A gaggle of Chicago reporters were on hand at Denver International Airport when Rod Blagojevich boarded a United Airlines plane Tuesday night after his release from prison. But only one managed to secure the coach seat next to the former Illinois governor for the 2½-hour flight home.
Chuck Goudie, veteran investigative reporter for ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7, somehow pulled it off — to the astonishment and envy of his peers.
"When the I-Team boarded, Mr. Blagojevich realized that I was his row-mate and photographer Jose Sanchez was ticketed right behind him," Goudie later recounted. "'Things have come full circle,' I said to the defrocked governor and he agreed, remembering — vividly I imagine — that we had engineered a similar seating configuration when he first reported to prison on March 15, 2012."
So there behind the bulkhead were Goudie in 7A, Blago in 7B, and his clemency expediter, Mark Vargas, in 7C.
That nifty arrangement afforded Goudie exclusive and uninterrupted access to the newly freed felon, who'd served eight years before President Donald Trump commuted his sentence earlier that day.
While Blago sipped cran-apple juice and admired his newly acquired running shoes, Goudie grilled him on everything from the clemency process to "effin' golden," the famous line caught on tape about Blago's plan to sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
"At one point in the flight, while on a rant about federal prosecutors and legal system that put him away, he stopped himself and said all of it was 'in the past' and that he had to move on," Goudie recalled.
So how did he pull it off? "This plane thing was really Reporting 101," Goudie told me Wednesday, sounding a bit like a magician reluctant to reveal his secret.
"Here is what I can say: Reporters always try to put themselves in the best position to talk with newsmakers. Rod Blagojevich certainly was that person on Tuesday, having just been freed from prison by the president.
"When we confirmed that Blagojevich had been released from prison — and there was only one non-stop flight still leaving Denver for Chicago — I tried to figure out where he might be sitting and booked a seat nearby, hoping for the best."
Wednesday's comment of the day: Bench Pressley: What's the over/under on the time it takes for Blagojevich to land a job hosting a show at WLS-AM? I'll say one week.