transcript courtesy Federal News Service
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: Thank you very much for being here. I'm here to explain my position about the proceedings that are beginning on Monday, and explain some of the thinking behind the decision that I made and give you some insight on it.
Let me say that this is not an act of defiance; in fact, just the opposite. But there are huge, big issues at stake with regard to the proceedings starting on Monday, specifically with regard to the rules and the process that those proceedings provide for.
Let me also say how much I would like to be there on Monday, how eager I am to go to Springfield and confront the -- the charges that are being brought against me, and how determined and eager and impatient I am to be able to call witnesses so that I can show my innocence and show that, notwithstanding mistakes and errors in judgments from time to time, most of the things that I've done and -- as governor have been the right things and have been things that have helped people.
However, as much as I'd love to participate in the Senate trial and in the Senate process, under the current rules that the Senate provides, they're not allowing me to participate in that process. To participate in a process that denies fundamental fairness, fundamental due process, to be part of a process that doesn't allow for calling of witnesses, and worse than that doesn't allow for me or any citizen to challenge charges that are brought against me is a fundamental violation of the Constitution. It is a trampling of the Constitution.
Specifically, I'm talking about two rules -- Rule 15F, which by all intents and purposes prevents me from calling in witnesses like presidential Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, from top presidential staffer Valerie Jarrett, from Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and a whole series of other witnesses that I would eagerly call to testify under oath to show that I have done nothing inappropriate with regard to the decision to pick a United States senator. Under Rule 15F, I'm prevented from calling witnesses like that to make that case.
But even if I could call those witnesses, the more onerous rule is Rule 8B. Rule 8B essentially says that the charges that the House bring in a report -- that was not cross-examined, not challenged, not confronted -- that those very charges cannot be challenged, cannot be contested, cannot be refuted. In short, you can have all the witnesses you want; it doesn't matter because that document alone is going to be accepted as fact. That is a gross violation of every constitutional principle that exists. It's a violation of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. It's a violation of the cornerstones of the principles that we have to protect us as individuals, protect our civil liberties, and protect the ability to be able to answer false accusations in a fair way. If they can do this to a governor, they can do this to any citizen in Illinois.
Now, I like old movies and I like old cowboy movies, and I want to explain how these rules work in a more understandable way. There was an old saying in the Old West. There was a cowboy who was charged with stealing a horse in town. And some of the other cowboys, especially the guy whose horse was stolen, were very unhappy with that guy. And one of the cowboys said, "Let's hang him." Then the other cowboys said, "Hold on. Before we hang him, let's first give him a fair trial. Then we'll hang him." Under these rules, I'm not even getting a fair trial. They're just hanging me. And when they hang me under these rules, that prevent due process, they're hanging the 12 million people of Illinois who twice have elected a governor.
Now, they may be for or against me. They may like me or not. But the people of Illinois have every right to expect that the decision they've made when they have chosen a governor, if he or she is going to be removed from office, that the process ought to at least have fundamental fairness and have all the safeguards that our Constitution guarantees to all of our citizens. Under these rules, Rule 15F and Rule 8B, under that fact pattern I just gave you, if the cowboy who's charged with stealing a horse was charged with doing that in town, but in fact on the date and time that he apparently stole the horse in town he was on the ranch with six other cowboys herding cattle and roping steers, and then he expects that when his day comes to go to court he can bring those six cowboys to say it wasn't him because he wasn't in town, he was on the ranch herding cattle -- even if he could bring those cowboys in to say that, under these rules, under 8B, it wouldn't matter. The complaint that charged him with stealing the horse would convict him because you can't challenge it and you can't have a chance to be able to contest it. Again, not fair; in fact, worse: trampling on constitutional rights.
So the principle of whether I stay in office or not is far, far less important than the broader principles of protecting our Constitution and protecting the rights of individuals, the rights of individuals accused falsely or not so falsely, to give them a chance to be able to have their day and protect themselves, and let the truth decide what the -- what the -- what, in fact, is the truth.
So I'm here today to call on different people to be helpful in this process. Let me first say that I'm calling on the major newspapers across Illinois, every major newspaper and their editorial boards. And here in Chicago specifically, I'm calling on The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board and The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. Get involved, write editorials and urge the state Senate leadership to change those rules. Give me a chance, as the governor of this state, to be able to put my case on, show my innocence, and show that I've done mostly the right thing for the people of Illinois. But I can't do it unless the editorial boards weigh in and call on those lawmakers to follow the Constitution.
Now, The Chicago Tribune has a tradition of having done this. All you got to do is go into the lobby of that Chicago Tribune building and there, on the walls, emblazed in marble or bronze, are quotes from a historic, landmark Supreme Court case called Near versus Minnesota. It was a case where politicians in Minnesota, and gangsters and mobsters in Minnesota, were trying to gag a free press. And Colonel Robert McCormick, the legendary owner of The Chicago Tribune, saw what that meant to civil liberties and the First Amendment, and he got involved in that case, and through his crusade was able to get that case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. And in the United States Supreme Court, they ruled that the First Amendment right of free speech is inviolate; that it's protected, and that no politicians or government or gangsters can prevent the right of a newspaper or publishers to print what the -- the facts as they learn the facts.
This is no different. This is just a different amendment -- the right of the Sixth Amendment, the right to challenge false accusations and give the citizens the same opportunities that everyone expects in the United States of America.
So I call on The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board and The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, and editorial boards all across the state, to look carefully at these two rules, Rule 8B and Rule 15F, and weigh in and encourage the state Senate to change those rules so that I can have a chance to present my case, defend myself, bring witnesses, and be able to let the truth of the matter present itself in a fair way.
And while I'm at it, I'm calling on the Senate leadership again, Senate President Cullerton and the Senate leadership, to do a couple of simple things so that we can get this process moving and the truth can come out. Just change those two rules. Two simple things: allow me the right to be able to challenge the charges; allow me the right to be able to call witnesses like Rahm Emanuel, like Valerie Jarrett, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Allow me also to call witnesses like Governor Jim Doyle in Wisconsin and Governor Kathleen Sebelius in Kansas, or Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain, who all worked with me on the issue of reimportation of prescription drugs, going to Canada to get cheaper medicines for our senior citizens so that they can afford their medicines and their groceries, a charge that they're trying to kick me out of office on. Give me a chance to bring witnesses in like that so I can explain my case. And I'm certain, if given that opportunity, we'll not only show that we've done things right, but I'll also show the people of Illinois that I've always been on their side, fighting for them.
Thank you. I'll take a couple of questions.
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: Ho, ho, ho, ho. Ho. One at a time.
Q (Off mike) -- have a right to hold you to a higher standard than at a criminal trial? I mean, you were arrested by the FBI. You were slapped in handcuffs. You were put in detention. And you're accused in a lengthy, 76-page statement by the federal government of disgraceful acts that have humiliated the state of Illinois. On what grounds do you claim that you should be given criminal rights in this legal proceeding, in this political proceeding?
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: All I ask for is the basic, fundamental fairness of every citizen in the United States.
Q But --
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: It's called -- it's called the presumption of innocence. I said I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing --
Q But that --
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: -- and I'm entitled to that in that case. And --
Q In a federal court, but not in the state Senate, perhaps.
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I -- I believe everyone is entitled to a fair hearing. And if you're going to undo the will of the people, if a law -- legislature will take away from the people their elected governor, who they elected twice, without giving that governor a chance to challenge the evidence and call witnesses, that's a fundamental violation of the Constitution, and I would point out it is a violation of their oath of office. And if I were to participate in that proceeding, then I would violate my oath of office because I took an oath of office when I swore on a Holy Bible that I would support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Illinois. And to deny me as a governor and a citizen those basic, fundamental rights to simply answer charges and bring evidence to show that I didn't do the things they said I did, those are fundamental rights.
And it's a scary thing if they get away with doing this. If they remove me from office with a process like this and not giving me a right to defend myself and to -- and show the truth, then what kind of an impact will that have on future governors? This is much bigger than me. If you can remove me from office like this, then you tell me what governor's going to challenge the legislature. Do you honestly think that my successor will challenge them when they try to raise taxes, or my successor will challenge them when they want to do certain things that might not be good for the people, but are all about taking care of those lobbyists and special interests in Springfield? This will have a chilling effect on every governor in the future because if you can throw a governor out with mere allegations and not give him a chance or her a chance to prove those things false, then no governor will be able to take on the General Assembly the way I have or any governor ought to be able to do to get the will of the people enacted.
And let me say one more thing about governors versus the legislative branch. We're the only ones in that process elected by all the people of the state. Those lawmakers are picked from certain districts, most of whom are unknown to the voters. They come together in a state capital that's generally away from where most people are. They're surrounded by what I call a political-industrial complex of lobbyists and others. And every idea is generally what those lobbyists want, and it seems to be all too convenient for them to burden working people and middle-class families by making them pay for the operations of government rather than the other way around.
I took that system on. I challenged that system by giving all of our kids health care, by investing record amounts of money into education, by giving all of our senior citizens free public transportation. And I did it by not raising taxes on people; in fact, I fought all the interests -- members of my own party, lobbyists and special interests who support Democrats -- from raising taxes on people, and lost a lot of support by downsizing government and forcing spending in other places so that it's fair to people. That's what this is all about.
The heart and soul of this has been a struggle of me against the system. And --
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: Cut me off.
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, Jay. Jay. Jay. Jay, then Ben.
Q Governor, if you feel your constitutional rights are being violated by all of this, why not go to court, either state court of federal court, to delay the trial while that is decided?
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: I talked a little bit about some of the law, and I don't want to mislead you. I'm not by any means Ed Genson or Oliver Wendell Holmes or anybody like that. Our legal team discusses those sorts of things, and -- and that's still something that's under discussion by them.
Q Governor, if you want the people to rally around you and come to your aid, newspaper editorials and the citizens of Illinois, what can you tell them about what the government says -- said about the wire tapes? Isn't that the fundamental issue here? Other than, "I'm innocent and I did nothing criminally wrong," what can you tell them about your intent --
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: Mm-hmm.
Q -- of what was said on those tapes?
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I've said again -- and I'll repeat again -- I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. I've done nothing wrong. And I tried very hard to do everything right. And when the whole truth comes out, I think that'll be made clear. And I look forward to my day in court to prove my innocence, and I expect to be vindicated.
But I respect that process. And I think you all know and understand that the appropriate thing is to allow that process to take place on a separate track. And it would be inappropriate and wrong of me to comment or talk with any specificity about that.
But again, you guys act as if there isn't something that exists in America. And it's simple: presumption of innocence. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? It's a -- it's been nothing but a frenzy to just assume certain allegations are true and then rush me out of office. And I believe because political figures in Illinois are just waiting to get me out of the way to raise the income tax by either 66 percent or 33 percent during a time of economic depression.
There's already a bill in Springfield to raise the sales tax on gas by eight cents a gallon so that the road-building contractor community can get a public roads bill, but do it on the backs of motorists and consumers. This is the typical kind of thing they do in Springfield, and they want me out of the way to be able to try to do that.
I have done nothing wrong. I look forward to my day in court. But at the same time, if they want to throw me out of office, the least they can do for the people of Illinois, who chose me twice, is to give me a chance to prove that I did nothing wrong and most everything right.
STAFF: Last one. Last one.
Q Governor, if the trial proceeds --
Q Governor -- (inaudible) -- stated this scenario this morning, and you just hinted at it again, of almost a conspiracy on the part of Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, the Republican and the Democratic leadership, to get together to drive you from office and raise the taxes in Illinois. Is that seriously what you're alleging?
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: I'm saying that if I'm removed from office, there's a whopping-huge tax increase coming on the people of Illinois before summer.
Q But is this an organized -- are you saying that Quinn and the others got together and hatched -- (off mike)?
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: I'm saying what I just said.
Q Well, I'm asking you to --
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: I'll give you my personal opinion, and that is that -- and it's based on real-life experience. From the moment I became governor six years ago, when I inherited a $5 billion budget deficit, the expectation among Democratic constituency groups, special interests and others, as well as ironically some of the business groups -- because they'd rather have people paying more in taxes so they can protect their corporate loopholes.
And I should point out that the average taxpayer in Illinois, the average individual, middle-class person, working person pays $1,500 in state taxes. The average big corporation pays $151 in state taxes. They don't care if the income tax goes up or the corporate tax goes up because they've sheltered their money. They don't -- they've got loopholes and write-offs, so they don't pay any taxes. The burden is always on the middle-class family and the little guy, the working guy. And from the very beginning, I've fought those efforts to raise taxes.
Now, my view is this, and it's very interesting. I firmly believe Democrats have been -- many of them have been very straightforward about it, pushing a 66 percent income tax increase, from 3 (percent) to 5 percent. Mayor Daley publicly supported that; Reverend Meeks' proposal; Speaker Madigan has publicly urged -- has supported it and has urged me to be for an income tax increase. Senator Culligan has publicly said he's for an income tax increase. It's not a conspiracy. They have said it.
Now, with regard to what I said on the radio about the other side, the Republicans, unfortunately, I think they want it, too, not cause they're for it; they want the campaign issue. They want to be able to run against the Democrats. So they'll wink and nod, and they'll keep a couple of votes here to help out, and they'll be able to say they were against it. But it's almost so cynical and yet so real this is how our government operates.
They'd rather have the campaign issue instead of protecting the people. And that's what's coming if I'm removed from office without a fair hearing in the Senate.
Q Governor, what do you say to John (Cullerton ?), who says this is all political theater, you're trying to confuse the people of Illinois about the difference between a Senate process and a criminal trial?
GOV. BLAGOJEVICH: Rule 8B does not allow me to challenge the charges, period. Rule 15F does not allow me to call witnesses like Rahm Emmanuel and others who have said that I've done nothing inappropriate. Very simple. If nothing -- it's just basic fundamental fairness, and it's a process.
STAFF: Thank you, governor. Thanks, everybody.
Q If the Senate trial proceeds next week, will you quit rather than suffer the embarrassment of -- (off mike)?
Q Governor, what are you doing about the budget shortfall?
Q Governor, are you going to --
Q Governor --
Q Are you cutting --
Q Would you quit before --
Q Are you cutting spending?
Q Governor, would you quit before they vote to oust you?
(No audible response as Gov. Blagojevich leaves the microphones.)