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Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich challenges U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to court showdown

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Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich strutted up to a bank of microphones outside his lawyers' offices in jeans, a blazer and television makeup Tuesday and all but challenged U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to a duel at 10 paces.

Fitzgerald lied about him engaging in a crime spree, Blagojevich steamed, promising to appear in federal court Wednesday at high noon to push a renewed defense bid to play every tape secretly made of his conversations during the corruption investigation of his administration.

"I challenge Mr. Fitzgerald. Why don't you show up in court tomorrow and explain to everybody, say to the whole world why you don't want those tapes that you made played in court?" Blagojevich said. "I'll be in court tomorrow. I hope you're man enough to be there tomorrow too."

It's unclear how the tactic will play out in court just six weeks before Blagojevich's trial is set to begin, but as an exercise in media manipulation, it worked spectacularly. Nearly a dozen news cameras were on hand to hear Blagojevich lay on the mustard, and several TV stations aired the remarks — scheduled for precisely 5:03 p.m. for their benefit — live on their evening newscasts.

He spoke for just two minutes, then took no questions.

Blagojevich and his defense team have long aggressively gotten the former governor's version of events to the public. On recent appearances on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," he repeatedly trumpeted his innocence to a national audience.

The ex-governor's Florida-based publicist had hyped Tuesday's media event by promising that Blagojevich "will make the strongest public statement to date concerning the charges he is facing."

And the former politician seemed to deliver, calling prosecutors "cowards and liars" for "attacking" his wife, Patti, by alleging she was used corruptly to get the governor money through bogus real estate commissions.

"Patti is a devoted mother; she's a loving wife," Blagojevich, speaking without notes, said in a rapid-fire, forceful tone. "She works hard in everything that she does … and all that money she earned she worked for."

Last week a court filing by prosecutors — called "their proffer of lies" by Blagojevich — referred to Patti Blagojevich for the first time as part of the conspiracy to use her husband's post to enrich himself and cronies. One section titled "Steering Money to Blagojevich's Wife" alleged that a Blagojevich confidant directed payments to his wife in real estate deals for which she did no work.

Prosecutors also alleged that Patti Blagojevich took part in a recorded call with her husband and his advisers as they talked about jobs she potentially could snare in exchange for the then-governor appointing someone to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

The advisers were recorded telling the state's first couple that they could wait to be rewarded later. "I don't think you live your life hoping that somebody is gonna help you down the line," Patti Blagojevich was quoted by prosecutors as saying. "That's a bunch of baloney."

Still, Blagojevich contends that a jury that hears all the undercover tapes made by the government — some 500 hours — would see that he engaged in political horse-trading at worst.

On Tuesday Blagojevich accused prosecutors of a campaign to keep many of the tapes from the public because they would prove that Fitzgerald said "a big lie" following the then-governor's arrest in late 2008 when he said his office had stopped a political crime spree in progress.

"That is a lie," Blagojevich said. "And the reason they won't play all those tapes is because they're covering up that big lie that foreseeably led to a chain of events that stole a governor from the people of Illinois and undid the will of the people."

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment Tuesday and gave no indication if Fitzgerald would show up in court Wednesday for a showdown.

jcoen@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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