Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was inching toward a black SUV that would take him from federal court, declaring his innocence as he tried to shuffle through a thick ring of pushing and shoving TV cameramen and news reporters who shouted questions while holding recorders an inch from his chin.
"I want to say this to the people of Illinois: I have not let them down," offered Blagojevich, sometimes jerking his head back to avoid an elbow or camera lens.The former governor was in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday for a routine arraignment, entering a not-guilty plea in his corruption case at a hearing that lasted just minutes. But his first appearance since his stunning arrest more than four months ago unleashed "Blagomania" on the sidewalk outside the courthouse.
The closer he came to Dearborn Street and his escape, the more cameramen piled in front of him, unwilling to give ground and miss a shot.
"Your colleagues are going to get hurt here," Blagojevich warned. "They're going to get knocked into cars."
One cameraman swore when he was shoved, then noticed Blagojevich nearby and apologized for the foul language.
"It's all right, man. I heard it before," Blagojevich said as he was jostled. "Listen to some of those tapes."
Excerpts of undercover government recordings -- released at the time of Blagojevich's arrest -- infamously caught him and wife, Patricia, cursing.
The impeached Blagojevich had arrived looking polished in a dark, pinstriped suit -- a far cry from the jogging clothes he had worn to court after being roused from bed at his home Dec. 9.
He then went through security like a common courthouse visitor and was asked to remove his belt and wallet. He presented an identification card to a security official, then walked toward the elevators while looping his belt around his waist. Before entering the elevator he waved at bystanders.
In court, his lawyer, Sheldon Sorosky, entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf to 16 criminal counts, including racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud.
He was indicted with five others April 2 and accused of running state government as a criminal racket, allegedly scheming to enrich himself by selling everything from the powers of his office to an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated last fall by President Barack Obama.
Blagojevich's brother, Robert, the former head of the governor's campaign fund, pleaded not guilty as well and was released on bail. His lawyer, Michael Ettinger, said he may seek a separate trial from the former governor for the brother.
Others charged in the case are due in court later this month.
After taking the pleas, U.S. District Judge James Zagel calmly asked the former governor several questions, including his age -- 52 -- and the highest level of schooling he achieved.
"Um, I have a degree from law school," replied Blagojevich, sometimes nodding at Zagel. As part of the protocol, the judge asked whether Blagojevich ever has seen a doctor for any mental condition.
"No, sir," was the answer.
Sorosky told Zagel that the former governor will soon ask to lift restrictions on his travel. Blagojevich was ordered to surrender his passport at the time of his arrest. Sources familiar with the matter said he is looking to be allowed to travel to Costa Rica for the filming of a reality television show. An NBC representative confirmed that the show is called, perhaps fittingly enough, "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!"
Sorosky also asked to reappear before Zagel next Tuesday to update the court on negotiations with the government to release some or all of the more than $2 million in the campaign fund to be used for legal fees. Blagojevich has been looking to add at least one lawyer -- possibly Thomas Breen -- to his team after previously losing two top-flight attorneys this year.
It could take as many as five or six lawyers to fully process the millions of pages of discovery documents in the case and listen to untold thousands of hours of secretly recorded conversations, Sorosky said. Blagojevich's campaign office was bugged and his home telephone tapped for weeks during the investigation.
"The press has said this is a massive indictment, and it's true," Sorosky told Zagel.
Blagojevich was asked what his legal strategy will be to deal with what looks like the daunting task of defending himself. Aside from the tapes, a close group of former aides and fundraisers is lining up to testify against him in bids for leniency for themselves.
Blagojevich said he would be relying on the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
"I believe in the truth, and I believe the truth is what matters ultimately and people -- my fellow citizens -- understand what the truth is," he said, predicting he would be vindicated.
Blagojevich did stop to greet a few of those citizens as he left the courthouse Tuesday, seemingly gravitating toward anyone watching him who wasn't a reporter. He hugged one woman before making it to a revolving door, softly telling her, "God bless you."
Tony Stevens, 34, of Chicago was waiting for him on the sidewalk. He wound up in the center of the media herd when Blagojevich stopped answering questions and turned to Stevens for a photo-op.
"He walked up to me, and he asked me if I wanted to take a picture with him," Stevens said. "It caught me by surprise."
Blagojevich stood patiently for a few minutes as a reporter tried, unsuccessfully at first, to operate Stevens' aqua blue Walgreens camera.
"Here we go. Smile, governor," the reporter finally said. "Can I get a copy of that?"
But moments chatting with everyday bystanders were few and far between. Mostly it was the ousted governor ignoring some questions from the media and dodging others.
What about his lawyers? What about Costa Rica? What about the tapes?
"My bigger concern is getting in the car," he said.
email@example.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun