EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich says new lawsuit would open door to run for office

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Monday, August 2, 2021
EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich says new lawsuit would open door to run for office
Convicted ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich discusses why he wants to re-open the door to a statewide run for office during exclusive interviews that are part of an ABC documentary premiering later this fall.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Former governor and convicted felon Rod Blagojevich on Monday told the ABC7 I-Team that Illinois' General Assembly violated his civil rights in removing him from office and then prohibiting him from any future run for elective office in the state.

Blagojevich was impeached and convicted in 2009 and now plans to ask that a federal jury hear his complaint that the proceedings and decisions were unconstitutional. If the ban on his holding statewide public office was to be lifted, it would open the door to another possible statewide run for the career politician.

The ex-governor, released from prison nearly a year and a half ago, has prepared a 10-page federal lawsuit. A draft copy has been obtained by the I-Team.

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Blagojevich says the suit will be filed Monday at 2 p.m. at Chicago's Dirksen federal building. He is expected to conduct a news briefing outside the federal building after filing the civil suit.

According to the paperwork, the lawsuit will be filed "pro se"- by Blagojevich as a citizen and without a licensed attorney. The former governor is an attorney but was disbarred in 2020 and is not eligible to represent himself or anyone else.

The I-Team first reported on Sunday night that Blagojevich was planning to return to the same Chicago courthouse where political life as he knew it came to a screeching halt more than a decade ago.

This time though, the former Illinois governor would return to the courthouse on his own volition to take action against the government and not in handcuffs while in the custody of the government.

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Nearly a year-and-a-half after the former Illinois governor was freed from federal prison after serving eight years for corruption he wants the door re-opened to run for statewide office again.

Blagojevich tells the I-Team that he will file a lawsuit against the state of Illinois, objecting to the way he was removed as governor and challenging the prohibition against his running for state elective office. He claims the methods used against him by the General Assembly violated his constitutional rights.

"I could legally run for President of the United States, but I can't run for alderman of the 33rd Ward," said Blagojevich in an exclusive interview with the I-Team and part of a special report on Sunday night.

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Blagojevich says he has no actual interest in ether position-president or alderman-but that on Monday says he will go to the Dirksen federal courthouse in Chicago with a lawsuit alleging the legislative actions that now prevent him from running for statewide office were unconstitutional.

Just weeks after Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI in 2008, and charged in an expansive corruption case, the Illinois House voted to impeach him followed by a senate conviction, thereby removing the state's 40th governor from office.

Blagojevich says his new lawsuit will accuse the state of an unconstitutional impeachment proceeding, claiming that he was not allowed to call and question witnesses, or play all of the voluminous FBI undercover recordings made during the corruption investigation.

He also says his civil rights were violated when the senate disqualified him from ever running for statewide office.

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"That's unconstitutional to pass a law against one person that he or she can't run for anything," said Blagojevich.

The former governor discussed these issues during exclusive interviews that are part of an ABC documentary premiering later this fall.

"Now, I'm not saying that I want to run for anything. And there's a good chance my wife Patty is going to watch this and I want to be clear, sweetheart, I'm not thinking about running for anything in particular" said Blagojevich. "But I do feel like it's a violation of not only my right, but the right of the people to elect who they want, to elect, to choose whoever they want to choose. Vote for, vote against whoever they want to vote for or against. It's a voting rights issue."

According to the draft complaint, "During his time as Governor, Plaintiff, a Democrat, spent nearly the entire 6 years he served as Governor, feuding with Michael Madigan, the longtime powerful Democrat Speaker of the House and Chairman of the Illinois State Democratic party. Nearly a year before his arrest, Madigan circulated a memo encouraging House members to discuss impeaching the Governor after the Governor issued an amendatory veto of a sales tax increase and rewrote the bill to give free public transportation to every senior citizen and every disabled person in the state of Illinois. On December 9, 2008, Plaintiff was arrested on a criminal complaint at his home at 6 o'clock

in the morning by FBI agents and SWAT teams surrounding his house. '

We talked about Blagojevich's planned lawsuit with ABC7's legal analyst Gil Soffer, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago.

"I think he's got a very hard argument to make. And the reason is this: impeachment is not like a criminal proceeding. A criminal proceeding clearly under the Constitution has certain constitutional protections," said Soffer. "But it is much less clear for an impeachment proceeding. An impeachment proceeding is more political than certainly criminal. It's more political-at least as part political and legal-and so it's not at all clear that he has the same right, the same due process protections as he would in a criminal proceeding."

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"I'm determined to pursue this in court" promised the state's ex-top leader, who is among four of the last seven Illinois governors to do prison time. "It's the sort of thing that I believe has the potential to reach the United States Supreme Court. I'm determined to see it through and I know I'm on the side of the angels," Blagojevich told the I-Team.

After two federal criminal trials, Blagojevich was convicted and sentenced to 14 years. In February of 2020, after 8 years, President Trump commuted his sentence and Blagojevich was released.