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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Rod Blagojevich
Aired January 26, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, prime time live exclusive -- Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich fights for his political life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: I have done nothing wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was as appalled and disappointed at anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The impeachment trial that could kick him out of office started today. He was a no-show. He's also under threat of a prosecution that could put him in prison for years. He claims he's an innocent man and a good guy. From others, a different view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Governor Rod Blagojevich for the hour, with your folk phone calls and blog questions, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We're in New York.
And a great pleasure to welcome Larry -- to LARRY KING LIVE, Governor Rod Blagojevich, Democrat of Illinois. His impeachment trial by the Illinois State Senate got underway today. He is boycotting it. We'll get to that in a moment.
But, Governor, with all you've gone through, whether right or wrong, why not for, the good of family, for the good of the state, resign?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there's a couple of reasons. First, for the good of family, I have done nothing wrong. I have not -- I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. And all I ask for is an opportunity to be able to address these allegations and show my innocence.
And if I were to somehow, under all of the pressure, say I can't take it and give up and just quit, then what will that say to my two daughters -- my 12-year-old daughter and my 5-year-old daughter -- that their dad somehow did some things that he didn't do that people are saying that he did?
And so I'll fight to the very end, first and foremost, and most importantly, because my children need to know that their father is not the person that some of these people are trying to say that I am.
KING: So you've never given that a thought?
BLAGOJEVICH: I have not. And the other reason is I haven't done anything wrong. And I have an opportunity now, because I'm being impeached in the Illinois General Assembly, that if I'm given an opportunity to properly bring witnesses, and if the rules were such that actually required the senate to actually show and prove a case, then I could disprove that and quickly put some of this behind us and we could start moving forward.
KING: Can't you attend it?
Can't you present witnesses?
You can't go there tomorrow and bring people to stand up for you and explain the other side?
You can't do that?
BLAGOJEVICH: No. Not only can I not bring witnesses, they are not required to prove a case up. The substance of the impeachment charges, the first article of the 13 articles, are the criminal allegations. And I'll have my day in court in the appropriate time, where I expect to be vindicated. But they were told by the prosecutor that they can't bring witnesses in to prove those allegations.
In addition to that, they can't prove something. I'm not allowed to disprove something that they're not required to prove. And so my contention is it is a fundamentally unfair process. They're suggesting that I did some things that they can't prove up and I can't disprove because I can't bring witnesses in.
KING: Are you saying that they are, in a sense, ganging up on you for no reason.
In other words, this is just let's get Rod?
BLAGOJEVICH: I'm saying...
KING: Don't they have good cause, frankly? BLAGOJEVICH: Well, no. They're ganging up on me because of some allegations of a criminal nature that were brought. There is a presumption of innocence in the United States.
And I'd like to ask the media and a lot of the other people who have all over this, where -- whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?
Give me a chance to show that some of the things they're saying I did, I did not do. And one of the quickest ways to do it is this impeachment trial.
The heart of what the contention is, is that there are some conversations, wiretapping of my home phone; that they took snippets of conversations out and -- and they've suggested certain things that are not factual and not right and were not the case.
What I would like is for all of those tapes -- every one of them -- to be down there in Springfield, our state capital, there before the state senate. And let's see whether the whole of those conversations show that I was doing the right thing, which is what I contend -- contend that I did -- and not the wrong thing, which is what some people are suggesting I did.
KING: You mean the parts don't tend to prove you guilty of something, just the parts we know about?
BLAGOJEVICH: They do not. And snippets of conversations taken out of full context is unfair. And if the full context and all the tapes are heard, you'll hear a story of someone who's trying to make decisions and trying to maneuver for the best interests of the people of Illinois.
KING: Why don't you go to Springfield and say what you just said now to them tomorrow?
They've got -- they would give you a voice.
BLAGOJEVICH: Because I'd like to give me a chance to be able to...
KING: You don't think they would?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I don't think they -- well, I know they won't allow me to bring witnesses. And, again, their don't allow them prove up these allegations, which is so fundamentally unfair. And I...
KING: So it would be a waste of time for you to go there?
BLAGOJEVICH: And not only that, it would dignity -- dignify an impeachment process that is completely wrong and contrary to every fundamental civil liberty that we, as Americans, enjoy.
It will set a dangerous precedent, Larry. If they can remove a governor elected twice by the people and a legislative branch can do it without being required to prove any wrongdoing, and, conversely, not allowing the governor to prove he didn't do anything wrong, if they can do it to me, they can do it to you and any other citizen and they can do it to other governors in other states. And my successors will not be able to take on the legislature, as I have, to provide health care to children, free rides for public transportation for senior citizens, breast and cervical cancer screenings for all of our uninsured women -- the things I've been able to do around the legislature.
No governor will take them on...
KING: All right...
BLAGOJEVICH: ...because they'll be afraid they'll be thrown out of office.
KING: On December 9, you were arrested on federal corruption charges, including trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat.
Hours later, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald held a news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY: This is a sad day for government. It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we could only describe as a political corruption crime spree.
We acted to stop that crime spree. The most appalling conduct that Governor Blagojevich engaged in, according to the complaint filed today or sealed today, is that he attempted to sell a Senate seat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald is a pretty respected guy.
Do you think he was just making this up?
BLAGOJEVICH: Let me say a couple of things.
First, as you know, it's not appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing case. There's an Illinois Supreme Court -- U.S. Supreme Court -- my -- an Illinois Supreme Court rule that requires I can't comment on the details of a pending case. I can comment on the political and on the legislative process.
But having said that, let me assert again, I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. I'm in...
KING: So what was he out to do?
BLAGOJEVICH: I'm entitled to a presumption of innocence. And I have a chance tomorrow and this week to begin the process of restoring my reputation, showing my innocence. And one thing I can do, if the U.S. attorney and others would allow me to do, is to bring evidence and those witnesses and -- I should say those taped conversations -- into the impeachment trial so the whole story is heard by not only the people in the state senate, but the people in Illinois and those who might be interested in other places.
KING: Are you saying that Patrick Fitzgerald just had it in for you -- had it all wrong?
I mean listening to a statement like that, saying that -- I think he also said Lincoln would turn over in his grave.
He's out -- what -- what was his motive?
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, I can't speak of another person's motive.
KING: What do you think?
BLAGOJEVICH: Look, I'm a former prosecutor. And among the many things that I've tried to grapple with since all of this happened and my world changed and my family's world changed on December the 9th -- is how something like this could happen in the United States of America.
And I still believe that the U.S. attorneys and the prosecutors are the good guys, on the side of right. I consider myself on the same side. And I have this, you know, hope that maybe somebody will wake up one day and realize there's some misunderstanding here.
When the full story is told, you'll, again, hear and see a governor who's trying to do the right thing for people. And I was grappling with a whole bunch of different potential choices and a lot of discussions and talk, which is part of what America guarantees to all of us -- the right to free speech.
But when the decision was made and action was taken, it was always -- always for the best interests of the people and not about what was best for me.
KING: The major allegation is did he try to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat?
We'll ask that when we come back.
KING: We're back.
Were you shocked at that announcement by the prosecutor?
BLAGOJEVICH: I was shocked by the whole turn of events that day. I didn't see it...
KING: No idea it was coming?
BLAGOJEVICH: No idea it was coming. I went to bed the night before and things were promising.. And I had pretty much decided what I was going to do about the Senate seat.
I got up. I set the alarm clock for 6:00 the next morning. I had my running clothes laid out there. Psychologically, you want to do that, especially when you go out and run in the cold and dark of winter.
The alarm clock rang at 6:00 in the morning. I said to my wife, five more minutes. And then between the alarm clock going off and the five minutes, the phone rang. And it was the FBI agents. And at first I thought it was a friend or a senior staff of mine playing a joke on me, I was so shocked by the whole thing. And then, of course, the rest of history and everything has changed.
I didn't hear the announcement because I was...
KING: Did they come...
BLAGOJEVICH: ...in another place.
KING: Did they cuff you?
BLAGOJEVICH: Yes, they did.
KING: Were your daughters there?
BLAGOJEVICH: Our little 5-year-old sometimes, in the middle of the night, calls out for her mother and wants to come and sleep with us. So she was actually in our bed when they came.
Our 12-year-old was in her bedroom. And, fortunately, our little one didn't wake up.
And our 12-year-old didn't, either. So it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
KING: What was it like for a governor to be arrested?
BLAGOJEVICH: It was...
KING: Governors don't get arrested, so...
BLAGOJEVICH: No. And...
KING: ...what was it like?
BLAGOJEVICH: ...you know, if -- if they had simply called, I would have been more than happy to go down and meet with them and answer whatever charges they were bringing. No. It was all so quick and unexpected and shocking. And, you know, my thoughts were, when I kissed my wife good-bye, were of her and my daughters.
And then I -- I've been criticized for this, but I'm not comparing myself to Dr. King or Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, but I tried to reach into history and imagine some inspiring figures that may have gone through something like what I was going through just for sustenance and for inspiration. And so I had that thought. But mostly, of course, my family, my kids and -- and trying to figure out what this was all about, because it was all shocking to me.
KING: The central allegation against you is that you tried to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat.
Let's hear from Patrick Fitzgerald again, then have you respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FITZGERALD: The most cynical behavior in all of this, the most appalling, is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacating by President-Elect Obama. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.
The governor's own words describing the Senate seat: "It's a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) valuable thing -- thing. You just don't give it away for nothing."
Another quote: "I've got this thing and it's (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden.
And I'm just not giving it up for (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) nothing. I'm not going to do it. And I can always use it. I can parachute me there."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Did you say that?
BLAGOJEVICH: I haven't had a chance to hear any of the tapes, so I don't know.
KING: Well, but you know if you said that.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I believe -- well, let me say, I know there were a whole bunch of conversations and discussions. And I had conversations with powerful people in America, with -- and I'd like to call them as witnesses. I want to call Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, as a witness. He has said publicly -- on a national TV show, that his conversations with me were appropriate.
I'd like to call Senator Dick Durbin, who I talked to about the Senate seat -- Harry Reid and Robert Menendez.
KING: But you'd remember if you said that, wouldn't you?
KING: I mean that's something you'd remember.
BLAGOJEVICH: I'd have to hear the tape.
I'm not going to just assume or take that interpretation without having a chance to actually hear the tape.
I will say this. There was a lot of talk over the period from the election -- a little bit before the election and up until that date when everything changed. And there was a lot of exchanging of ideas, asking questions, exploring all kinds of options, including Oprah Winfrey was part of the discussion.
But never, not ever, did I ever have any intention to violate any criminal law and never was this about selling a Senate seat for any kind of personal gain for me. And...
KING: So then are you denying that you said that?
BLAGOJEVICH: I'm -- what I'm saying is that I have not committed any crime and I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing and that there were a whole series of conversations. And taking snippets of conversations, not allowing them in the full context, doesn't tell the whole story.
KING: Are you saying if we heard the full conversation, there would be no doubt you didn't do anything wrong?
BLAGOJEVICH: I believe when all those tapes are heard -- and that's why I'd like them to begin being heard this week in the impeachment trial -- I think they will show a governor who was sorting out a whole bunch of things with a lot of people coming to him because they had candidates and others who were trying to do what's right for the people.
KING: Will you admit, Governor, that it sounds bad?
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, of course, it sounds bad. But think about some of the private conversations you might have on your telephone. Think about some of the conversations you might have with close associates and friends in the sanctity of your home and you have no idea somebody is listening. Think about some of the things people say all the time that they sometimes don't mean.
How many times have you heard, you know, in anger or frustration somebody say, "I'm going to kick that guy's you know what?" But you literally they don't mean that.
You can take all kinds of things out of context and make them sound a certain way. And yet in the full story, it ain't that way. And that's the case here.
KING: By the way, was Oprah on the list to become the next senator from Illinois?
Details in 60 seconds.
KING: Our friend Oprah talked about the idea of her being considered for an appointment to the Senate earlier today on Gayle King's Sirius Satellite Radio program.
Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "OPRAH & FRIENDS, THE GAYLE KING SHOW," COURTESY SIRIUS/EXTREME RADIO)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you imagine if someone had approached you and said, Oprah, the governor would like to discuss you taking Senator Barack Obama's seat.
Are you interested?
You would have said?
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: Absolutely not. I would say where would I fit it in with my day job, my midday job, my night job, my radio job, my magazine job...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, but I am sort of flattered that people think that you could be senator.
WINFREY: I think I could be senator, too. I'm just not interested.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Did she -- was she seriously on the list?
BLAGOJEVICH: Yes. Well, there was...
KING: That's easy to answer.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there were a lot of discussion about her during a certain proportion of that time period. I was thinking -- trying to think outside of the box. An idea came to me from a friend who suggested Oprah. It wasn't my idea.
I threw it around in conversations with senior staff and some political advisers who were all involved in this whole adventure that we're on. And among the things we talked about was, you know, the unlikelihood that she would be interested in it, because Oprah has a bully pulpit that's worldwide and she actually has more influence than U.S. senators combined, all 100 of them.
But she was so instrumental in electing Barack Obama president that she'd be a tremendous force to push through his agenda. She obviously would command an audience.
And the question really was, if we're going to do something like this, then how do you approach her?
Do you call her?
And then you don't want it to leak. You don't want it to look like a gimmick. And I didn't want to embarrass her and have some cheap headline at her expense that I was thinking about her for -- for the U.S. senate.
So we never... KING: Went further?
BLAGOJEVICH: It never went further.
KING: Did you ever think of appointing yourself?
BLAGOJEVICH: You know, the governors can do that.
KING: Of course.
BLAGOJEVICH: A lot of people kept asking me to consider myself. And deep down, I never thought it was a viable option. I said publicly -- and I was -- I always felt that way, that I wasn't interested in it. It never seemed right to me that I can do something like that. I had a job to do as the governor of Illinois.
But that certainly was an option. And, again, when you're trying to consider what the move might be, other people thinking that you might have that option might not be a bad thing to get a good result for Illinois.
KING: Still ahead, then President-Elect Obama's reaction to the Blagojevich allegations.
Stay with us.
KING: Before we get to the reaction of the then president-elect -- by the way, a program reminder. Jimmy Carter tomorrow night. And Joe Torre, the subject of a lot of talk, will be our special guest Friday night. That's an exclusive.
With the governor of Illinois.
What did -- before we talk about the president, what -- what do you think Fitz -- and what were you saying when Fitzgerald quotes you as saying that this job, the Senate job, is (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden -- which would sound like it could be a lot of money?
KING: What did he mean -- what did you mean by (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden?
BLAGOJEVICH: I haven't heard the tapes so I -- I...
KING: Well, you would remember saying something like -- that's something you'd remember saying.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me -- let me again say that there's a full context to all these conversations. I wish we could have all those tapes made public tomorrow so that I can show the state senate that I've done nothing wrong and that they shouldn't throw me out of office for mere allegations they don't give me a chance to bring witnesses or evidence to disprove... KING: I know.
But you can't comment on one thing?
BLAGOJEVICH: I can say that -- I can say this. If this was about me, I could have made myself a U.S. senator the day after President Obama was elected and none of this would have happened. And I'd be comfortably in the U.S. senate with the whole gang over there, you know, being part of an effort to change America and improve things.
But I wasn't thinking of me by myself. I thought of a whole bunch -- a variety of factors. And a lot of people had all kinds of ideas. And they were suggesting things to me. And I considered a variety of different options.
Ultimately, I reached a decision. And at some point, that will be known. And it's going to show -- it's going to show a governor who was caring about the people of Illinois.
And I can't go into details, because again, as the Supreme Court says, I can't talk about a pending case...
KING: And you can't tell me what the two words (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) golden meant?
BLAGOJEVICH: Let me say this. Had I known somebody was listening, I wouldn't have used language like that.
BLAGOJEVICH: And to those who -- who might be offended, I apologize. But, then again, I -- I didn't know you were listening.
KING: Let's take a call from Springfield, Illinois.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was wondering if the governor could answer a question.
Is this media blitz -- this attempt to taint his upcoming criminal trial and to taint the prospective jury pool?
BLAGOJEVICH: I didn't hear the question?
KING: Oh, I'm sorry you didn't hear it.
BLAGOJEVICH: Yes. KING: Is this media blitz today an attempt to taint the jury pool in your upcoming criminal trial?
BLAGOJEVICH: No. What I'm trying to do is trying to explain to any fair-minded person across America that we, as American citizens, live in a free society and we're entitled to fundamental civil liberties. And just as important as the First Amendment right to free speech, so is the Sixth Amendment right to be able to confront anyone who accuses you of something falsely.
And I'm being denied, as the governor of Illinois -- not me so much as an individual, though that's troublesome. But more importantly, as a governor elected twice by the people, I'm being denied the right to be able to show that accusations against me are not true, because I'm not being allowed to bring witnesses and evidence into an impeachment trial.
And if the legislature can remove a government like that, they can do something -- you know, the government can do something to that like you as an individual and other governors are going to have a hard time being able to take on the legislature on behalf of the people who elected them.
KING: You realize, Governor, you could be out of the office in a couple of days?
BLAGOJEVICH: I believe the fix is in. And I think it's almost a fait accompli.
KING: Do you think you will be out of office?
BLAGOJEVICH: I think with the current rules the way they are, there's absolutely no -- absolutely no chance for me to be able to properly show the people of Illinois I did nothing wrong.
Again, the rules are simple. They are not required to prove up any wrongdoing...
KING: I know. You've said that.
BLAGOJEVICH: And I can't disprove the allegations.
KING: So, therefore, you think you'll be out?
BLAGOJEVICH: Unless they change the rules, I think it's a fait accompli.
KING: Let's take a look at President-Elect Obama's reaction to the allegations against you. Again, this was before he went into office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Like the rest of the people of Illinois, I am saddened and sobered by the news that came out of the U.S. attorney's office today. But as this is an ongoing investigation involving the governor, I don't think it will be appropriate for me to comment on the issue at this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Have you spoke on the president recently at all?
BLAGOJEVICH: No. No, I haven't.
KING: What did you make of that statement?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, that's an appropriate statement. And, you know, I'm the first governor in America to endorse Barack Obama for president.
That's an appropriate statement that he made. He doesn't know any of the details of these allegations. And he's right not to comment on something that he doesn't have any information about.
KING: Were you close to him?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, it depends on how you define close. I was the first governor to endorse him. I had a good relationship with him. And I guess it depends on how you define close. I signed a lot of his bills. He made a lot of recommendations that -- for agency directors and others that I considered and I actually made appointments on some of his recommendations and -- so it was a good relationship and...
KING: Campaigned for him, too?
BLAGOJEVICH: Oh, yes.
KING: Why does he think they put a wiretap on him in the first place?
I'll ask when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: If anyone wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead. Feel free to do it. I appreciate anybody who wants to tape me open and notoriously. And those who feel like they want to sneakily and wear, you know, taping devices, I remind them that it kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate.
But I don't care whether you tape me privately or publicly, I can tell you that whatever I say is always lawful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Why did you invite that?
BLAGOJEVICH: How ridiculous. Had I known, obviously, I wouldn't have said that. But that's not erroneous, what I said. That was the day before. And you're right, it could very well have provoked something.
I'm speculating. Maybe that's not fair.
KING: Why do you think they taped you?
BLAGOJEVICH: I don't know. You'd have to ask them that. Illinois...
KING: Don't you think they must have had some information that would lead to you?
Someone had to tip them. I mean, you were a prosecutor. They get tips.
Don't you think some -- and they had to bring -- they had to get a -- that has to be signed, right?
You don't -- you don't just wiretap.
BLAGOJEVICH: All of this will be part of the case and I will have an opportunity to be able to refute all of that. And again, knowing the truth and knowing personal knowledge that I had no intent to do anything wrong and had every intention of doing the right thing, and ended up in the right place, I will have a chance to be able to address that.
KING: Why would the Supreme Court not allow a potential defendant not to discuss his case? That's -- the First Amendment says you can talk about anything you want.
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, I don't know if they bar you. But whether it's a law or a rule, it's a -- I'm told by lawyers that --
KING: Defendants can't speak.
BLAGOJEVICH: That you're not supposed to comment on an ongoing case. And as a former prosecutor, I agree with that procedure. You don't want to complicate or taint any of the specifics of anything.
KING: But if you can show yourself that all of this is wrong --
KING: My gosh, why wouldn't you show it?
BLAGOJEVICH: That's why --
KING: I'd go nuts.
BLAGOJEVICH: That's why I implore the state Senate to allow me to bring in witnesses and evidence, including all of those tapes, have sworn testimony, not conversations that are not sworn, but sworn testimony and let people come in and testify as to whether or not I did anything wrong. And why don't we start this during this impeachment trial, sooner rather than later. The impeachment trial is a real opportunity to clear my name.
But what they're not allowing me to do, because the fix is in, is to do precisely that. If they would allow all of those tapes to be heard, that would be excellent.
Now, President Nixon had issues with tapes. He was all about blocking all of those tapes from being listened to. My approach is just the opposite. Bring those tapes to the impeachment trial, let's hear them all. Let's hear every conversation, the full context of them. Let's see whether or not we did right or wrong.
KING: What is the state Senate's position against hearing those tapes?
BLAGOJEVICH: They were told by the prosecutor that they can't bring in that evidence.
BLAGOJEVICH: Because of the ongoing criminal case. That's a fair position of the prosecutor. If that's case, then the state Senate should not impeach me on a portion they can't prove up or they don't allow me to disprove. So if you take the criminal case out, they're impeaching me because I went to Canada, first state in America to get cheaper drugs for our senior citizens, so they can afford groceries and their medicines. If that's the impeachable offense, they should impeach the governor of Wisconsin, the governor of Kansas, and they ought to expel John McCain and Senator Kennedy, because they worked with me on the reimportation of prescription drugs.
They're impeaching me because I went around the legislature, with the advice of lawyers, to proved health care to 35,000 people who President Bush removed from the health care rolls. The legislature wouldn't protect those people. I found a way to do it. They say that's an impeachable offense.
Take those criminal allegations out and allow a proper court to hear that case. And then I would love to be able to address some of the other issues that are trumped up and clearly not impeachable.
KING: Can they listen to it encamera? That is not publicly but --
BLAGOJEVICH: No, but I wish they could.
KING: The current complaint against you quotes a wiretapped phone call in which you say about Obama's Senate seat, quote, "if they're not going to offer anything of value, I might just take it myself."
If they don't offer anything of value, that's pretty explicit, governor. What does that mean other than give me something in return for something? BLAGOJEVICH: Again, I can't comment on tapes I haven't heard.
KING: How does that sound?
BLAGOJEVICH: There's a million interpretations on what that could mean.
KING: Give me one?
BLAGOJEVICH: I would like them to help me pass a jobs bill. I'd like them to help me pass health care. I'd like them to help me pass a bill that I'm trying to pass to protect homeowners from being kicked out of their house because of mortgage foreclosures. That's being stuck because the special interests are controlling some of legislative leaders who won't call those bills. I'd like them to help me hold the line on taxes, provide property tax relief.
KING: Is that a lot of what you were doing, arguing about bills and items of passage?
BLAGOJEVICH: When the full story --
KING: That's a great defense.
BLAGOJEVICH: When the full story is told, you will hear conversations like that.
KING: Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has been identified as a Senate Candidate Five in the criminal complaint against you. He addressed the scandal several days after your arrest. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JESSE JACKSON JR. (D), ILLINOIS: I thought mistakenly that the governor was going to make a decision in the best interest of our state as well as our nation. I thought mistakenly that the governor was considering me based on my 13 years of hard work on behalf of the people of our state, as well as our nation. I thought mistakenly that I had a chance and I was being considered because I had earned it.
Clearly, I was badly mistaken. I did not know that the process had been corrupted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: When we come back, we'll ask the governor why he didn't pick Jesse Jackson right after this.
KING: We're back with Governor Blagojevich? Did you ever consider Jesse Jackson Jr. as a Senate possibility?
BLAGOJEVICH: Congressman Jackson had a lot of supporters calling. Certainly, he expressed very much his interest in it. The morning before all of this happened, he was in my office that evening and we had a chance to talk about the possibility of him possibly being chosen. He was, I would say, in the mix. That conversation he and I had was perfectly appropriate on both ends.
He's among the witnesses that I would like to call in before the state Senate to tell them exactly what his conversations were with me.
KING: Is he going to be a witness in the criminal case?
BLAGOJEVICH: I leave it up to the lawyers, but not unlikely I would imagine.
KING: Your lawyer quit, why?
BLAGOJEVICH: I have a legal team. One of our attorneys decided to -- to announce that he was leaving and -- and he's a great legendary lawyer, Ed Jensen. I would say he's the F. Lee Bailey of our time.
KING: Why lose someone like that?
BLAGOJEVICH: He made a decision.
KING: He said an interesting thing. He said "my clients don't have to do what I ask them to do. But they have to listen." Implying you don't listen.
BLAGOJEVICH: You'd have to ask him that.
KING: What did he say to you --
BLAGOJEVICH: You're asking me to speculate.
KING: He said in public, what does he mean?
BLAGOJEVICH: Look, I think lawyers like that want you to simply say nothing. And I'm champing at the bit, dying to show my innocence. And it's very difficult for me, as a governor who was chosen by the people, to simply sit back and not explain to people as much as I can possibly explain that I did nothing wrong and tried to do almost everything right, and my heart has always been on their side. My heart has always been on the place of the people.
And sometimes lawyers want you to say nothing. And so, you know, I've been saying a lot because I feel an obligation to the people of Illinois. I know what the Senate is going to do. This is a political witch hunt that is happening, that's defying all sense of fairness and -- and the right of someone to prove his innocence.
But I'm a big boy. And I'll get over it. And I'll move on. But there's a much bigger issue at stake. And that is the will of the people, who twice elected me governor, to allow a legislative branch to throw a governor out without giving that governor, elected by the people, a chance to bring evidence, to show his innocence, and to do it without bringing a case, to throw a governor out, is a very scary precedent, that's going to be bad for Illinois. And it's going to be bad for other states, because when you decide these impeachment things, you look for precedence. This will set a chilling precedent for future governors and the executive branch across America.
KING: We have another call from Springfield, Illinois. Hello.
CALLER: Hi. I'm an employee of the state. For the past five years that I've been working there, we've been required to take an ethics exam, showing we will not take gifts for work that we do, et cetera. And I think, considering the charges against the governor, I would like to know how he justifies spending our tax dollars on this ethics test, which they set up a whole committee that -- they are paid good money to write these tests. And most state employees are not in a position to even have the opportunity to use state funds to do unethical things.
So I'm wondering how he can justify using that kind of money in a state that's already in financial crisis.
KING: Thank you, Ma'am. That's your idea?
BLAGOJEVICH: In 2003, my first year as governor, we passed landmark ethics legislation, that for the first time ever put in place rules to police state government, a real independent inspector general, for example. Among the different things we did was require ethics exams for all state employees, including the governor. Incidentally, not withstanding all the things that are being said about me, I passed those ethics exam. We want the employees to know what the rules are.
KING: Does it cost them money to take it?
BLAGOJEVICH: To my understanding, I'm not aware that it does. It doesn't cost me money to take it. But I know that some state employees who have been there for a long time probably didn't appreciate the change. But it's really not a hard test. I think I got 100. And I'm not claiming to be a genius. So if I can get 100, she can probably get 110.
KING: How is your wife taking this?
BLAGOJEVICH: It's a difficult time for us, as you can imagine. My wife has been -- again, we're grown ups in a tough business.
KING: Did she lose her job?
BLAGOJEVICH: She did. Our concern is more for our kids. We have a 12-year-old daughter.
KING: How's she taking it?
BLAGOJEVICH: She's doing much better now. In the very beginning, it was very, very hard for her. All of the media cameras outside of our home. We chose not to live in the state Capitol, the governor's mansion that is protected with gates, to live in our home in a neighborhood in Chicago, because we wanted our kids to live as normal a life as possible while I'm the governor. We didn't want our children to grow up --
KING: So she's better now?
BLAGOJEVICH: She's better. You know, she goes to a great school. The day after the arrest and all of this frenzy around the home, she was clearly affected. But her principal took her out of school that day and took her to her house and made cookies with her. It was a very sweet and very caring thing.
KING: Roland Burris, by the way, got the Senate seat that was allegedly for sale. Does the governor believe he tainted Senator Burris' reputation? We'll be back in 60 seconds.
KING: Before I ask about Senator Burris, someone said that your wife got tainted with the fact that she used a lot of bad language.
BLAGOJEVICH: I think she used one bad word. I felt so bad for her because --
KING: On the tapes?
BLAGOJEVICH: Evidently, yes. That's what they say. If she picked that up, I take full responsibility. She doesn't speak like that. She just hears me sometimes.
KING: You use it a lot?
BLAGOJEVICH: I don't -- look, I have heard presidents use it. Again, had I known somebody was listening, I wouldn't have used it. I was raised in a tough working class neighborhood. My parents -- immigrant father worker, my mother was a working mom. We had gangs in the neighborhood I grew up in. If you were hanging around the schoolyard in the public schools I went to, there was a certain way the guys talked. Act like sports -- some of this language is not unique to me. I don't like it. And I apologize for it.
Having said that, why am I apologizing? I didn't know anybody was listening? And I will say, other than -- it's one of these things I try to work on not doing and I don't do it publicly, mostly.
KING: This is your second appearance on this program. You appeared on this program in 1999 with Reverend Jesse Jackson from Serbia, right? You went to get prisoners out?
BLAGOJEVICH: Reverend Jackson and I were able to get the three U.S. soldiers out that were taken prisoner during the war with Serbia.
KING: You were a Congressman.
BLAGOJEVICH: I was a Congressman. You had us here. Reverend Jackson was the star guest. You asked me a couple of questions and you completely mispronounced my last name.
KING: Those were in the old days.
BLAGOJEVICH: I kind of like the old days. They were simpler. KING: It was better for you. What about Senator Burris? Are you happy with that?
BLAGOJEVICH: Yes, he's a very good man. He's going to do a great job for Illinois. Roland Burris -- He and I ran against each other for governor in 2002. We were rivals. Roland Burris is an historic figure. He was the first African-American in Illinois to win statewide office. When all of this happened and the circumstances changed, there was some talk that the legislature was going to pass a law to allow the people to choose the senator, not the governor -- which I support. The people should do it, not the governor.
But that was all talk. They didn't do anything. As time went by, the choice for me was does Illinois not have a senator represented in Illinois because of all of this michigas (ph), which is a word you certainly understand, or do I act and do my duty, my constitutional obligation? There were a lot of complaints from our senior senator, Senator Durbin and Harry Reid in Washington, how they didn't want me to make a pick. I have strong reasons to know that they ideas on who they wanted.
But I felt it was important, in the wake of all that happened, to make that pick because we didn't want Illinois not to be represented. And then to pick an African-American of an historic nature like Roland Burris, who law clerked for Thurgood Marshall, was really interesting and exciting for me. There are no US senators who are African- American but for Obama and now Roland Burris. I feel very good about that. He'll do a great job.
KING: We have a question from our blog at CNN.com/LarryKing. Paul is the name of the blogger. He asks, "how are you paying for your defense?"
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, there are campaign funds that are now being held I believe in escrow. There's a lot of them there. And our hope is that the legal fees can be reasonable and the lawyers can be paid that way. That's my hope.
KING: What do you do with an approval rating of seven?
BLAGOJEVICH: I don't know if that's actually true.
KING: Maybe the lowest in American history? Who would have lower than seven?
BLAGOJEVICH: I don't know if that's actually true. What's your source?
KING: I don't know. I guess it was a poll.
BLAGOJEVICH: I think there's some baloney information that comes out from certain places that have their own political agenda. Look, none of us in government today have high approval ratings because the economy is so bad, times are so tough. Then you throw on what has happened to me, and I don't expect to have a good approval rating. All I ask is that people give me a fair chance to show that I've done nothing wrong and have worked always hard on behalf of the people to do things right.
Larry, in Illinois, since I've been governor, 750,000 people have gotten health care. That's better than any state in America. We're the only state in America that all of our senior citizens can take public transportation for free. I found a way to do that around the legislature. They were angry, which makes me perplexed. All of our seniors ride public transportation for free.
All of our uninsured women get breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatment, God forbid they find cancer. I had to go around the legislature to do that. That's one of the articles of impeachment. We've done real things for people. Raised the minimum wage for working people.
KING: The state Senate, I understand, they can't call witnesses either, right?
BLAGOJEVICH: On the criminal charge, they're prohibited from proving it up. Think about that.
KING: The late night comedians have had a field day with this story. We'll show you some of the clips, get the governor's reaction after this.
KING: Ted Haggard will be our special guest Thursday night. The comedians have had a lot of fun with this case. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because if I don't get this bail out, I swear to god, I will appoint some psycho mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) who will tear this this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) apart.
JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": He was trying to sell it to the highest bidder. I don't want to say he was brazen about it, but he did it on eBay.
JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Clearly this man has nothing to hide, expect perhaps what is written on his forehead.
DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": When former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer heard about Governor Blagojevich, he said, hey, you call that a scandal? No, I don't think so. At least when a New York governor goes down, he has some fun on the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that really your hair or did you grow out your eyebrows and comb them up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really. It's like someone put the hair on backwards on one of those fisher price people. Really. The first time I saw you, I thought you were walking away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That was, I think, "Saturday Night Live." How do you take all that?
BLAGOJEVICH: It is all funny. It's OK.
KING: Did you laugh?
BLAGOJEVICH: I haven't seen any of those. It's the first time I saw that. Look, when something like this happens, that's the natural outcome. I think that's all very funny.
KING: You can say it goes with the territory?
BLAGOJEVICH: Of course it does. When you step into an arena like this and you're accused of doing things like that, in the way that it was done with some of the descriptions, those were funny skits. Nothing personal. It's why they make a lot of money doing what they do.
KING: Our remaining moments with the governor of Illinois. We love hearing from you on our blog, by the way, at CNN.com/LarryKing. Of course, we read all your comments. What about allegations concerning the Children's Hospital, Wrigley Field? We'll ask about that when we come back, if we have time.
KING: Getting one more call from Chicago, hello.
CALLER: Hello, yes. Mr. Blagojevich, you keep making reference to the will of the people. Wouldn't you agree the senators and Congressmen of Illinois do represent the will of the people?
BLAGOJEVICH: Not nearly like the executive branch does. I'm the only office in that process, with the exception of the other constitutional officers, that were elected by all the people of the state. These lawmakers are elected in smaller districts. Most of them are completely unknown to their constituents.
Ask your typical viewer if they know who their state representative or their state senators are. They hardly know who their Congressmen are. They come together in a state government that's generally far away from where most people are.
Then they're involved in what I call the political industrial complex. I saw it in Washington when I was a Congressman. I see it in Springfield as the governor and before that as a state lawmaker. They forget about the average guy back home. Instead, all the different ideas and the different legislative initiatives, the programs, the things they support or oppose, come from that prism of the lobbyists, the consultants and the special interests.
For six years, I have fought them from raising taxes --
KING: Are you saying they're getting even? BLAGOJEVICH: I'm saying there's a lot of factors here. Obviously, my political problems are a result of these allegations. It's not unforeseen that something like this would happen.
KING: We only have a limited amount of time left. What's the story on the children's hospital? You were going to cut funds for them. Wrigley Field, you were doing a deal?
BLAGOJEVICH: All of that, again, the full story will come out and it will show the conclusion will be just the opposite. Those were all good things. Again, every child in Illinois has gotten health care under me. First state in American history through our All-Kids Program. Pediatric doctors and pediatric hospitals who care for kids get paid and reimbursed at rates that are higher and sooner than other medical professions who care for people under the Medicaid program, because we've prioritized children's health care.
So with regard to Wrigley Field, I'm a life-long Cubs fan. Wrigley Field is the third biggest tourist attraction in the state of Illinois. The possibility that a new owner, now we have one, might move the Cubs out of Wrigley Field, I believe, is not in the best interest of Illinois.
KING: To where?
BLAGOJEVICH: A new ballpark, maybe to a suburb. Wrigley Field was built, I think, in 1915. It has infrastructure needs. There's only so much space. So some of the creative ideas with Wrigley Field -- and the Cubs management has been doing it -- have been replicated on what the Red Sox have done at Fenway Park.
But if the Yankees can tear down Yankee Stadium, Larry, and build a new ball park, Wrigley Field -- you're from Brooklyn. Look what happened to Ebbets Field.
KING: Don't bring that up.
BLAGOJEVICH: That's why I believe the Cubs should stay at Wrigley Field.
KING: Thank you, governor.
BLAGOJEVICH: Thanks very much for having me, Larry.
BLAGOJEVICH: Governor Rod Blagojevich, Democrat of Illinois. Tomorrow night, President Jimmy Carter will be here. We'll rate President Obama and talk Middle East peace. Then Mickey Rourke, the Oscar nominated actor who wrestles with us. He's an amazing performance. All tomorrow night. Don't forget, Joe Torre exclusive on Friday.
Go to CNN.com/LarryKing. We've got a Blagojevich quick vote. You can also downcast our latest podcast and find show transcripts. Of course, don't forget our blog. Time now for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?