tv [untitled] CSPAN June 7, 2009 2:00am-2:30am EDT
♪ ♪ >> next on espnews. a bird wins the belmont, but it's not who you think. how the final jewel in the triple crown was won. the red wings had their leading scorer back for game five. how he gave detroit a major boost against pittsburgh. late-game heroics around major league baseball. why it was a lousy day for a couple of top-flight closers. espnews is now. ead. mine that bird is moving like a shot. here comes mine that bird with a gold blitz toward the lead on the far >> and it is mine that bird who
has taken the lead, charitable man is second and dunkirk fights on at the top of the stretch. it is mine that bird fully extended by calvin borel. summer bird is going to take a late run at him. dunkirk is not done yet, dunkirk comes right back, mine that bird, and here is summer bird -- and here is summer bird to win the belmont stakes. >> another stunner at the belmont. an important part -- i refer to it as the puzzle of rod blagojevich >> it's a very important part of this puzzle. you know, rod blagojevich's political career began after he married patti blagojevich. her father, a powerful alderman in the city of chicago and i really launched rod blagojevich's political career. there's no doubt that rod blagojevich would not be in politics without him. >> what exactly was he doing
when they met. >> he had been a former states attorney at 51st and wentworth and he had his law degree. he set up sort of a storefront law office, and his mother was his receptionist. and that's what he was doing when he met patti. after he met patti, which some think was by design that he had wanted to meet the daughter of a very powerful political alderman in case he ever decided to go into politics, but, regardless, that's just speculation. they went to a fundraiser and patti had just broken up with a boyfriend and she was mopping around the house and her father said come to my fundraiser, many of you remember that great german restaurant and there was the fundraiser and that's where they met and patti said afterwards she told her father you know if anything out with
him i'm going to have the time of my life. [laughter] >> she was right about that one and that launched his political career. >> what was it about -- do you think -- do you think that when he was a storefront lawyer with his mother as a receptionist, did he still have political dreams or had he always had political dreams or did dick mel give him political dreams? >> i think he always had some political dreams, you know, the one subject that he always loved was history. and he had a fascination with politics with american politics. to this day rod blagojevich can name you every president backwards and forwards. if you give him a year he can tell you who was the president then. when he was a kid in about eighth grade he organized mock elections of who was the most famous or important president. so his mother early on, probably when he was about in fifth grade had given him a collection of little american presidents,
little plastic figures and he would come and -- while other kids were out playing, you know, with their baseballs, which he did also, but he would be home playing -- organizing his little american presidential figures and then he would run these mock elections. so he always had an interest in history and in politics. i'm not sure he absolutely set out to become a politician. but i think it was in the back of his mind. >> it doesn't seem his trajectory until he met patti mel was political at that point, right? you don't go from being a storefront lawyer to becoming a powerful politician. >> you have to wonder why he wanted to become a lawyer. in the back of his mind he may have wanted to get into politics. he wanted to do something that was important. he wanted to do something where he would be known. he wanted to do something to live up to his parents expectations and all the sacrifice they had made for him and for his brother. he wanted to be important. >> but there wasn't the sense
that he was this brilliant person who had all this potential, right? he didn't -- he didn't -- refresh my memory on his academic career 'cause he did not do that well in high school and he had trouble getting into college and so on. >> i need to refresh your memory because it was -- his academic career was probably forgettable. he did okay in school. his brother, who is 15 months older than he is and they are very, very close. he was the star in the family. the older brother, he was more athletically gifted. he was more academically gifted rod didn't win a baseball scholarship nor an academic university but he got in the university of tampa and when his brother graduated he applied and got into northwestern so his grades were good enough to get him into northern western although he was always in the
middle of the class and when he wanted to go to law school, his graduate exams and s.a.t. examples weren't good enough to get into the law school he wanted to go to. he finally applied to pepperdine university in california and got in there and his law school roommate, lon monk who remained a friend and a former chief of staff and as happened to so many of his friends is now indicted with him. [laughter] >> told me as a student, even in law school, rod, you know, he did well in the subjects he liked. anything connected with history, politics he did well in those subjects. even in law school. he read a lot. but not necessarily what was assigned. and his law professor said to him, you know, if you would apply yourself -- you know a lot of your parents have heard this for your kids if you apply yourself to the subjects to the ones you enjoy he would do a lot
better. he did exactly what he wanted to do and kind of ignored everything else and that was his academic career. >> pepperdine is a famously conservative place. and he is also known i believe you wrote about this in the book also to have been a real fan of ronald reagan. he voted for reagan, at least once, maybe twice. >> once. >> he was -- he was sort of a young republican at that point, right? >> well, you have to remember that his real hero was richard nixon and this is primarily because his -- he's a son of a serbian immigrant, and most serbian immigrants at that point were republicans when they came to the united states. number one, because they were very angry at roosevelt -- roosevelt and -- well, actually eisenhower -- i'll continue -- anyway, because what happened at yalta, in essence, they felt the many serbs felt yugoslavia had
been given away to the iron curtain by the democratic leadership. so -- and they really loved general dwight d. eisenhower because he had liberated the prison camp, german prison camp. so many serbs including roddi blagojevich were staunch republicans and that affected him for dwight d. eisenhower passed it on to richard nixon so in this blagojevich home where only serbian were spoken, the republicans were the party of choice except his mother was second -- first generation. she had been born in the united states and her parents were from bosn bosnia. they lived in thomas keen's ward out on the northwest side and she had a job as a ctia ticket taker which she probably got as a political job so she was a chicago republican.
so there was always sort of this clash -- i mean, chicago democrat, sorry. there was this clash between the democrats and the republicans. his brother remains a staunch republican. he probably wishes he had never joined his brother's political persuasion since he also is now indicted. so there was that split. i think rod eventually figured out that his political career would be a lot better off if he's running the city of chicago as a democrat so he did move over. >> one of his first jobs -- first political jobs was working with edward vadolic who was a democrat. those of you don't know chicago politics, he was a big time chicago democratic alderman who converted to republican party in the '80s, sometime, correct? >> correct. >> to what extent -- and this gets to a larger question i have about blagojevich, how much of his political philosophy, his -- what truly animates him is
ideological? >> well, you know, that's kind of hard to figure out. i mean, i think his political -- his public political philosophy, his populism, very populist candidate, his concern for the little guy, his antitax stance -- a lot of that does come from his -- the immigrant values of his father. that these were, you know, look out for the little guy kind of values. his father worked in the steel mills. he went to work in the alaskan pipeline. his parents sacrificed everything so that their two sons could be successful. and you can see in rod blagojevich in his public politics but when you look at what happened to his personal life and his personal ethics, there's not a lot of indication that those values, those values of hard work, honesty and performance translated into his personal life. >> one of my earliest, strong
impressions of blagojevich -- he happens to be -- he was my state representative and he then was my congressman up in the upper northwest side one and of the early votes that he took put me back on my heels was he voted -- there was an amendment to ban desecration of the american flag. and this was -- i considered to be a foolish idea and a republican kind of idea and he voted for that amendment. and my thought was, this guy -- my thought -- and then i began looking harder at his record, what core values does this man really have? what makes him a democrat other than that he is -- you say populist. i tend to look at him and his record as opportunism. he was forming himself as a candidate not as someone who actually had a core set of principles. >> i think that's a good analysis. i think it's a very good analysis. you know, another surprising
vote that he took, he was the only democrat, illinois democrat, in the congressional delegation to vote for funding the iraq war. and that was a surprising vote as well. >> so you have this man -- and if i can rewind a little bit to patti mel -- or patti blagojevich, what do we know about her and any influence she might have on him? who is she and what's she all about? >> the whole story of patti mel, dick mel and rod blagojevich is really -- has shakespearean tragic overtones. [laughter] >> it does. i mean, patti -- dick mel was a very strong family man. he has three children and a lovely wife, very strong family. and when patti met rod initially, dick mel was very pleased and thought this was going to be a terrific match. he was all for it.
his wife on the other hand was somewhat concerned about rod blagojevich from the very beginning. she just didn't trust him. and she, you know, was not sure he had her daughter's best interest at heart. which turned out sadly to be the case. she wound up with this horrible brain disease and died about five years ago now. so you had dick mel who at one point had a son-in-law who was -- the governor of illinois, lovely wife, great kids -- suddenly his wife dies. he's completely estranged from his daughter, his grandchildren and it was very tragic. >> excuse me, could you tell that story for people who don't remember it exactly that. where the schism came about in the mel/blagojevich family. it was over the landfill situation. >> it was over the landfill but it really began even earlier than that.
dick mel was critical to rod blagojevich's election first as a state representative and then as a congressman. and then when they -- they began thinking for running of governor he remained critical but as the gubernatorial campaign went on, rod blagojevich surrounded himself with a different crowd, which included tony rezko, christopher kelly and stewart levine and these were people who saw rod as governor but also went along with his dream of becoming president of the united states. to understand rod blagojevich you have to understand how important that was to him to become president of the united states. and the people around him then began looking at richard mel thinking, well, you know, maybe hezl wouldn't play too well in presidential campaign, an old line chicago democratic politician. so they began freezing him out.
stationary and had christopher kelly call up dick mel and arrange a meeting with him to tell him that his son-in-law wanted him to take his name off the 33rd ward stationary. >> and the meeting was with kelly and not blagojevich, right? >> right, right. >> what makes that so interesting is suddenly blagojevich is not deigning with dick mel, instead, he's going through these channels and then when we get to this other incident which i'd like you to describe the thing with the landfill, the thing that struck me with me is not that rod had a problem with dick mel but the way he handled that problem, which was so telling. >> exactly. and that is exactly what he said about the incident on the stationary. dick mel, you know, why didn't you call me up. he's my son-in-law for heaven's sakes. there was an incident -- it was on a christmas eve and it was about a year -- in the first
year of rod blagojevich's first term. and family christmas party. and suddenly there's a nephew of margin mel, dick mel's wife, who's talking about a landfill that he is opening and he apparently is saying, you know, i'm not having any trouble getting this landfill done because, you know, rod's governor and i'm dick mel, i'm not having any trouble. well, rod heard this and was just livid, instead of saying to him, listen, lay off, we've got to do things correctly, he went to the illinois epa and had them shut down the landfill. well, this really -- this was the last straw for dick mel in this continuing relationship had been deteriorating all along. and he just went ballistic. and i remembered the press conference where i was and he -- he initially talked to fran spielman a "chicago sun-times" reporter who got him late at night and when he was the angriest and she had a terrific story and basically what he was saying, which he repeated in
front of the entire chicago press corps well, you know my son-in-law. he's telling state jobs. why do you think all these people are getting appointed to commissions. how do you think they are getting state jobs. it's $25,000 a pop. and, you know, everyone was a little stunned. and then a couple of weeks later he was particularly talking about christopher kelly, christopher kelly threatened to sue and so dick mel took it back but it was too late. you know, the genie was out of the bottle. the attorney general started the first investigations and that eventually morphed into patrick fitzgerald's investigations and we've seen what happened with that. so it was that -- dick mel created his son-in-law and, in essence, planted the seeds that destroyed him. >> let's talk a little bit about why rod blagojevich had dreams of becoming the president and why they were actually somewhat plausible? if you rewind seven years or so in illinois and you were to say there's a young politician, the young democratic politician who's going to become president
of the united states before the year 2010, everyone would have thought you were talking about rod blagojevich. and, you know, wait we've been talking about him, it sounds like he's just this mope. he's like the character you see on the "saturday night live" impression. but, in fact, blagojevich had a great deal i believe of political skill. i don't mean necessarily governing skill but political skill. and could you talk -- >> that's the problem. >> yeah, exactly. but can you talk about -- i mean, he is -- he's not just a cartoon mope. there's a lot to this manza politician and he had some gifts. >> absolutely. when he won for governorship for the first time in 2002 and he thought about running for president, he said it's not -- it wasn't unrealistic. i mean, you look at it. he had just won for governor of the fifth largest state in illinois. he had run a terrific campaign. a very populist campaign.
he was an appealing character. the voters certainly responded to him. he could sure know how to raise a lot of money. and so as he was being talked about, it wasn't unrealistic. i remember doing an interview with jan schakowsky who said i think rod blagojevich i think it's realistic that he's running for president and many of hess contemporaries at that time, you know, agreed with her and when you look at the fact that there was another young politician who was exactly the same age who'd been elected to the illinois legislature at exactly the same age, with not much national, if any -- no national experience, then became elected to the u.s. senate at the same age that rod blagojevich was when he elected to become the governor and guess what? he's our president. [laughter] >> it wasn't that unrealistic. >> no, it really wasn't. if you look back at the first inauguration -- first inaugural speech that rod blagojevich gave, it was a wonderful, stirring, uplifting, you know -- this is a new -- a dawn of a new
era in illinois. the politics of old is over. this new era of cooperation, getting things done. it was an amazing moment. i don't know if you were in springfield for that. you certainly saw it and reviewed it. but it was really quite a moment when blagojevich took office and a lot of people thought that he had a ton of promise to do just what you're talking about. >> absolutely, you have to remember it was 25 years since democrats held the office -- they controlled both the legislature, both branches of the legislature and governor and you remember the governor that he followed, you know, george ryan, was in a bit of trouble. he hadn't been indicted yet -- i mean, he had been indicted but he hadn't been convicted yet. this was going to be the new era of reform, progressive politics were coming to illinois. and rod blagojevich looked like the guy to lead it. >> so put on your psychologist hat and your political analyst hat and tell me what went wrong. >> i'm not sure they're the same thing. [laughter] >> put one on and then put the
other one on. >> okay. >> what went wrong? what was his tragic flaw if he had one or what were his tragic mistakes? >> i think you again have to understand -- to understand him you have to understand how badly he wanted to be president. i remember i was standing behind dick mel on election night in 2002, anlj$eard him say -- turned to a friend and say well, you know, it's on to the white house. so this was all around him. and there are two ways if you're going to run for president what you're going to try to do. you're going to either try to run -- start to organize a nationaleñ base. you're going to go to every fundraiser, you know, chicken dinner throughout the united states. you're going to build organizations either through th together a fundraising operation but you're going to start to build an organization throughout the country, which is what barack obama did. or you're going to decide, i'm -- i'm going to raise as much money as i possibly can and
that's the way i'm going to realize my dream. and that's what rod blagojevich decided he wanted to do. and so -- and the way he wanted to do it was to use his position as governor of illinois in order to be able to hand out favors, to hand out jobs,#x control seats on boards and, however, if you wanted one of those positions, and if you wanted to do business in illinois, you had to pay to play.nw and part of that money would go into the rod blagojevich campaign fund. friends for blagojevich. that was the whole key to -- what patrick fitzgerald called a criminal enterprise which was for the benefit of personal benefit and political benefit of rod blagojevich. so when you put that national fundraising operation together, everybody who, you know -- not everybody, but most people who wanted to participate in
illinois government got part of their access by contributing to that political campaign. and that's really what sent him down the road to ruin. >> what's the model for that? you have to sell yourself to a nationalize and you can't as governor of illinois raise enough money to run a national presidential campaign. we saw how much they had to spend -- >> he was doing a pretty good job. >> right. but you can earn enough money to win reelection, which he did, against a battered republican party in illinois. but the idea that you can raise -- raise your way into the white house, that's just crazy. >> what he wanted to do was build this national fundraising operation. and, for instance, when he talked to joe kerry who ended up being indicted -- actually, he p
and rod blagojevich turned to him to want to know how tol)c p together a national fundraising operation, probably in about the third year of his first -- second year of his first term. so this is -- he wanted the roots. into, you know, how to put together this organization. and he also turned to a political strategy firm out of+ washington, d.c.,ãsquire, knaap and dunn, they were trying to position rod blagojevich to be a national candidate. and that's what happened to a lot of his politics in illinois because many of his policies that he was so passionate about, such as some kind of universal healthcare, even the all-kids program which was a very successful program, many of those were based -- i mean, he believed in these things but they were also -- would position him very well for a run of a presidency. he liked these big national
issues that could get national press to put himself in a position to run. we called it sort of -- he was governing by press conference on these national issues that he never built a real constituency for in illinois and certainly he didn't build it in the illinois legislature. >> i can see the strategy of saying, okay, i want to -- to create an image of the can-do governor, the guy who worked the illinois miracle, right? >> right. >> and so you can go -- because this is what always happens in a national campaign. someone who's a governor says, well, look what i did in arkansas, you know? and you show people what you have done. what puzzles me about this is that he tried -- he wanted to get things done but he thought the way he was going to get things done was to pick a fight with everybody. i wrote in my column for tomorrow, his main political strategy seemed to have been throwing down the gauntlet in front of people and he was
always picking fights and -- you know, just from the coldly -- let's put ideology aside, let's put illegality aside, why was that a smart -- i mean, who gave him that idea? was that his idea? was that some bad consultant? 'cause it just seems like a dumb way of going about working an illinois miracle is trying to fight with the legislature. >> well, i think that was -- i think it was both his own character and the way -- he always envisioned himself as a scrappy fighter. i mean, that's how he saw himself. perhaps it was coming up as son of immigrants, raised on the north side when he went to northwestern he always sort of felt like he was an outsider. so he saw himself as somebody who had to run against the status quo. that was part of basically who he was and he really -- then found consultants who agreed with him and who took that
come and stand in front of microphones for your questions as to get in the last portion of the program but while you are lining up i want to ask elizabeth to tell me about what did you interview the number of people who were close to speak to his first administration and the first half and second-half, what did they tell you about him either on the record or off the record, what impression did i have of him and what did you learn in talking to those people? >> there were several, he had a loyal staff which again was sort of puzzling because he never paid any attention to them. [laughter] the man never had a staff meeting, he never held a cabinet meeting ever. so the way he ran illinois government was completely puzzling. it wound up he really was running particularly at the end of running it from a speaker phone in his living room. not only did he not go to sprifi