Ex-Ill. Gov. Blagojevich Pleads Not Guilty

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrives at federal court for is arraignment on federal racketeering and fraud charges in Chicago, Tuesday, April 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty Wednesday to revised federal corruption charges and challenged prosecutors to allow jurors to hear all of the FBI's recordings of his telephone conversations.

Sounding unusually combative after the brief hearing, Blagojevich told reporters he would not ask Judge James B. Zagel to prevent jurors from hearing FBI wiretaps in which prosecutors say he schemed to sell or trade President Obama's former Senate seat.

"Let me cut right to the chase, today I'm laying down the gauntlet," Blagojevich said. "I'm not going to hide behind my lawyers, nor will I hide behind technicalities in the law to try to block these tapes from being heard."

But he challenged the government to play all of the roughly 500 hours of recordings.

"I'm not just going to talk the talk, I'm going to walk the walk," he said. "Play the tapes, play all the tapes."

His attorneys, in court papers filed Wednesday, wrote that a full airing of the recordings will establish Blagojevich's innocence.

Zagel will ultimately decide how much of the recordings can be presented at the trial, which is slated to start June 3.

Blagojevich, in a book published last year, said he had hoped to appoint Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate seat as part of a deal with her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The attorney general has said she knew nothing about such a plan, and Steve Brown, a spokesman for her father, after the book's release called Blagojevich "a very troubled and very confused person."

Blagojevich also said that he would take the witness stand in his own defense at the trial.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said he would have no comment about Blagojevich's remarks in the courthouse lobby.

The actual hearing lasted only a few minutes.

"We are going to waive reading of the indictment and enter a plea of innocent to each and every charge," Blagojevich told Zagel.

"The record will reflect that he pleaded not guilty," Zagel said. Under the law, not guilty is the correct way to state the plea and innocent is incorrect.

"You know why he entered a plea of innocent - because he IS innocent," defense attorney Samuel E. Adam told reporters afterward. "And the tapes will prove that."

Zagel gave the defense attorneys about a month to file any motions aimed at postponing the trial's scheduled June 3 start. He said he didn't see anything in the newly minted indictment that would cause such a delay.

Blagojevich is charged with scheming with his aides and advisers in search of a way to get a lucrative job or cash in exchange for the Senate seat. He also is charged with squeezing potential campaign contributors, such as a racetrack owner and a hospital executive, for hefty donations in exchange for favors.

The newly revised indictment against Blagojevich is similar in most respects to the old one. It doesn't allege any misconduct on the impeached former governor's part that was not contained in the previous version.

But prosecutors have been concerned about the previous indictment because many of the charges are based on a federal law that makes it illegal for public officials to deprive the taxpayers of their "intangible right to honest services." Critics say that the so-called honest services fraud law is vague.

Prosecutors have been concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently reviewing the law, could erase if from the books or limit it to the point that it might not be useful in prosecuting Blagojevich.

The revised indictment, while not alleging any additional misconduct, adds eight charges that prosecutors believe will stand up in court even if the honest services law is thrown out.
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