Blagojevich Pleads Not Guilty

Rod and Rob appear for arraignment on federal fraud charges

Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrived at federal court this morning to plead not guilty and was met by a sea of cameras.

"I'm innocent of every single accusation," Blagojevich told the media.  "I know what the truth is as it concerns me ... now we can begin the process of getting the truth out and I can clear my name and vindicate myself."

As he pushed his way through the crowd, he asked, "Where's the door?"

Some well-known defendants have been allowed to come and go through a back elevator and an underground tunnel, thus avoiding
the cameras and shouted questions. Blagojevich, however,  stepped out of a black SUV in front of the federal building and into the hands of reporters.

He was in the courtroom for only about 15 minutes.  On his way out, he stopped to have his photo taken with a passerby, savoring a few more moments in the spotlight.

A Different Suit This Time

Blagojevich, who last appeared in court dressed in a black Nike running suit, stood again today before a federal judge, this time attired more formally in a grey suit and natty blue tie.  He entered a plea of not guilty.

Blagojevich faces 16 counts of racketeering and fraud, charging him with, among other things, scheming to sell the vacant Senate seat of then-president-elect Barack Obama, shaking down state contractors for hefty political contributions, and trying to force the Chicago Tribune to fire members of its editorial board who had been critical of his administration.

The former governor appeared before U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel with his brother and co-defendant Robert, who served briefly as chief of his now-tarnished campaign operation.  Robert Blagojevich also entered a plea of not guilty.  Other co-defendants Alonzo Monk, Chris Kelly, William Cellini, and John Harris, are to be arraigned in the coming week.  Harris is reportedly now cooperating with federal prosecutors.

Blagojevich, 52, is also charged with planning to squeeze companies seeking state business for money and plotting to use the financial muscle of the governor's office to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers calling for his impeachment.

Will Anyone Stand By Him in Public?

The exact makeup of the former governor's legal defense team and where he will get the money to pay them are still uncertain.

Several defense attorneys have been reluctant to file an appearance with the court on behalf of the governor because it could lock them into a case that could consume thousands of hours over the next two years without any guarantee they would be paid.

Attorneys say Blagojevich is unable to afford the kind of elaborate defense that the blue chip Loop law firm of Winston & Strawn provided to former Gov. George Ryan when former Gov. James R. Thompson, a longtime Ryan friend, was the firm's chairman.

Winston & Strawn defended Ryan for free. But no big names among Chicago's criminal defense lawyers are lining up to provide free
services to Blagojevich.

Blagojevich does have money in his Friends of Rod Blagojevich campaign fund. But federal prosecutors have put defense attorneys
on notice that they will ask Zagel to order the campaign money forfeited if Blagojevich is convicted of the charges.

Defense attorneys could be ordered to return their fees if they dipped into the campaign fund only to have the court order it
There has even been speculation that Blagojevich might have to turn to the federal defender's program if Zagel doesn't assure attorneys they can be paid through the campaign fund.

After Blagojevich entered his plea, state Republicans quickly issued a statement decrying the former governor and his fellow Democrats.

"Each day Rod Blagojevich enters a courtroom is a stark reminder of six years of broken promises and the failure of Blagojevich Democrats to end the culture of corruption in Illinois."

Three other defendants in the case, former aides John Harris and Alonzo Monk and Springfield millionaire William Cellini, are to be
arraigned on Thursday.
Harris, a former Blagojevich chief of staff, is cooperating with the federal investigation. Monk, also a former chief of staff and campaign manager, is reported to be cooperating with the investigation as well.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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