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Gladiator Blagojevich To Face The Lions

This analysis was written by CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Today, the threadbare phrase "political theater" rises temporarily from cliché. Kingfish-like, Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich will tear himself away from the green rooms and audio ear pieces of New York and will, on this last Thursday of the rest of his life, deliver himself into the well of the State Senate in Springfield.

There, he will face his prosecutors, who also happen to be his judges, to stand and deliver his own closing argument for an impeachment trial at which he has not been present or presented any defense.

Quick, someone text Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg to tell them to watch Defendant Blagojevich's summation so that one day our children, or their children, can see an epic "courtroom" film of politics, corruption, greed and swagger that is certifiably based upon a true story.

I have had the great pleasure of watching in person some of the best closing arguments of our time; the legendary Michael Tigar for Terry Nichols, the intense Robert Morvillo for Martha Stewart. This is one, "Blagojevich In His Own Defense," which I will be terribly sad to miss in person.

I don't reckon the Governor has broken off his bizarre media junket to return to what is now his Second City because he wants to deliver pre-Valentines Day flowers to his perceived persecutors. Almost certainly he will level a political attack of ferocious intensity against the very men and women who a few short hours later will likely kick him out of elected office.

He will deny, defuse, disavow, and otherwise try to derail U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's public corruption and bribery case against him.

And why not? There is no point now for Blagojevich to express any remorse or regret or respect for the integrity of Illinois' impeachment procedures. That was a tiny window that closed the moment the Governor sat down early Monday morning for his first make-up session in Gotham.

You can come late to a hockey game. You can come late to a concert. You can even come late to school or work or court. But you can't come late to your own impeachment trial.

Listen to audio and read transcripts of the wiretaps played at the trial.

Anyway, maybe Blagojevich is flying a New York-to-Chicago shuttle into the lion's den not because he hopes to sway a legislator or two (it will take more than that) but because it's his last, best chance to speak directly to the only constituents who matter to him any longer: potential jurors in his pending federal criminal case.

Want to bet that they are the ones the Governor will be trying to reach today? If so, what an opportunity closing his own defense provides!

The coverage will be intense — in Illinois more so than anywhere else — and to the Governor it will be free. So whether he is impeached or not, from a pretrial publicity point of view, the closing argument opportunity is a Godsend to a man who sucks attention like a vacuum.

He will be able to talk, uninterrupted, for over an hour. The senators will not be able to ask him questions about the charges against him. And as long as the Governor doesn't get into any messy facts or evidence it is unlikely that the feds will be interested in using anything he has to say against him later at trial.

When you think about it, none of us should have been surprised by this dramatic turn in the goofy story. For what has the Governor been about this week but public exposure without the constraints of a duly sworn oath or genuine cross-examination? He has used his hours in the klieg lights to act defiantly, to express outrage at the rush to judgment against him, and to promise exoneration in some fashion on some day.

In short, he has said all the things that attorneys, public information officers, jury consultants and other practitioners of the dark arts of pre-trial work advise their clients to say. And he will say these things again later, just in case anyone is still listening.

We will probably know in a few hours whether Blagojevich is impeached. But it will take a year or two before we know whether the day was as bad for him as it seems. Today, all Blagojevich could lose is his job.

The next time he's judged, he could lose his freedom. Which one do you think he'll be more concerned about as he makes his way into the well of the senate? Which one do you think brought him in from the cold?

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