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Blagojevich tells CNN's Brown he's innocent

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  • Blagojevich criticizes media interpretation of some of his comments
  • He tells Brown he wants chance to call witnesses at his impeachment
  • Brown asks him why he quotes Rudyard Kipling
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(CNN) -- While the Illinois Legislature continued impeachment hearings on him Tuesday, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich continued to make the rounds of the media. He spoke to CNN's Campbell Brown about the hearings and the federal criminal charges against him. Here are excerpts of the interview:

Gov. Rod Blagojevich talks to CNN's Campbell Brown Tuesday night about his impeachment trial.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich talks to CNN's Campbell Brown Tuesday night about his impeachment trial.

Campbell Brown: So, governor, welcome. It's good to have you here.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich: Thanks for having me here.

Brown: You've got to be setting a TV record. I've got the numbers.

Seventeen interviews in 48 hours. Explain to me, though, how any of this is helping the people of Illinois.

Blagojevich: Well, what I'm trying to do to the best of my ability is to highlight to the people of Illinois, because there are a lot of us in Illinois who watch your program, and the people across America that there's a process going on in Illinois, an impeachment process, an effort to remove me from office. I'm the twice elected governor by the people, but they're doing it with a process that doesn't allow me to bring witnesses in, doesn't allow me to contest evidence and doesn't require them to prove criminal allegations by bringing witnesses and evidence in. And it's just a fundamentally ...

Brown: How exactly are you explaining that to the people of Illinois when you go on a show like "The View" and you let the ladies run their fingers through your hair?

Blagojevich: Well, I didn't expect she would do that. She did it on her own.

Brown: Right.

Blagojevich: How do you stop that when she does it? But again, the people of Illinois love your programs and you can reach a lot more people in Illinois -- but I want to talk to people across America, because there's a fundamental issue at stake and that is can a governor, whether it's in Illinois or in New York or in Louisiana, can a governor be removed by a legislature without giving that governor a chance to prove with witnesses and evidence that he did nothing wrong? I want to call Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff. They won't let me do it.

I want to have every taped conversation of the wiretapped phone involved, heard in that process. I am in many ways the anti-Richard Nixon, who worked very hard in Watergate to keep those tapes from being heard. I want every one of them heard so that the full story can come out and I'd like to do it sooner rather than later so I can begin the process of clearing my name, because I did not engage in criminal wrongdoing.

Brown: But why -- you can -- clearing your name is one thing and there is a legal process. It's not like they're violating your legal rights. Do you believe they are? I mean, they're following the Constitution as it's laid out in Illinois in terms of how they're going about this.

Blagojevich: Well, I would contend that they are not. The Constitution is fundamental that everyone has a right to contest false accusations and to confront accusers and they're simply denying these outright, but it's bigger than me and that's why I'm talking to a national audience.

This is about the office of governor, and if they're successful, which I suspect they will be, with these rules and removing me from office, then it's going to be difficult for my successors and any other government in future impeachments to be in a position where they can properly defend themselves, because this is the precedent that's being set on the removal of an officer elected by the people by a legislative branch that's not elected by all the people.

Brown: But it doesn't seem like, watching you, frankly, that it is about the office of the governor. It seems like you're making it very much about you. You hold these press conferences. You trot these people out, these constituents you use as props, you're reciting poetry. It seems like you're very much enjoying the drama of all of this.

Blagojevich: No, I hate all of this. This is a life-changing thing. I am about to be thrown out of office for accusations that are false and not true. It's completely affected my family, my two little girls. There's nothing about this that I like. But there's principles involved. And that is I did nothing wrong and I'd like an opportunity to prove it in a process that allows me to bring evidence, witnesses and sworn testimony, which this impeachment process would do.

Let me point out ...

Brown: But here -- you've got to make a distinction, because the impeachment process is one thing and whether you like it or not, the Illinois State Legislature can impeach you if they choose to.

Blagojevich: That's right.

Brown: But if you want to clear your name, don't you have the right to do that in a court of law? I mean, why are you merging the two?

I mean, step down as governor, resign, and then go clear your name in a court of law, but it feels like you're sort of forcing the people of Illinois to go through this when it's not necessary.

Blagojevich: No, it's just the other way around. If I did something wrong and I admitted it, I would have resigned, because I have a responsibility to do it. But I didn't do anything wrong and if they feel ...

Brown: But that's about you. That's not ...

Blagojevich: No.

Brown: Yes it is.

Blagojevich: No. Because anybody then can take a governor and they can make accusations and then a legislature can choose -- because they don't like the political dynamic, whatever the case may be, can choose to remove a governor elected by the people without a proper, fair process.

All I am asking for on behalf of the people who elected me as well as me is a chance to be able to bring my case before the State Senate and I'd like to do it right away, so I can get the process moving to show that nothing was done that was wrong or illegal.

Brown: You clearly see yourself as a victim here, as a martyr and you've compared yourself to Martin Luther King and to Gandhi. Help me. It is absurd to make those comparisons, isn't it?

Blagojevich: The way you describe it is, but see, this is what you do in the media and that's what's happened to me in this rush to judgment.

Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence in America? I said I did nothing wrong. So give me a chance to show it.

Brown: But that applies -- presumption of innocence applies to a court of law. It doesn't apply to whether or not you can be impeached. Those are two separate things.

Blagojevich: Oh, but not necessarily. In any kind of hearing, whether it's a courtroom, an administrative hearing or schoolyard justice, if some kid said another kid did something but he's got other kids that say he didn't do it, there ought to be some fundamental fairness to allow him to be able to say that. You say ...

Brown: But that's just simply not true. I hate to differ with you on this, but presumption of innocence doesn't apply in all cases. For example, if you do something embarrassing, like, I can get fired for that and CNN is not going to say, presumption of innocent and treat it ...

Blagojevich: CNN hired you. But the legislators didn't hire me, the people did. Yeah, removing a governor ...

Brown: But the state legislature represents the people.

Blagojevich: The governor was elected by the people. If they want to fire me ...

Brown: And so were all these people. They weren't appointed.

Blagojevich: They were elected in small districts and they come together and they're doing what they're doing ...

Brown: And they're doing what they're doing because they represent the people.

Blagojevich: And they're taking away the choice all the people made by electing their governor without giving that governor a chance to show that what they're basing it on is simply not true.

You have to understand something. They're impeaching me on several counts but the principal one is they are alleging criminal activity, which they are not proving up. They are not bringing witnesses, they're not putting evidence in, and not allowing me to save this isn't true.

Not allowing me to bring in witnesses like Rahm Emanuel and taking little conversations completely out of context, just like you did with Dr. King and Mandela and Gandhi.

Brown: So go back to that, though. Explain to me how you feel compelled to compare yourself in any way to Gandhi.

Blagojevich: Again, you're twisting it.

Brown: I'm giving you an opportunity to explain.

Blagojevich: I was asked a question, how did you feel when they came to your house to arrest you at 6 in the morning in a completely unimaginable and unexpected way and they asked me what my thoughts were.

I was asked a question about what my thoughts were as I was leaving.

And I said I thought my little girls, I thought about my wife I was leaving behind and I tried to find some inspiration from historical figures who had had similar experience because that gives you inspiration and I thought of Mandela and Gandhi ...

Brown: And those are similar experiences to what you're going through?

What Mandela and Gandhi went through?

Blagojevich: They knew what it was like to be in custody and I was trying to [give] historical perspective. Under no circumstances did I say I was Gandhi-like or Dr. King-like or Mandela-like. I was asked a simple question, gave a simple, honest answer about what my thoughts were at the time that I was being taken away from my home.

Brown: The mayor of Chicago says you're cuckoo.

Blagojevich: Do you know the context?

Brown: Please ...

Blagojevich: Of course not. You guys never do.

He was asked, the governor says they're trying to rush him out of office because he says his fellow Democrats are bent on a huge tax increase on the people before Memorial Day. He then said cuckoo. Now why did he say cuckoo? Because he's one of those Democrats who wants those tax increases that I promise you is going to happen before Memorial Day in Illinois. A tax increase on people, middle-class family, that I fought against for six years.

So again, you take that and you put it in a certain context. I understand your business, but see, that's inaccurate. That's what his response was to a question about taxes.

Brown: The president says he's disappointed in you. He's appalled by you.

Blagojevich: I don't know if he said that or not.

Brown: Those were his words in a press conference.

Blagojevich: He may have.

Brown: He was asked directly about it.

Blagojevich: But if I am given a chance to bring evidence in an impeachment trial and have the whole story brought to bear. If I can bring his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel in to testify, who said 10 days ago that there was nothing inappropriate in his conversations with me.

If I can bring Valerie Jarrett, a top staffer to President Obama in to testify. If I can bring in Congressman [Jesse] Jackson [Jr.], Sen. [Dick] Durbin, Sen. [Harry] Reid, Sen. [Robert] Menendez and a whole series of other people -- in fact, every single person I talked to about the Senate seat, then I can clear my name and we can move forward in Illinois and fairness and justice will prevail.

Brown: If you are so innocent here as you say and if you've been such a great government -- governor, why aren't these people speaking out now?

Why aren't they coming to your defense? Because they certainly aren't.

Blagojevich: Which people.

Brown: The ones you just listed.

Blagojevich: Well, if they're asked to come participate in a ...

Brown: But if you're innocent, why wouldn't they feel compelled to step forward right now and speak out?

Blagojevich: You should ask them. But I can tell you I had several different conversations with a variety of people that I talked to in total, the conversations with some of those people who I'd like to have them express what the situation is. But I think you know politics enough. That's why you have a show. When the heat is on, politicians run.

I'm not comparing myself to Dr. King, but he had a saying. "In the end, we remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

And when you're in a situation like this, there is not a lot of people in politics who want to kind of get close to the heat. They'd like to stay away from it and that's what part of this is.

Brown: I've got to ask you about these tapes. Because it's just very hard and I want to make sure we keep things in context here.

Blagojevich: Yes.

Brown: But it's very hard to understand how you could say and this is what you're caught on tape saying, quote, "If I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself." And the Senate seat is quote, "is a bleeping valuable thing. You don't just give it away for nothing."

I mean, put that in context for me. Please.

Blagojevich: Well, we haven't heard the tapes which I am urging that we get to ...

Brown: Are you saying you didn't say that?

Blagojevich: I'm simply saying we haven't heard the tapes, so I can't confirm or deny whether that is precisely what was said, but having said that, let me just saying this.

The first one you alluded to. The governor can make himself a senator.

If I was all about myself and this was about a selfish thing, I could have made myself a senator the day after Barack Obama was elected president. I'd be in none of this mess. There would be no Sen. Roland Burris and I'd be part of this exciting journey to change America.

Brown: Yes, but it sounds like you were trying to get something better.

Blagojevich: No, no. And the other thing that you're saying, you can look at that a lot of different ways. This is a political process, the business I am in. And you understand it because you cover it. Sometimes in order to get results for people, there has to be a proper positioning of things.

And so when you have a new administration and they're in place, you can interpret what I'm saying there as a way to ask them to help us in Illinois pass a public works program and create jobs. Pass a health care plan to provide more health care to people who need it. Pass a law which I was insisting on that we can cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.

In fact, when the whole story comes out, that's precisely what you're going to see.

Brown: You've said that you were one of the first people to endorse president, now President Barack Obama. You know him. He knows you. Why don't you think he is willing to give you the benefit of the doubt as so many of these other people aren't either, apparently?

Blagojevich: Well, I was the first governor to endorse him and when he was a state senator and I was a brand new governor, he made recommendations to people who I put in different agencies and I think I signed every one of his bills. I'm glad I did.

But I understand his position. You guys in the media have this tendency to do a big frenzy and sensationalization of things. These are serious charges that are leveled against me. I don't dismiss them. He is doing the right thing to not have to get involved in something like this. He's got bigger challenges ahead and I respect the position that he's taking.

Brown: But you want to call -- many key members of his staff and many of his supporters to testify on your behalf.

Blagojevich: Because they were relevant to this story. Because they were part of this story. Because they were part of discussions on who President Obama's successor would be the United States Senate because they can tell the truth and the truth will show that what I was trying to do was do the right thing for the people of Illinois.

Brown: What would you say to Barack Obama right now?

Blagojevich: I would say good luck with your economic stimulus package and how can I help?

Brown: So what about these other people? Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, who aren't coming forward for you when you really need them?

Blagojevich: No, Rahm Emanuel was on national television, on national network 10 days ago, "Face the Nation." Can I say it on your show? And he said in the conversations with me there was nothing inappropriate. And I think all the other people I'd like to call, everyone in those conversations, I'd like to have them under sworn testimony because I believe they'd say the same thing.

Brown: So I've got to ask one more thing.

Blagojevich: Sure.

Brown: The poetry.

Blagojevich: Is that bad?

Brown: What's with the poetry?

Blagojevich: Is that bad?

Brown: I'm not suggesting at all it's bad. I think this is a pretty innocuous question. Well, just -- I'm curious. What's with the poetry?

Blagojevich: Well, here, let me set the record straight. I don't know a lot of poetry. There's a couple of poems I've learned ever since I was a little kid. And the one that I quoted about, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you." That's a poem by Rudyard Kipling and I think he wrote it in the late 1890s.

It's one that I learned when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I didn't read it in a library book. I was watching the "NFL Today" on CBS at that time and at halftime they had this show where they would do these special profiles and they had this guy with this legendary voice named Chuck Vicenda (ph) who was doing this thing on the great running backs of the NFL and he talked about this poem, which ever since this time I thought was very inspirational and words to live by, so as a kid I went to the school library the next day, Xeroxed it and I memorized it and have known it ever since. And the poem, "Ulysses," by Tennyson, which I think you are alluding to is another one of those.

But I don't know a lot of them. The ones I know are motivators. Is that bad?

Brown: Governor -- no, not at all. Just -- I was very curious. It's been interesting to watch.

Blagojevich: Well, I appreciate that -- I don't appreciate that. I'd like to not be in this position. This is not something I'd wish on anybody.

It's a very difficult thing and I'm just trying to do what's right.


And they all said don't pick a U.S. senator. Think about the hypocrisy of that. I was willing and eager to sign a bill that would allow the people to choose a senator when this mess developed, but the politicians who said they were for that, somehow, they suddenly saw it was not in their political interest.

But at the same time then they expected me to not do my job and my constitutionally required duty to appoint a senator and therefore jeopardize the State of Illinois and it took -- in spite of the protestations from even our senior senator, Sen. Durbin and other leaders in Washington. Notwithstanding their threats, they understood what the Constitution and the law was and they seated Roland Burris, who is an African-American senator, the first African-American elected in Illinois statewide. A man of high integrity who will do a great job for our state and in some respects is a historic figure, having law clerked with Thurgood Thomas -- Thurgood Marshall in the early 1960s and now being the African-American senator succeeding the first African-American president.

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