- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CHICAGO | Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges Tuesday, making official his denial of political malfeasance that authorities say included a scheme to sell President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.

Mr. Blagojevich looked relaxed as he stood alongside his brother, Robert, a self-employed real estate investor who also pleaded not guilty in the purported scheme.

The former governor did not make a statement before the plea to racketeering and fraud charges, but told reporters and spectators when he entered the courthouse that he was “innocent of every single accusation.”

“Now we can begin the process of getting the truth out, and I can clear my name and vindicate myself,” he said.

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Mr. Blagojevich, 52, is charged with trying to auction off the Senate seat, planning to squeeze money from companies seeking state business, and plotting to use the financial muscle of the governor's office to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers who had called for his impeachment.

Defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky, a longtime Blagojevich friend, entered the plea on his client's behalf before U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel. Judge Zagel then asked Mr. Blagojevich if he was pleading not guilty to all counts.

“That's correct,” the impeached former governor responded.

As he left the courthouse surrounded by reporters and camera crews, Mr. Blagojevich grinned and bantered as if he were running another successful campaign rather than facing federal corruption charges.

“I'm glad this process has finally begun. It's the end of the beginning in one respect, but it's the beginning of another aspect,” he said. “That is, the beginning of me being able to prove and clear my name and be vindicated of what are inaccurate allegations.”

Mr. Sorosky told Judge Zagel he is seeking federal prosecutors' permission to tap Mr. Blagojevich's $2 million Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund to pay additional lawyers. “It's just not possible for one lawyer to defend Blagojevich, no matter who that lawyer may be,” he said.

Outside court, Mr. Sorosky said that even with the campaign fund, Mr. Blagojevich “does not have sufficient funds to pay for lawyers,” recalling that attorney Dan K. Webb estimated that the total cost of defending former Gov. George Ryan on corruption charges topped $15 million, although his firm defended Ryan for free. Ryan was convicted of racketeering and fraud and is serving a 6 1/2-year federal prison sentence.

Mr. Sorosky said additional lawyers have been unwilling to sign on to Mr. Blagojevich's defense team until they find out if they will be paid.

“What was it that Jerry McGuire said?” Mr. Sorosky asked.

“Show me the money,” a television reporter yelled out.

There has been speculation that Mr. Blagojevich might have to turn to the federal defender's program.


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