Rod Blagojevich acknowledges ‘moments of fear’ late at night
BY NATASHA KORECKI AND LARK TURNER Chicago Sun-Times April 19, 2011 8:48PM
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich talks about his upcoming trial in his Ravenswood Manor home on Tuesday, April 19, 2011. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
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It’s a cold, rainy afternoon and Patti Blagojevich is making coffee in her Ravenswood Manor household while husband Rod, leg perched on an ornately carved wooden chest, is carrying on in his reading room about the multitude of books he’s read.
They move to the round living room table where they drink out of mismatched coffee cups, and their dog “Skittles” takes turns sitting in each of their laps.
One day before their lives will be thrown back into chaos with jury selection in Rod Blagojevich’s criminal retrial, the former governor admits that sometimes at night, his mind is under attack.
“I’ll confess to this, I have my moments of fear. Especially late at night, when it’s dark out — the witching hour — and your mind races and you ask yourself: ‘How did this even happen?’” Rod Blagojevich says. “I’m honestly talking, over and over again, time and time again to try to make the right decision.”
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday, Blagojevich won’t promise he’ll take the stand but “in all likelihood” would call Rahm Emanuel and Jesse Jackson Jr. to testify. He admits he’s jealous of Emanuel and President Obama’s political success as he continues to struggle.
“Yeah, of course there’s that element. Absolutely.”
He also says he’s repairing a strained relationship with his father-in-law Dick Mell, that Patti is trying to restart her real estate business, and that they’ve drained their daughter’s college fund to pay bills.
Blagojevich, who faces 20 counts, including trying to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat, shifts from seemingly relaxed and personable to agitated and angered, at times launching into loud rants about the government or the evidence in his trial.
He spills some coffee. “Patti,” he calls out. She hands him a napkin.
“It’s what Churchill said, that a lie travels halfway across the world before truth has a chance to put its pants on. And for two and a half years I’ve been scratching and clawing and struggling the best I can to put my pants – to put my pants up, to get the truth out, OK?” Blagojevich said.
“That sounded bad,” Patti interjects, laughing.
But her husband forges ahead. His eyes narrowing, his voice rising.
It’s clear the former governor has replayed his first trial in his mind again and again, citing different witnesses, different lines of questions.
He felt no elation when jurors in his first trial returned hung on 23 out of 24 counts. He was convicted of lying to the FBI.
“I felt, this is what happens when you don’t put on a defense,” he says. “The false statement conviction, pissed me off, bothered me, it’s not true.”
Blagojevich has time and again criticized the government for not playing all the tapes, but on Tuesday he conceded he has much control over that himself – by taking the witness stand. The judge in his case said he’d have more freedom to play recordings if Blagojevich took the stand.
Blagojevich’s older brother has said he should do just that. But the former governor is uncharacteristically choppy and hesitant when he’s asked whether he’ll testify under oath.
“I certainly hope to,” he says. “I think we just have to not ... not ... make a campaign promise where circumstances might develop that might necessitate a different course of action.”
Even then, though, he might not be able to play all the recordings.
Blagojevich said he’s mending things with his powerful father-in-law, Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), having celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving with him. After a public falling out in 2005, Mell accused Blagojevich publicly of handing out state jobs in return for campaign contributions. Some argue those accusations led to the charges Blagojevich is currently facing. Patti said she believes Mell regrets any role he might have played.
“He feels terrible about that,” she said. “He’d take it back in a minute, I think, if he could have.”
Rod Blagojevich admits he’s more personally invested in his own defense this time, studying transcripts and recordings in most of his free time.
If there were one government witness he could look in the eye and talk to privately, it would be Lon Monk, his old law school roommate, friend and running buddy, who admitted he took cash payments from convicted businessman Tony Rezko.
“Why? You needed money, why didn’t you ask me? And you know what Lon, I pretty much let you pay yourself whatever you wanted to pay yourself,” he said.
Monk also testified that he witnessed Blagojevich at meetings where Rezko would discuss how they could divvy up profit from state business while Blagojevich was governor. Blagojevich accused Monk, who has pleaded guilty in the case, of making up the testimony.
Blagojevich said he thinks about prison,too. With one conviction, he’s already facing up to five years behind bars —away from his wife and daughters Amy, 14, and Annie, 8.
“The hardest part is my girls. I won’t see them grow. But what about them? What’s it going to be like?” Blagojevich says. “I can’t go out and earn a living so they can have a good quality of life? I can’t do what my parents did for me and earn a living. I can’t protect them.”
He later returns to the tapes, talking fast and furious and again blaming the government. He’s again reminded he would have more control if he took the stand.
He stops in mid-sentence and leans all the way back in his chair. He makes no promises, but with one hand delivers an emphatic OK sign.