In watching the Rod Blagojevich scandal play out over the last week, the thing that has struck me is his insistence that he did nothing wrong, that when the whole story comes out we’ll see how he’s guilty of nothing inappropriate.
Rod, they have you on tape.
That’s tough to beat. When it’s your voice spewing those words, regardless of how many of them have to be bleeped, it’s very tough to talk your way out of the corner.
I worked in DC in the 80s and 90s, the glory years of Mayor Marion Barry. It wasn’t a particularly glorious time for him or the city, but it sure was for those of us in the media. He was always saying or doing something that made my job easy — I was doing a morning show at the time, so I woke up every day hoping that someone had done something stupid that I could make fun of, and Barry made himself a regular target.
In January, 1990, the mayor was caught by the FBI in a hotel room smoking crack with an ex-girlfriend named Rasheeda Moore. At first, he tried to deny everything, almost to the point of saying he wasn’t even in the hotel, but when the FBI told him they had the whole thing on tape, he changed his tune. That’s when he spouted his classic line, “Goddamn, the bitch set me up!”
Even a bad politician like Barry knew that when they have you on tape and are going to release it to the media, you’re screwed.
Maybe Blagojevich can try another tactic, from back in the Abscam days. In that investigation, several federal officials were caught accepting bribes in return for political favors. One of the officials — I can’t remember which — was shocked to discover that the person offering the bribe was doing so undercover for the FBI. In his defense, he insisted that, rather than having done anything wrong, he had, in fact, been looking into this corruption himself: “You’re investigating me? I’m investigating you!”
It didn’t work. When they have you on tape, nothing works — except the truth.