The speaker of the Illinois House is taking the first step toward possibly impeaching embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Speaker Michael Madigan announced Monday that he’s appointing a special committee to review the case and recommend whether Blagojevich should be impeached.
Madigan says the committee will work every day except holidays.
Once the committee makes a recommendation, the full House will decide whether to file impeachment charges against the governor.
Blagojevich was arrested last week on federal corruption charges, including trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Rod Blagojevich hasn’t ruled out signing a bill creating a special election to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat, his spokesman said Monday, the first hint the embattled governor may loosen his grip on the seat.
Blagojevich was arrested last week on charges he tried to profit from his power to choose Obama’s replacement and shook down businesses seeking state deals.
While Blagojevich hasn’t seen a proposed special election bill he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of signing such a bill, spokesman Lucio Guerrero said early Monday without elaborating.
The governor, meanwhile, remained defiant and returned to work Monday to sign a tax credit bill after earlier seeing off his wife, Patti, and the couple’s two daughters.
The Legislature was to meet Monday afternoon to consider special election legislation, but lawmakers also were likely to discuss impeaching Blagojevich.
“The General Assembly must move to impeach Rod Blagojevich immediately,” said DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett, a potential Republican candidate for governor in 2010.
“We should have started yesterday,” agreed Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat.
Guerrero hasn’t responded directly to whether the governor could or would do anything to slow down the Legislature’s move toward impeachment.
“The governor has indicated in the past there is more to this story that he’s wanting to tell at an appropriate time,” he said.
Chicago criminal defense attorney Ed Genson said he would know Monday afternoon whether Blagojevich will hire him. “I have conflicts,” Genson told The Associated Press when asked why he didn’t already know if he’d be representing the governor. He would not elaborate.
Blagojevich and Genson met for several hours over the weekend in the attorney’s downtown Chicago office. “I think that the case that I’ve seen so far is significantly exaggerated,” Genson said outside his office Monday. “It’s not what people think it is.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Danny K. Davis said he talked to Blagojevich three times since Obama’s election to express his interest in Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. He said the governor never made untoward suggestions.
The governor said things like, “Oh Danny, you’re one of the best, you’re a great guy, you do great work plus you are serious about the needs of people and you know you’re on the list. You’re on the list,’” said Davis, who added he would run for the seat if there were a special election.
Davis said he he doesn’t believe he is mentioned in the federal complaint against Blagojevich, which didn’t identify candidates by name.
The calls for impeachment put the spotlight on House Speaker Michael Madigan, who ultimately will decide the timing of any impeachment effort.
Madigan, a Democrat representing Chicago, hasn’t taken any public position beyond saying Sunday that he would talk to the House Republican leader about the issue Monday.
David Dring, spokesman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, said Republicans will step up the pressure on Democrats to remove Blagojevich, perhaps raising the issue on the House floor.
“If they won’t work with us, you’ll probably see some good theater,” Dring said.
The GOP also plans to run television ads pressuring Democrats to approve a special election to replace Obama. If Blagojevich resigned, the power to appoint a new senator would go to Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn.
Illinois Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna told reporters the ads will “make the point that this is the people’s seat, and the people deserve a special election.”
Madigan often has clashed with the Democratic governor, and his office produced a memo this year outlining all the arguments legislative candidates could make in favor of impeachment.
But spokesman Steve Brown wouldn’t say Sunday whether Madigan was even considering impeachment proceedings. Brown said Madigan wants to “maintain some neutrality” in case he winds up presiding over an impeachment.
Madigan’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, has asked the state Supreme Court to remove Blagojevich from office, claiming he is unfit to serve. Madigan said Sunday she expects word on whether the court will hear her request “probably just in a few days.”
Lisa Madigan is considered one of the top Democratic candidates for governor in 2010.
The state constitution gives lawmakers broad authority to impeach a governor for any reason they consider sufficient. The House would decide whether to file charges against the governor, and the Senate would ultimately rule on them.
At the Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago, the Rev. Ira Acree, who met with Blagojevich at his home Friday morning, made only a passing reference to the governor in his sermon Sunday but told his congregation that he had prayed with the governor and that everyone deserves pastoral counsel.
“Pray for our state,” Acree said. “No matter what your political position is, pray for our state.”