Blago Says, Like Winston Churchill, He Can Mount Dramatic Comeback

In interview with Brian Ross, Rod Blagojevich hints that feds were after Obama.

August 20, 2010, 5:01 PM

Aug. 20, 2010 — -- Former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich recognizes that daunting challenges await as prosecutors prepare to mount a new effort to convict him on corruption charges, but he told ABC News Friday he sees a triumphant political comeback in his future that will be no less dramatic than the one pulled off by Winston Churchill.

"I'm not ruling out doing something I've spent my whole adult life doing,"  Blagojevich said when asked about a possible return to politics. "I believe some of the greatest stories in history are some of the great comebacks. You think about Winston Churchill, I mean he spent years in the political wilderness … . If Churchill can comeback from something like that, when I'm vindicated, I certainly don't write myself off."

Blagojevich sat down with ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross Friday as he embarked on a media tour aimed at recovering his reputation in the aftermath of a (mostly) favorable courtroom verdict – a jury this week found him guilty on only one of 24 counts, lying to federal agents. The panel could not find agreement any of the corruption charges, including most sensational government claim, that he attempted to cash-in the senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama for a new job or for campaign contributions.

The now famous Chicago pol-turned-reality TV star --  known better as "Blago" -- spent the 80-minute interview casting himself in the role of the persecuted David. Goliath, in this telling, was a team of federal prosecutors that remains hell-bent on collecting the scalp that sits under his generous mop of thick brown hair.

"This is a person determined to get his trophy," he said of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Blagojevich told ABC News that shortly after his 2008 arrest, investigators tried to convince him to offer damaging information on "folks in higher places" in exchange for lenience. Blagojevich said that Obama, even more than himself, had a longstanding, close association with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, the Chicago real estate developer who had become the subject of his own federal probe – one that ultimately led to Rezko's conviction on fraud and bribery charges. The former governor said his very first meeting with Obama, then about to join the Illinois senate, came by way of Rezko's personal introduction.

Blagojevich said that in late 2008, having just arrived in his jail cell, investigators approached him for information.

"When they had me in custody they were very clear about they wanted  me to cooperate and talk about people in higher places ,and with all due respect to Mayor Daley, there's no one higher than Governor," he said.

"You're talking about then president-elect Obama?" Ross asked.

"I'm not saying that right now." Asked who else he could mean, Blagojevich shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Is it your impression they were thinking about Obama?" Ross pressed.

"I have my own personal opinion but from where I'm sitting right now it's probably better for me not to talk about it." He then grinned, "If I'm guilty of anything it's that I talk too much."

The case laid out against the former Illinois governor was built over the course of a six-year investigation that delved into a range of state contracts, political donations, and allegations of backroom deals. Much of it rested on hundreds of hours of recorded telephone conversations, including dozens between Blagojevich and his top advisers. It broke dramatically into the public realm in late 2008, as prosecutors alleged the governor was attempting to cash in an extremely valuable political chit – the newly open senate seat that had been vacated by Obama.

In one tape, Blagojevich can be heard telling an aide "I mean I, I've got this thing and it's [bleep]ing golden … And I, I'm just not giving it up for [bleeping nothing."

Blagojevich said the tapes may sound boorish, but they only capture what he called "routine" musings and brainstorming with his lawyers and advisers about the options arrayed before him.CLICK HERE to follow the ABC News Investigative Team on Twitter. 

"I was discussing ideas," he said. "Good ones, stupid ones, ugly ones, just discussing ideas, thinking out loud.  Discussing different scenarios."

Ross asked, "You really believe this is routine politics? This is what politics is?"

Blagojevich replied: "It's routine political horse trading. Say what you will, this is how the system works."

Later, Blagojevich defended his decision to allow his children to attend his trial – something jurors said afterwards they found distasteful. He said his 14-year-old daughter asked him to allow her to attend. Once he consented, he said his younger daughter, who is seven, did not want to be left behind.

The federal case against him, he added, has taken a severe toll on his family. He recounted how he heard his younger child playing out a conversation between two dolls in which one doll said to the other, "You know I know you lied about me because you want to put me in jail but I'm still your friend."

"I found that heartbreaking because my little one is actually picking up some of the dynamics of this case where I've had some friends that have lied about me and she knows that happens," the former governor said. "She knows that there was one we didn't win and the others we're in a good place on, but we're going to work on that."

Blagojevich said that he would, under no condition, accept a plea deal that would require him to admit guilt in any of the corruption allegations – even a deal that allowed him to stay out of prison. On the one guilty count alone, he could face a five year sentence, though he vowed to appeal.

"The real world of politics, Brian, is rough and tumble business," he said.

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