Transcript courtesy Federal News Service
NBC "TODAY" INTERVIEW WITH FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D) INTERVIEWER: MEREDITH VIEIRA
7:16 A.M. EST, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2009
MS. VIEIRA: Rod Blagojevich, good morning to you, sir.
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Good morning.
MS. VIEIRA: Last Thursday you became the first governor of Illinois to be impeached and removed from office. You were politically shamed. You have been publicly made the butt of a lot of jokes. That's been a lot for you to swallow.
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I don't view it that way. I view what happened on Thursday as a hijacking by a legislature that removed a governor and prevented that governor from proving his innocence by denying me the right to bring witnesses in -- every witness in the criminal complaint I wanted to call, every wiretapped conversation I wanted to have them hear. And I wanted to bring in Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, U.S. senators and congressmen; everybody and anybody.
MS. VIEIRA: And there's been an argument over that.
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Yes.
MS. VIEIRA: I really don't want to rehash. You talked about that a lot last week.
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: But it was an unlawful and improper impeachment. So I don't view myself at all as being shamed or disgraced. I view myself, frankly, as being someone who fought real hard for the people and was removed from office because something happened. It was a political opportunity.
And, notwithstanding the threats and the offers by these legislators, like, for example, in December, when I was offered a chance to stay on as an incapacitated governor, keep my pay for two years, keep my security detail for two years, but don't make the Senate pick, I rejected that. I wouldn't let them buy me off. They warned that if I didn't do that, that they would remove me from office, which was anticipated and expected, foreseeable. And they ultimately did it. But they did a disservice to the people of Illinois and the people across America.
MS. VIEIRA: But Governor, if I could interrupt for a second, the people of Illinois, your support among them stood at about 13 percent. So they didn't exactly have a lot of confidence in you going into this.
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I've never lost an election. Every election I stood for, I won. This is the only time that I've been not in an office. It was done, I believe, artificially by lawmakers, again, who prevented me from proving my innocence. I really wanted a chance in that impeachment trial to bring those witnesses in so I could clarify those conversations on those tapes.
MS. VIEIRA: Well, it's likely, if you are indicted in April, that there will be a federal trial --
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Correct.
MS. VIEIRA: -- on the corruption charges. Will you subpoena those witnesses at that point? And I'm talking about people like Rahm Emanuel, Dick Durbin, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Harry Reid, all those people you wanted during this impeachment trial.
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, I would leave that up to the lawyers, but presumably --
MS. VIEIRA: Do you want them subpoenaed?
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: I want everybody and anybody that I talked to about the Senate seat to tell the truth and to say it under oath. And that includes U.S. senators like Dick Durbin and Harry Reid and Senator Menendez, like former Congressman Rahm Emanuel, like everybody named in the criminal complaint that were involved in conversations with me. They should be brought forth and let them tell the whole story. And when the whole context is heard, I think you'll see there's a whole different situation that took place.
MS. VIEIRA: You said something very interesting in that final statement that you made before the senators, before they voted to remove you from office. You said you never, ever intended to commit a criminal act. Now, if you do face trial -- and it's likely you will -- will that be your defense, that you never intended to do wrong?
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, again, that's an issue for the lawyers to figure out. All I can say is --
MS. VIEIRA: But what does that mean, "I never intended"? You did it or you didn't do it?
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I think it speaks for itself. I did not intend to commit any criminal act. I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. And I'm eager to have my day in court to prove my innocence. I had in the impeachment trial, if they had let me bring witnesses in, to begin to clear my name sooner rather than later. But as I said, there was this rush to judgment that occurred, and as a result, the legislature acted as they did.
It's an unfortunate circumstance, but I don't view it all as disgraceful. I view it as me standing up for the people and not selling out and not allowing them to buy me off with some phony incapacitated status where they would pay me --
MS. VIEIRA: Let's talk --
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: -- but they would do some of the things that they wanted to do.
MS. VIEIRA: Let's talk about buying out. Did you or did you not ever attempt to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Obama, either for money or for political promises or both?
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Your question is did I attempt to sell a U.S. Senate seat. The answer is flat-out, unequivocably no way, no. And when the whole story comes out, the whole story will speak for itself. As you know, it's not appropriate to comment on pending cases, and I'm not going to do that, but absolutely not.
And again, that impeachment trial would have given me a chance to bring in everybody in those conversations. Every senator and chief of staff and congressman that I talked to about the Senate seat, everybody and anybody that I talked to about that Senate seat could have testified.
MS. VIEIRA: Can you get a fair trial? Do you believe you can get a fair trial?
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, this is America, and I still believe this is a place where, as it's written in the Bible, the truth will set you free. I'm clinging to the truth, embracing the truth. I'll ride the truth and I'll clear my name.
MS. VIEIRA: How is your family holding up, your wife and your two little girls?
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: This is --
MS. VIEIRA: You now are unemployed. Your wife is also unemployed at this point.
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Yes. Well, again, I rejected an offer by leading senators to keep my job for two years, get paid and be essentially a ghost-payroller governor if I just stepped aside. I thought that was the wrong thing to do. But, no, we have -- it's a period of adjustment for us. But you know what? I'm not asking for any sympathy. There are tens of thousands of Americans who are losing their jobs every single day. I just happen to be among the ranks.
And in many ways, I've been very blessed that most people don't have. I've had a chance to be a governor in a big state and give all of our kids health care, give all of our senior citizens free public transportation, give all uninsured women mammograms and pap smears so they can save their lives.
MS. VIEIRA: All right, Governor, we're going to have to go at this point. Rod Blagojevich, thank you so much for joining us this morning.
MR. BLAGOJEVICH: Thank you.