taking his media blitz national Monday in New York, hundreds of miles from the start of his impeachment proceedings in Springfield, embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich continued to portray himself as Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," an idealist who stands up to political corruption.
Yet Blagojevich at times also came across as Jimmy Stewart in "Harvey," an eccentric who seems to see things others don't and says things others consider odd.The governor's string of network and cable TV appearances from dawn to late-night represented a calculated political gamble by a politician trying very, very hard to give the impression he was distancing himself from politics and using the media to say he has been unfairly treated by the media.
"This is turning into a bit of a media circus, and I wonder if you're not hurting yourself more than helping yourself by doing all this because it feels a little bit like people aren't taking you seriously," Whoopi Goldberg told Blagojevich on "The View."
Whether Blagojevich did himself any favors is open to debate. Potential jurors in the audience who someday will be played tapes in court may come away thinking this is a man who says, well, a lot of things. Maybe there's a book deal or something else down the road.
And that was despite Blagojevich not taking the bait when "The View" co-host Joy Behar asked him on ABC to impersonate former President Richard Nixon by saying, "I am not a crook," then mussed his famous helmet of hair.
Among the day's highlights:
*He said his youngest daughter has asked if Daddy will still be governor when she turns 6 in April.
*He insisted support from "15 angels and 20 saints led by Mother Teresa" wouldn't be enough to save his job in Springfield, because "the fix is in."
But Blagojevich also refused to take up Barbara Walters' entreaties on "The View" to deny he said Obama's vacated Senate seat was too valuable to be given away, as federal prosecutors said they had on tape last month after the governor was arrested.
The governor, who is being advised by a public relations firm that has worked with Drew Peterson, a former Bolingbrook policeman known for the women no longer in his life, struck familiar chords about the "rush to judgment" that has "denied me the presumption of innocence."
The questions differed slightly with each stop. The talking points did not.
The Illinois legislature's impeachment process, Blagojevich said, is a sham because the rules are stacked against him. Never mind that he and his lawyers skipped chances to challenge the Senate impeachment rules and to file motions requesting documents, subpoenas and witness testimony that could have supported his case.
"Those senators are politicians who make the rules and won't allow us to get them to change the rules, so I'm here talking to Americans to let them know what's happening in the Land of Lincoln," Blagojevich told ABC's Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America." "If they can do this to a sitting governor, deny me the chance to bring witnesses in to prove my innocence ... that is a scary thing. If they can do that to a governor, they can do that to you."
If you were an elected state official facing impeachment, that is.
"Let's try to work through all that red herring he just served us all for breakfast," Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy said when offered a chance for rebuttal on ABC. "The suggestion that this is somehow unfair to the governor is the most self-serving, ludicrous statement I have ever heard in my life."
All day, the distinction between the impeachment, which is a political process, and the legal proceedings still to come was fuzzy, at best. Murphy pointed out that the impeachment rules were modeled on the ones used by the U.S. Senate for President Bill Clinton, who was acquitted. They're designed to not affect the pending legal fight ahead for Blagojevich's freedom.
Sawyer, who was treated to a brief reprise of Blagojevich's earlier Rudyard Kipling recitation, got the governor to confirm that he at one point considered offering Chicago-based Winfrey the open U.S. Senate seat that federal prosecutors allege he was looking to sell.
Blagojevich conceded he thought "she probably wouldn't take it" and that it would be tough for such an appointment to not look like a gimmick, showing he is not completely tone deaf.
Charles Thomas of ABC-owned WLS-Ch. 7 -- in New York to cover the governor's appearances -- would later report that Blagojevich said Channel 7 anchorwoman Cheryl Burton was "another name he mentioned as under consideration."
With NBC News' Amy Robach on "Today," the governor said his youngest daughter posed a question about his political future to his wife, who canceled her scheduled appearance on "The View." That might have been intended to humanize Blagojevich. It also might have come across as cloying.
"This is like an old Frank Capra movie," Blagojevich said, picking up one of his now-familiar threads. "Whether it's Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper ... I see myself in those movies: 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' 'Meet John Doe,' 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town' or 'It's a Wonderful Life.'"
Walters conducted a one-on-one interview by satellite from Los Angeles before turning him over to her fellow "View" panelists in New York. Strange as it looked, with Walters on a TV monitor across from the governor, a potted fern at its base, she came about as close as anyone to pinning down Blagojevich.
"The prosecution has said you wanted a Cabinet post, or a high-paying job for yourself or your wife," Walters said. "Here's your chance. No lawyers. You're talking to the public. Please answer that part of it, or why are you wasting time on these programs? Did you say those things?"
Blagojevich said he couldn't confirm or deny anything he might be heard saying on the government recordings because he hadn't yet "had a chance to hear the tapes," although one has to figure he knows what he has said as surely as he knows what he is saying.
"Frost/Nixon," it was not. This politician could not be shaken.
"There are always critics who try to put a cynical spin on things," Blagojevich told NBC. "The truth will be the evidence and I know what the truth is. I have personal knowledge that I did nothing wrong."
He went to New York, perhaps thinking if he could make it there he could make it anywhere. The question is whether it will play in Peoria, or anywhere else.
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