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Blagojevich's Dirty Little Office Secret

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Blagojevich's Dirty Little Office Secret
Jack Higgins
Photos and Videos

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Throughout much of Rod Blagojevich's tenure as governor, many Illinoisans were kept in the dark about a dirty little secret: The governor was rarely in his office. 

Legislators, state department heads and even his own staff buzzed with stories that Rod sightings were few and far between at the State Capitol, or even in his offices at the Thompson Center in Chicago.

On the stand Tuesday, Blagojevich offered an explanation: He was "hunkered down."

As he continued testimony in his own defense, the former governor said he had wearied of trying to avoid those seeking favors and funding, many of them requesting money for programs he favored.  It was hard, he said, for him to say no.

So, Blagojevich said he simply stayed away, hiding out at his campaign office on Ravenswood Avenue, or even at home, "to be away from all the men, women and interests, who wanted money for their initiatives."

The former governor conceded he was doing political work as well. With a brother who he described as a "novice" running his flagging campaign fund, Blagojevich said it had become more important than ever to make the fundraising calls himself. "You couldn't do fundraising from the governor's office," he said.

So to stay legal, he testified, he stayed away, conducting the affairs of the state and the affairs of the campaign from spots far from state property.

For the first time Tuesday, Blagojevich spoke about the alleged "sale" of the Barack Obama Senate seat. 

"I felt the Senate seat was one of my last, best opportunities," the former governor said. And he explained that his brainstorming sessions on the seat were similar to his approach on any major topic, throwing out a raft of ideas in rapid fire.

"Good ones, bad ones, stupid ones, ugly ones," he said. "There was a method to the madness."

Blagojevich insisted that his real intention for the Senate seat was a hoped-for swap aimed at pleasing his political nemesis, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Under that scenario, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker's daughter, would get the Senate job. And in return, Blagojevich would get a brokered truce from his political arch enemy. Blagojevich said that would have included a signed promise not to raise taxes.

"She was the offspring of a foe," Blagojevich said. "She loved her father, but they didn't love me!"

The former governor readily conceded he explored what he could get in return for the Senate appointment but described his intentions as a legal political "horse trade." And he rejected suggestions that he was prepared to appoint Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. to the seat, in exchange for promises of over a million dollars in campaign funds.

Asked to explain a phone call where he told deputy Gov. Robert Greenlee about the fundraising offers from Jackson supporters, Blagojevich said the Congressman was never a genuine contender.

"That's no way to make friends and influence people ...." he said. "It was irritating."

Earlier in the day, Blagojevich denied two other allegations, that he attempted to shake down the president of Children's Memorial Hospital and the head of the Illinois roadbuilders for campaign funds.

Blagojevich appeared relaxed and ready on the witness stand, and most observers scored the day as a plus for his defense. But at day's end he and his lawyers were scolded for suggesting that he was merely following legal advice on the Senate selection, which Judge James Zagel had previously branded an off-limits strategy. 

The judge angrily suggested he would likely give the jury an instruction to disregard claims that the governor had acted after seeking the counsel of others. He pointed out that on one tape, one of the individuals, counsel Bill Quinlan, advised him not to even joke about what he could get for a Senate appointment.

Still, Blagojevich was upbeat throughout the day. In a brief interlude with reporters in a courtroom hallway, the self-proclaimed Elvis Presley fanatic was asked to name his favorite Elvis song.

After thinking a moment, he cheerily replied, "I'll tell you what it isn't! Jailhouse Rock!"

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