After keeping mostly out of the public eye since his arrest on federal corruption charges, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is reversing course, launching an all-out media blitz and comparing himself to an honest, hardworking cowboy about to be lynched by a band of black-hatted political insiders eager to raise taxes.
"The heart and soul of this has been a struggle of me against the system," Blagojevich said at a Friday news conference. If he's removed from office, Blagojevich said "there's a whopping huge tax increase coming for the people of Illinois before summer."
The governor also said he isn't planning to show up to his impeachment trial in the Illinois Senate, but it isn't an act of defiance.
"As mush as I'd like to participate, under the Senate rules, they're not allowing me to take part in that process."
Avoiding the poetry quotations that have peppered his other recent news conferences, Blagojevich instead opted for a story from the Old West to illustrate his take on the Senate's rules.
"I'm not even getting a fair trial, they're just hanging me ... and they're hanging the 12 million people of Illinois," he said.
But the governor twisted facts or exaggerated to support his version of events.
He has repeatedly said he wouldn't be allowed to call witnesses in the Senate trial, but that's not correct. Trial rules prohibit witnesses that federal prosecutors feel would interfere with their criminal case, but Blagojevich could have called other people.
He has specifically mentioned wanting to call governors and senators to testify about all the good he's done. Nothing in Senate rules would have barred those witnesses.
Blagojevich had until 4 p.m. Thursday to tell the state what people and documents he wanted to subpoena for the trial, but he missed the deadline. [Read: Blago Ignores Another Important Deadline]
"This was a little bit more of the theater of the absurd when we're talking about the rules," Sen. Matt Murphy said, speaking immediately after Blagojevich's news conference. "The Senate rules are in fact looser than they would be in a court of law."
Murphy said Blagojevich could have statements made by Rahm Emanuel on TV admitted without giving the House prosecutor the chance to cross-examine Emanuel as a witness, which wouldn't happen in a courtroom. In response to Blagojevich's claim that the Senate wasn't allowing him to call witnesses to testify, Murphy countered that it's federal prosecutors who are restricting some witnesses to both sides in the impeachment trial.
"There is a criminal proceeding going on ... and prosecutors have requested us to restrict witnesses," Murphy said. "It's not just the governor who's restricted, the House prosecutor can't call those witnesses, either."
The governor also complained that the Senate isn't presuming him innocent until proven guilty. That was the one point on which he and Murphy agreed.
"Presumption of innocence is a legal standard that doesn't apply to the impeachment process," Murphy said.
As he ended his news conference, Blagojevich forecast gloom and doom for the state if the Senate removes him from office.
"If they remove me from office with a process like this ... then what kind of impact will that have on future governors?" Blagojevich said. "This will have a chilling effect on every governor in the future ... no governor will be able to take on the General Assembly the way I did."
Blagojevich's main fight right now may be a public relations battle. He called for help from the editorial boards of the state's newspapers -- including the Chicago Tribune -- from which he is accused of trying to get members fired. Blagojevich wants the editorial boards to call for a change in the Senate trial rules so he can better mount a defense. [Read the Senate Trial Rules | [Steve Rhodes Blogs Blagojevich News Conference]
It's not clear what, if anything, Blagojevich hopes to gain from his strategy of boycotting the impeachment trial and defending himself through the media.
Several legal experts said they could see some benefit to participating in the trial or resigning office. But refusing to do either makes little sense, they said.
"There's no benefit at all, except to make himself look ridiculous. In addition, anything he says can be used against him later" in court," said Leonard Cavise, a law professor at DePaul University.
The only way Blagojevich can stay in office is to find 20 of the Senate's 59 members willing to vote for his acquittal. It's possible he hopes defending himself in interviews will inspire the public to pressure senators to support him.
Or Blagojevich may hope to build sympathy among potential jurors in some future criminal trial.
But there's little evidence of good will left among the public.
Shortly after his arrest, an independent poll found his job-approval rating had dwindled to just 8 percent. More recently, a poll for the llinois Campaign for Political Reform found that nearly 8 out of 10 Illinoisans believe the state is on the wrong track.
The combative approach is a return to a favorite Blagojevich tactic.
Since taking office six years ago, he has often portrayed himself as a lone champion of the people, outnumbered by uncaring lawmakers, a lazy bureaucracy and slick lobbyists.
"I took that system on. I challenged that system," he said Friday. "That's what this is all about."
NBCChicago.com will offer live video of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial each day beginning Jan. 26.
NBC 5 Chicago will also broadcast the trial on its digital channel "NBC Plus," which can be found on Digital Channel 5.2, Comcast Cable Channel 194, RCN Cable Channel 190 and West Cable Channel 130.