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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

This week’s look at the Sunday talk shows features former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — who was found guilty Aug. 17 of making false statements to the FBI. He appeared on "Fox News Sunday" to discuss his trial. Did Blagojevich make any false statements to Fox host Chris Wallace? In our judgment, yes, more than one.

  • He claimed a key witness was given immunity, but he’s contradicted by multiple news accounts of that witness swearing under oath that he got no immunity.
  • He said an offer of campaign donations didn’t influence his willingness to nominate Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to Obama’s vacant Senate seat, despite taped conversations played in court showing that Blagojevich talked of making a "better deal" with the Jackson camp, which he said was offering "tangible" benefits "upfront."
  • He claimed Obama traded a judicial nomination for a House member’s vote in favor of health care legislation, despite the lack of any evidence to back up speculation published in an anti-Obama publication.
  • He claimed he "never raised taxes," when in fact he raised several, and proposed even more increases that the Legislature rejected.

Winning Immunity?

Blagojevich said that his former deputy governor, Bob Greenlee, was given immunity to testify against him. That’s not true. Greenlee, among other things, testified that the Democratic governor would hide in the bathroom to avoid talking to his budget director.

Blagojevich: They gave him immunity.

Wallace: He was never given immunity. That’s not true, sir.

Blagojevich: Greenlee, the deputy governor, was given immunity. The other — that’s the one who said I hid in the bathroom from my budget director. How absurd is that?

Wallace is right. The Fox affiliate in Chicago live blogged the trial, and it reported on July 12, 2010, that Greenlee testified that he did not receive immunity. The Chicago Tribune also reported that Greenlee did not receive immunity.

Never Say Never

We also found Blagojevich engaged in some revisionist history when Wallace asked about the promise of campaign contributions in exchange for appointing Jesse Jackson Jr. to fill the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

The jury was hung on 23 counts against Blagojevich — including one that he was seeking something of value in exchange for a U.S. Senate appointment. Eleven jurors voted to convict him on that count, but one juror refused. Blagojevich told Wallace on Sunday that the Senate appointment process "was never about campaign contributions."

Blagojevich: I don’t — there were — there was a tape played in court where my brother was approached by a representative. We talked about the Jackson people offering something like $1 million or $1.5 million in campaign contributions. My brother very clearly said we — money will have nothing to do with this decision. This was never about campaign contributions.

Blagojevich’s brother testified that he never took the offer seriously, but FBI tapes show that the governor did and suddenly elevated Jackson to No. 2 on his list of potential candidates. In a Dec. 4, 2008, phone conversation with his political adviser, Fred Yang, Blagojevich said he would have never considered Jackson — but "just between you and me, they’ve offered a whole bunch of different things they want to do for me." He asked Yang to consider the political ramifications of appointing Jackson.

Later that same day, the governor talked to his brother about Jackson and said: "And I can cut a better political deal with these Jacksons and, and most of it you probably can’t believe, but some of it can be tangible upfront.”

Blagojevich was arrested five days later on Dec. 9. Despite his arrest, the governor appointed Roland Burris to the Senate seat on Dec. 30.

Obama Didn’t Trade Judicial Nomination for Health Care Vote

In Sunday’s interview, Blagojevich sought to portray conversations about the Senate appointment as nothing more than discussions of routine "political horse trading." In doing so, he made false statements about one of Obama’s judicial nominations. "And it’s not at all unlike … a new federal judge who was made because the Obama administration was able to get a congressman to vote for his health care plan," he said.

Wallace disputed Blagojevich’s claim, saying he had looked into that allegation and found that the congressman didn’t vote for the health care bill. But the governor responded: "Well, it was a published report that said just the opposite."

Blagojevich is referring to the March 3 judicial nomination of Scott M. Matheson Jr., to the federal appeals court. Matheson is the brother of Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah. Contrary to what Blagojevich said, Matheson did not vote for the health care bill. He voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in November and against the reconciliation act in March that allowed the health care bill to become law. The final House vote came March 21 — less than three weeks after his brother’s nomination.

The conservative Weekly Standard raised questions about the timing of Matheson’s appointment and suggested it may have been done to try to convince Matheson to change his mind on the health care bill and vote yes on the reconciliation act. But there’s no evidence of that. Both of Utah’s Republican senators support Matheson. Republican Sen. Robert Bennett’s spokesman told Politico that he was certain the nomination was not a political payoff, because it had been “in the works for a long time.”

Blagojevich and Taxes

Lastly, Blagojevich touted his record as governor — saying at one point that he "never raised taxes on the people." It is true that Blagojevich never raised broad-based taxes, such as sales and income taxes. That was a promise that he made as a candidate and kept as governor. But the governor did raise other taxes and fees during his time in office.

He proposed more than 100 tax and fee increases in his first budget in 2003, mostly on businesses, and got the Legislature to approve most of them, according to the Rockford Register Star. At the time, Blagojevich argued that the tax and fee increases were aimed at special interests. An editorial in the Pantagraph of Bloomington, Ill., said: “But make no mistake, the fee changes are sufficiently broad-based that few Illinoisans are likely to escape their impact. They might pay directly as one of the ‘special interests.’ They might pay indirectly through increased charges from businesses paying increased fees.”

In 2007, Blagojevich also proposed what the Chicago Sun Times and others called “the largest tax hike in state history” — more than $7 billion in new business taxes. The Legislature, however, refused to adopt his proposal.