Gov. Rod Blagojevich faces almost certain impeachment by the Illinois House, a historic step that would trigger a trial to determine whether the Democratic governor should be tossed out of office.
A simple majority vote will be enough to impeach. With Blagojevich defenders almost impossible to find, the outcome appears set.
The governor seemed to acknowledge the inevitable when he issued a statement Thursday night that looked past the House vote and predicted a different outcome in the subsequent Senate trial. His statement criticized the hearings leading up to the House vote as unfair and biased.
A House committee has been studying the possibility of impeachment since shortly after the governor’s arrest on federal corruption charges. On Thursday, the 21-member panel unanimously recommended impeachment, saying Blagojevich has abused his power and mismanaged the state.
“He’s mortally wounded politically and cannot lead our state. His political life is over,” said Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat.
Wasting no time, House Speaker Michael Madigan scheduled a vote for the following morning.
“The people of the state want us to move forward with all due speed, providing that there will be a protection of constitutional rights,” Madigan said.
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who would take over if Blagojevich is ousted, said it’s time for the governor to “face reality” and give up his office.
“That’s what President Nixon did back in 1974 during another ordeal that our country faced. In this case, our state has been put under an ordeal for a month. It is time to put an end to it,” Quinn said.
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to profit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama‘s replacement in the Senate. The criminal complaint included an FBI agent’s sworn affidavit describing wiretaps that caught Blagojevich allegedly talking about what he could get for the seat, how to pressure people into making campaign contributions and more.
While the governor maintains his innocence, the committee’s report notes he did not appear before the panel to explain himself. “The committee is entitled to balance his complete silence against sworn testimony from a federal agent,” it says.
The report recounts the federal charges but includes other allegations as well — that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, that he spent millions of dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn’t needed and couldn’t be brought into the country.
“The citizens of this state must have confidence that their governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own,” the committee’s report said. “It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so.”
Blagojevich was allowed to have lawyers present at the hearing. They could question witnesses to clarify points but not conduct full cross-examinations. The defense wanted to subpoena members of Obama’s transition team, but that wasn’t allowed because of worries it would interfere with the federal investigation of Blagojevich.
Thursday’s statement from the governor’s press office said the committee’s rules denied Blagojevich due process. “When the case moves to the Senate, an actual judge will preside over the hearings, and the governor believes the outcome will be much different,” the statement said.
The statement called the committee’s vote “a foregone conclusion,” noting that a draft version of the report was released Thursday morning — before the committee’s final witness had appeared.
That witness was Roland Burris, the man Blagojevich appointed to the Senate seat just three weeks after his arrest.
Burris, the former Illinois attorney general, denied making any sort of deal with Blagojevich in exchange for the Senate appointment. He refused to take a position on whether Blagojevich should resign or whether he should be impeached.
U.S. Senate leaders had wanted Burris, under oath, to deny any improprieties before they would agree to seat him. They’re also waiting for the resolution of a dispute over whether Secretary of State Jesse White must sign off on Burris’ appointment before it takes effect.
The committee finished its work as chances grew dimmer that lawmakers will get transcripts of some of the secret recordings of private Blagojevich conversations that led to his arrest. Court hearings on the release of the transcripts could run into early February, U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman said Thursday.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich’s defense attorneys in Chicago urged Holderman to remove U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and all of his assistants from the case, charging in a motion that Fitzgerald violated rules about pretrial publicity at a Dec. 9 news conference announcing the charges.
Federal prosecutors immediately responded that the maneuver was “meritless.”