Blagojevich Says He Thought of Oprah for Senate

Oprah Winfrey says she could be a senator, but isn't interested.

January 26, 2009, 7:01 AM

Jan. 26, 2009 — -- Illinois' beleaguered Gov. Rod Blagojevich said today that when he was deciding who would take President Obama's Senate seat he considered appointing talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, a suggestion that Winfrey says left her "amused."

Blagojevich made the revelation to Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" on the day his impeachment trial began. That trial is expected to toss him out of office.

The governor said that Winfrey's name came up as a potential successor to Obama in the Senate.

Watch Gov. Blagojevich's Interview With ABC News' Cynthia McFadden On "Nightline" Tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET

"She seemed to be someone who had helped Barack Obama in a significant way to become president," Blagojevich said. Blagojevich added that "she had a much broader bully pulpit than a lot of senators."

His consideration of Winfrey was tempered, he suggested, by the fact that "she probably wouldn't take it, and then if you offered it to her, how would you do it in a way it wasn't a gimmick to embarrass her."

Later on ABC's "The View," he added that Winfrey was appealing because she was "an African-American woman who probably by herself has more influence than 100 senators."

One of his hesitations, he said, was "Would she take the call of the governor of Illinois because Oprah is Oprah and I'm only the governor of Illinois."

Blagojevich said his consideration of Winfrey was "interrupted on Dec. 9," the day he was arrested by the FBI.

Winfrey, who endorsed Obama's presidential bid and showcased his candidacy on her show, said she missed "GMA" this morning because she slept late.

"If I had been watching from the treadmill where I'm usually watching, I would have fallen off the treadmill," Winfrey told her friend Gayle King during the Sirius XM radio show "Oprah and Friends."

Winfrey said she was "pretty amused" by Blagojevich's revelation.

"I think I could be a senator, but I'm not interested," Winfrey said.

Blagojevich's appearance on "GMA" was part of the governor's media blitz on the day that his impeachment trial began in Springfield, Ill. -- without him. Blagojevich has already conceded that he will probably be convicted of corruption charges, but is refusing to resign or to attend the trial to defend himself.

Instead, he was scheduled to appear on ABC's "GMA," "The View," and "Nightline," NBC's the "Today" show, and CNN's "Larry King Live."

The governor insisted he was innocent but was boycotting his trial because he was not allowed to introduce witnesses like Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and the president's top adviser Valerie Jarrett.

"I'm talking to Americans to let them know what's happening in the land of Lincoln," Blagojevich said.

In his opening statement before the Senate, David Ellis, the lawyer for the Illinois House of Representatives bringing the charges, said the goal of the impeachment is to protect citizens from someone who has "repeatedly and utterly abused the powers of his office."

When asked whether he had tried to auction off Obama's Senate seat, Blagojevich said, "Absolutely not and I'll have a chance in a criminal case to show my innocence and bring witnesses."

Blagojevich on Impeachment Trial

In an interview, "Nightline's" Cynthia McFadden challenged the governor over his contention that he was boycotting the trial because he is not allowed to call witnesses.

"We talked to a whole range of Constitutional lawyers, none of whom believe that the process in the senate today is un-Constitutional, that in fact all of the rights that apply ... in criminal court don't apply in the impeachment process. You're a lawyer, you know that's true, don't you?" asked McFadden.

Blagojevich, however, insisted that the Constitution gave him the right in any trial setting to confront his accusers and call witnesses.

"Anytime in America when someone is accused of wrongdoing, everyone should have a right to be able to show he didn't do anything wrong. And being able to show you didn't do anything wrong, part of it is to be able to present evidence and bring witnesses in to say that there was nothing wrong," he said.

He lost one the voice of one supporter today. His wife was scheduled to appear with him on "The View," but show host Barbara Walters announced that Patricia Blagojevich canceled "on the advice of her family."

Blagojevich and his father-in-law, Chicago Alerman Richard Mell, have been feuding publicly since 2005 when the governor closed a dump owned by a Mell relative.

Addressing both the television audience and Blagojevich, Walters said, "Her father is an alderman and is quoted as saying that 'you use everybody and when there is no more use you discard them.' Your wife's family doesn't seem to be crazy about you."

"My wife would have loved to be here. She's a big fan of your program," Blagojevich replied.

Reminded that many people, including Obama, have called on him to resign and that Mayor Richard Daley even called him "cuckoo," the governor said, "Here's a question I have to you, to Mayor Daley and everyone else: Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?"

"The fix is in," Blagojevich told "GMA." "They want me out of the way" so the Illinois legislature can enact a large tax increase, he said.

Illinois state Sen. Matt Murphy scoffed at the governor's argument.

"First let's work through all that red herring he just served us all for breakfast," Murphy told "GMA."

He called Blagojevich's argument that the trial was unfair the "most self-serving ludicrous statement I've ever heard in my life."

A conviction would make Blagojevich the first governor in Illinois history to be removed from office.

Blagojevich Defends Wife

During his "GMA" appearance, Blagojevich also defended his wife, who has been compared to Lady McBeth after surveillance tapes reportedly caught her encouraging her husband's allegedly illegal activities.

"My wife is a loving wife who cares for our children. She's the best person I know, a person of great character and integrity," Blagojevich said.

He said he tells his children, Amy, 10, and Annie, 4, "the most important part is they should know their father is not the person they're trying to say he is."

The governor has been waging a bizarre defense since his arrest by FBI agents on Dec. 9. He has complained that the trial is rigged and compared himself to a cowboy being lynched, as well as to such martyrs to justice as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi.

The most spectacular of the accusations against Blagojevich is that he tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by Obama to the highest bidder.

In a remarkable demonstration of his political shrewdness, Blagojevich forced the U.S. Senate to accept his appointment of Roland Burris to that seat after the Senate's leaders said they would never accept anyone named by the tainted governor.