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Rod Blagojevich at his best talking about himself

Updated: September 1, 2011 12:18AM



Rod Blagojevich finally confessed Thursday.

He confessed to being vain, insecure, narcissistic and a foul-mouthed “jerk”—also to having a “man crush” on Founding Father Alexander Hamilton as well as guilt feelings about not being at his father’s deathbed.

As to the specific charges of illegal activity against him, however, it will probably come as no surprise that our former governor issued firm denials to each allegation put before him on the first day of his long-awaited trip to the witness stand.

Blagojevich’s testimony will resume today and undoubtedly carry over into next week, when at some point he’ll face the real test as federal prosecutors get their chance to cross-examine him, rub his nose in the actual evidence and see how he reacts.

But that’s looking ahead, and what you probably want to know right now is: How did he do on Day One in the hot seat? Was he believable?

Overall, I’d say he did pretty well.

He is, after all, a skilled politician. Talking is what he does best, and talking about himself may be what he does best of all. He’s always been affable when he wants to be.

The first few hours of his testimony were devoted mostly to reframing his life story in sympathetic, self-deprecating terms.

“Blago: The Formative Years” would have been the title if it were made into a documentary — the unlikely success story of an immigrant’s son who overcomes his shortcomings to make it big. The reviews would say it was schmaltzy without quite being smarmy, if more than a tad selective in the telling. (I don’t think Dick Mell was ever referred to by name.)

When you get right down to it, and set aside for a moment any built-up antipathy for the former governor, his truly is an amazing American tale of a young man from humble beginnings with super-sized dreams who managed to achieve them — before the dramatic fall.

It took only one simple sentence for defense lawyer Aaron Goldstein to put a charge into U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s courtroom shortly after 10 a.m.:

“Your honor, the defense calls Rod Blagojevich.”

Goldstein then asked him to introduce himself.

“Rod Blagojevich, I used to be your governor, and I’m here to tell the truth.”

Even though his first few lines were rehearsed, Blagojevich was a little shaky, his voice cracking during his early answers.

But he quickly settled down and began using most every question to launch into long, meandering answers full of anecdotes and detours as if he were being interviewed by the ghostwriter of his autobiography.

Initially, prosecutors let him ramble, then asked Zagel to rein in his narrative answers. Zagel gave Blagojevich leeway as long as he was answering questions related to his character, not the facts of the case.

“This is a chance for him to tell his story, and he’s taking it,” the judge said.

Of course, then Blagojevich continued to take it too far, causing prosecutors to interrupt his long-winded answers with numerous objections that Zagel upheld.

This became somewhat comical as Blagojevich would then stop himself at the mere sight of assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar rising from his seat.

“Sorry. I’m sorry,” Blagojevich said each time, and he actually appeared to mean it.

It was funny Thursday, but that lack of discipline on the witness stand could get Blagojevich into real trouble when prosecutors start asking their own questions.

Was the rest of his testimony as believable as his apology for running on at the mouth?

That’s a trickier matter. I’ve always believed that Blagojevich has convinced himself he didn’t do anything wrong, so it’s pretty simple for him to give a direct “no” when his lawyer asks a straightforward question such as: “Did you take cash from Tony Rezko?”

It won’t be as simple when confronted with the more nuanced evidence of their allegedly corrupt relationship.

The female-dominated jury listened intently to Blagojevich but gave little visible reaction to his testimony. Perhaps they have intentionally adopted poker faces, but most of the governor’s laugh lines fell flat, even when the courtroom audience was amused.

Still, we must not forget the lesson of the first trial: He only has to convince one of them.



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