- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

The fireworks you see on the Fourth of July make an irresistible spectacle, but they can do it only in the course of destroying themselves. Rod Blagojevich, in his mad blitz across all the channels on your TV, was following a similar course. He has our attention now, but after being removed from office Thursday, he won’t for long.

A wise sage once said every man labors to conceal his insignificance from himself. Politicians do so by conducting campaigns, winning elections and basking in the deference that goes to high elected officials. No one goes into politics in an effort to learn self-effacement.

Some people, of course, enter politics from a selfless resolve to advance idealistic goals. Mr. Blagojevich, however, has never given indications of being one of those. He sees the electorate as a vast mirror reflecting his glory back on himself.

He has shown an amazing capacity to block out anything that interferes with that view. When he lost a major House vote on his health care plan by a withering margin of 107-0, he responded, “Today, I think, was basically an up. I feel good about it.” So it’s not surprising he can dismiss FBI recordings and other powerfully incriminating evidence as though they were just graffiti on a men’s room wall.

His televised comments this week were vintage Rod: brazen, lacking in substance and utterly unconvincing. He explained his absence from the first three days of the Senate trial by insisting it was rigged. The legislature, he claimed, was about to “remove a governor elected twice by the people without being required to prove any wrongdoing.” He lamented that he was not allowed to call witnesses on his behalf.

In fact, he was free to call witnesses, have lawyers present a defense and appear on his own behalf - which he did by making a closing argument. His only witness impediment was that the Justice Department asked that the legislature not call anyone who might be asked to testify in the criminal prosecution - but that restriction bound his accusers as well.

In any case, much of the impeachment case concerned matters, like his efforts to circumvent the law on prescription drug imports and vaccine purchases, that are not the subject of criminal proceedings. No one stopped him from calling witnesses on those.

Various interviewers gave him the chance to explain why his FBI-recorded words did not mean what they seem to mean. But Mr. Blagojevich declined, citing “an Illinois Supreme Court rule that requires I can’t comment on the details of a pending case.” This statement, I regret to inform you, departs from strict factual accuracy.

Or, as Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet puts it, “That’s not true. The First Amendment protects a criminal defendant’s right to comment on the charges against him, and there is no Illinois Supreme Court rule to the contrary.”

The problem lawyers have with letting defendants talk is that they can incriminate themselves - a danger that became abundantly clear in the governor’s chat with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

Asked if he tried to force Tribune Co. to fire the Tribune’s anti-Blagojevich editorial board in exchange for tax assistance in selling Wrigley Field, he said, “And so again, without going into any detail, they’re getting the benefit of these things to try to help the Cubs. We just would prefer that they don’t, look, that - that the things that they’re advocating that I be impeached it’d be nice if they, they laid off an issue like that.”

Any impeachment trial puts a heavier burden on the accusers than the accused, because conviction requires a two-thirds majority. To keep his office, Mr. Blagojevich merely had to implant small doubts among 19 of 59 senators. Yet he chose not to even present a defense until reversing course at the last minute, practically assuring his conviction.

Why did he take this bizarre tack? Maybe it was because he thought he had a political future after impeachment if he could somehow beat the criminal charges, allowing him to claim vindication. But since the Senate not only removed him from his current job but barred him from ever holding any office in the state, that seems unrealistic, even by Mr. Blagojevich’s standards.

More likely, he was just making the most of his opportunity to soak up every bit of TV exposure and public attention he could before being relegated to his grim future of political exile, a criminal trial and possible prison. It won’t be long now.

Steve Chapman is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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