CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Rod Blagojevich launched a full-out media blitz just days before the start of an impeachment trial that could lead to his removal, portraying himself as the victim of vengeful lawmakers eager to toss him out of office so they can raise taxes.
"The heart and soul of this has been a struggle of me against the system," Blagojevich said at a news conference Friday.
The Democratic governor, who had kept mostly out of the public eye since his Dec. 9 arrest on federal corruption charges, has reversed course with a series of interviews and public statements.
Blagojevich denied any wrongdoing but wouldn't discuss the federal corruption charges filed against him last month. Instead, he focused on his efforts to expand government health care programs without raising taxes.
Those efforts, he claimed, angered the Springfield establishment so much that they have impeached him unfairly and are on the verge of convicting him in a Senate trial.
"Political figures in Illinois are just waiting to get me out of the way to raise the income tax," he said.
The Democratic governor told The Associated Press on Thursday night that he's willing to sacrifice himself for principle by standing up to lawmakers he believes are violating the state Constitution. "The fight will continue," he said.
Yet Blagojevich's main fight right now is a public relations battle.
He has chosen not to mount any defense in the Senate impeachment
trial that begins Monday and could remove him from office within days. He may ask the Illinois Supreme Court to block the trial, arguing its rules are hopelessly biased against him.
He called on Illinois newspapers to publish editorials demanding the Senate change its trial rules.
It's not clear what, if anything, Blagojevich hopes to gain from his strategy of boycotting the impeachment trial and defending himself through the media.
Several legal experts said they could see some benefit to participating in the trial or resigning office. But refusing to do either makes little sense, they said.
"There's no benefit at all, except to make himself look ridiculous. In addition, anything he says can be used against him later" in court," said Leonard Cavise, a law professor at DePaul University.
The FBI arrested Blagojevich on a variety of corruption charges, including the allegation that he schemed to benefit from his power
to name President Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.
His arrest triggered impeachment proceedings, and the House voted almost unanimously to send his case to the Senate for trial. A Senate conviction would remove him from office but would have no impact on the continuing criminal case.
The only way Blagojevich can stay in office is to find 20 of the Senate's 59 members willing to vote for his acquittal. It's possible he hopes defending himself in interviews will inspire the public to pressure senators to support him.
Or Blagojevich may hope to build sympathy among potential jurors in some future criminal trial.
But there's little evidence of goodwill left among the public.
Shortly after his arrest, an independent poll found his job-approval rating had dwindled to just 8 percent. More recently, a poll for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform found that nearly 8 out of 10 Illinois residents believe the state is on the wrong track.
The combative approach is a return to a favorite Blagojevich tactic.
Since taking office six years ago, he has often portrayed himself as a lone champion of the people, outnumbered by uncaring lawmakers, a lazy bureaucracy and slick lobbyists.
"I took that system on. I challenged that system," he said Friday. "That's what this is all about."
The governor twisted facts or exaggerated them to support his version of events.
He has repeatedly said he wouldn't be allowed to call witnesses in the Senate trial, but that's not correct. Trial rules prohibit witnesses that federal prosecutors feel would interfere with their criminal case, but Blagojevich could have called other people.
He has specifically mentioned wanting to call governors and senators to testify about all the good he's done. Nothing in Senate rules would have barred those witnesses. Blagojevich never asked to have them testify.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)