CHICAGO — On the December day in 2011 when Rod Blagojevich stood before a federal judge and had the opportunity to completely, unequivocally, take responsibility for his crimes...he struggled to do so.
"If there's a consolation that I can offer the people, to you, and to myself, it is that I honestly believed... let me withdraw that," Blagojevich began, seeming to sense his oft repeated argument that he didn't think he was doing anything wrong, wouldn't be received well by the judge.
Blagojevich was convicted of attempting to trade Barack Obama's Senate seat for a job and other personal gains. Testimony at trial also revealed Blagojevich demanded campaign contributions before releasing funds for a children's hospital, among other crimes.
The former governor repeatedly told the judge he never set out to commit crimes and always believed he was operating on the right side of the law. "I thought they were permissible and I was mistaken and the jury convicted me," Blagojevich said.
"The jury decided that I was guilty and I'm accepting of it," Blagojevich told the judge in 2011. "I acknowledge it, and I, of course, am unbelievably sorry for it."
Many people convicted of crimes, even those who plead not guilty, use the opportunity to address the judge after conviction and before sentencing to take full and absolute responsibility for wrongdoing, with the hope of earning a lighter sentence. Blagojevich seemed to stop short by acknowledging the jury's decision instead of specifically detailing his culpability.
In the years before and after his conviction and issuance of the 14-year prison sentence, the former governor called the case against him a "witch hunt."
The defiance has escalated in the last year-and-a-half as the former "Apprentice" contestant saw a kindred spirit in President Donald Trump. Blagojevich has even adopted some of the president's favorite themes.
"I'm in prison for practicing politics," Blagojevich wrote in a May 2018 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. "When they can't prove a crime, they create one."
Former Illinois First Lady Patti Blagojevich went on some of the president's favorite cable news shows blasting Robert Mueller, who was head of the FBI during the Blagojevich investigation and later investigated the Trump campaign's contact with Russia during the 2016 race.
"It takes a strong leader like President Trump to right those wrongs," Patti Blagojevich said on Fox News in 2018.
The one thing Rod Blagojevich unequivocally took responsibility for during his 2011 sentencing hearing: his ego.
"If this case was about someone charging me with being self-absorbed, I would have cooperated and pleaded guilty immediately," Blagojevich told the judge.