Senator Oprah?


Published: Monday, January 26, 2009 at 9:58 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 at 9:58 a.m.

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, taking his defense to television rather than his impeachment trial, lashed out at his accusers Monday and revealed he had considered naming Oprah Winfrey to President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Rod Blagojevich
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Rod Blagojevich

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich leaves his home in Chicago, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009. Blagojevich says the state Senate impeachment trial is unfair and denies him the right to due process. The governor is accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama's Senate seat.

Charles Rex Arbogast/The Associated Press

The embattled governor told ABC television that the idea of nominating the talk show host came to him as he explored potential candidates for the job that federal prosecutors allege he tried to sell to the highest bidder.

"She seemed to be someone who would help Barack Obama in a significant way become president," he said. "She was obviously someone with a much broader bully pulpit than other senators."

The governor worried, though, that the appointment of Winfrey might come across as a gimmick and that the talk show host was unlikely to accept.

In the end, Blagojevich appointed former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris to the vacant seat.

The revelation that Winfrey was considered came just hours before his impeachment trial was set to get under way in Springfield. The Democratic governor is refusing to take part, arguing that the rules are so biased that he can't possibly get a fair hearing.

"The fix is in," he said on ABC.

"I'm talking to Americans to let them know what's happening in the land of Lincoln," he added. "If they can do it to a governor, they can do it to you."

Blagojevich also was scheduled to appear on shows on two other TV channels. An interview he did with NBC television also aired Monday morning.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday that Blagojevich should be defending himself at the trial. "Barbara Walters is not on his jury," the Illinois Democrat said, referring to a co-host of one of the shows on which Blagojevich will appear, "The View."

Blagojevich is accused of abusing his power by scheming to benefit from the Senate appointment, circumventing hiring laws and defying decisions by the General Assembly.

He reiterated his innocence Monday, telling ABC that "I did nothing wrong. And if I did something wrong, I would have resigned."

He called the impeachment trial unconstitutional, saying it "denies me the right to call witnesses to defend myself." At another point he said: "Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?"

Addressing the federal wiretaps in which Blagojevich is heard talking about selling or trading the U.S. Senate appointment, the governor said his comments were snippets of conversations that were "completely out of context."

"When the whole story comes out, you'll see that the effort was to work to have a senator who can best represent Illinois and one that can help us create jobs and provide health care."

His Dec. 9 arrest was the final straw for lawmakers, who had spent six years butting heads with Blagojevich. The House quickly voted 114-1 for impeaching the governor. That sent the case to the Senate, where it would take a two-thirds majority to convict Blagojevich and throw him out of office.

Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn would replace him, becoming Illinois' 41st governor.

Whatever the Senate decides, the criminal case against Blagojevich, 52, won't be affected.

In recent days, Blagojevich has compared himself to the hero of a Frank Capra movie and a cowboy being lynched for a crime he didn't commit. He said that when he was arrested on federal corruption charges, he took solace from thinking of other jailed leaders Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.

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