CHICAGO - Rod Blagojevich hid in the bathroom, ducked into a back room and left the office early to avoid discussing complex issues with his budget director, his former deputy said Thursday at the ousted governor’s corruption trial.
Former Deputy Governor Robert Greenlee portrayed Blagojevich as disengaged from daily affairs of state government, saying the governor spent on average two to eight hours a week in his office. He said that during working hours, the governor generally was at home or attending high-profile events.
Greenlee said he would confer with Blagojevich by telephone when they discussed issues and policy matters, but that he once had to go to dinner with the governor and his family at a bowling alley to get Blagojevich to focus on legislation that had to be addressed immediately.
He brought 20 bills to the bowling alley, he said, walking a reluctant governor through legislation that would have automatically become law had he taken no action. Blagojevich ended up vetoing some.
Former budget director John Filan, Greenlee testified, had to chase after the governor to get him to discuss important items.
“He would hide in the bathroom, hide in the back room or leave early,” Greenlee said, adding that Blagojevich went to great lengths to avoid staffers whom he felt disagreed with him too often.
Greenlee said he himself was skeptical when Blagojevich spoke of his hopes of getting a job in Washington, but kept his mouth shut because Blagojevich would become argumentative if he got unwelcome news. “That was a long, painful and futile process,” he said. He said he couldn’t afford to get on Blagojevich’s bad side because he needed access to the governor in his job.
“The best way to maintain good relations with him was ... to tell him what he wanted to hear,” Greenlee said.
Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to trying to get a high-paying job or big campaign contribution in return for the appointment to the Senate seat Barack Obama was leaving to move to the White House. He has also pleaded not guilty to taking part in a racketeering scheme using the powers of the governor’s office.
Robert Blagojevich, 54, has pleaded not guilty to taking part in any scheme involving the Senate seat and to scheming to pressure businessmen for campaign funds.
The former governor appeared unfazed on Thursday. He stepped off an elevator beaming, and approached spectators waiting to get into the courtroom. Raising both arms high over his head, he said in a loud voice, “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again — innocent of all charges.” Some spectators laughed, others shook their heads.
Jurors heard from a less-ebullient Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, on a profanity-laced FBI wiretap tape played Thursday. The two railed against the Chicago Tribune and suggested editorial writers calling for the governor’s impeachment should be fired if the paper wanted state help in selling the Chicago Cubs.
At the time, the Illinois Finance Authority planned such help to the company.
“Tell them to hold up the [expletive] Cubs ... what kind of [expletive] is that?” Patti Blagojevich is heard saying. “Just fire ’em.”
“What would William Randolph Hearst do?” she adds sarcastically, referring to the founder of the Hearst newspaper group.
Patti Blagojevich, who arrived at the trial with her husband, stepped out of the courtroom before the tape including her cursing the Tribune was played.
Greenlee, who was on the witness stand when the tape was played, said he was concerned that Blagojevich would order his chief of staff, John Harris, to threaten the Tribune with the loss of help.
But he said Harris assured him that he would handle the governor’s orders without doing something illegal. Harris testified earlier in the trial that he expressed Blagojevich’s unhappiness to the Tribune but stopped short of a threat.
In a phone call with Greenlee taped on Election Day 2008, Blagojevich expresses bitterness, saying he has done a lot for the people of Illinois and gotten little back.
“I gave your grandmother a free [expletive] ride on the bus,” he says, referring to a provision on public transportation for seniors.
He cites poll numbers that show his support at all-time lows, and directs his ire at his constituents.
“Only 13 percent of you all think I’m doing a good job,” he said on tape, sounding increasingly angry. Then he denounces the public as a whole. “[Expletive] all of you,” he yells into the phone.