A day after Gov. Rod Blagojevich‘s loudly proclaimed his innocence during a media blitz, the governor’s more private words are to take center stage at his impeachment trial. The state Senate is expected Tuesday to hear secretly made wiretaps of Blagojevich allegedly discussing how he could benefit from his appointment power.
Blagojevich never denied the remarks federal prosecutors attribute to him, but insists they were taken out of context and he did nothing illegal.
The impeachment trial — the first for a U.S. governor in more than 20 years — opened Monday with House-appointed prosecutor David Ellis telling senators he will show that Blagojevich “repeatedly and utterly abused the powers and privileges of his office.”
With Blagojevich refusing to be present or mount a defense, Illinois senators could vote within days on whether to oust the 52-year-old Democrat on a variety of charges, including allegations he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat for a Cabinet position, a high paying job for himself or his wife or money to bankroll his future campaigns.
In addition to the recordings, Daniel Cain — an FBI agent involved in the governor’s wiretap — was scheduled to appear Tuesday at the trial. He was expected to explain to senators how the statements were verified.
Cain in a previous affidavit swore that Blagojevich talked to aides about how to benefit from his appointment power, saying, “I want to make money.”
The outcome of Blagojevich’s impeachment trial has no legal impact on a separate criminal case against the governor. No trial date has been set on those charges.
Blagojevich spent Monday making the rounds of news shows in New York, declaring his innocence but refusing to discuss the criminal allegations he faces. On ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “The View,” CNN’s “Larry King Live” and more, Blagojevich would say only that the quotes in the criminal complaint were taken out of context.
Pressed on what context would justify using Obama’s Senate seat to land a job for himself, Blagojevich said he didn’t try to make a trade.
“If you do an exchange of one for the other, that’s wrong,” he told ABC’s “Nightline.” “But if you have discussions about the future and down the road and what you might want to do once you’re no longer governor in a few years, what’s wrong with that?”
He was to appear Tuesday on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
The Democratic governor said he refused to take part in his impeachment trial because it was rigged against him. His political enemies, eager to get him out of the way so they can raise income taxes, won’t let him call witnesses to prove his innocence, he complained.
State senators maintained the trial will be fair, despite Blagojevich’s attacks on the process.
“We all took an oath to do justice according to the law. I know that everyone is taking the matter seriously and that no one will stand in the way of justice,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Republican.
Neither the prosecution nor the defense is allowed to summon any witnesses whose testimony might interfere with federal prosecutors’ criminal case against Blagojevich, although their public statements could be introduced as evidence. But Blagojevich has not asked to call witnesses or present any evidence at all, and said he does not plan to participate in any way.
The impeachment case against Blagojevich also includes allegations he defied the Legislature, circumvented hiring laws and schemed to trade state contracts for campaign contributions.
Seats for Blagojevich and his attorney sat empty in the Senate chamber during the first day of trial. Silence reigned when the presiding judge, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, asked if anyone was present to represent the governor.
He ordered the trial to go forward as if Blagojevich had entered a not guilty plea.
No other Illinois governor has been impeached, let alone convicted in a Senate trial. It would take a two-thirds majority — or 40 of the 59 senators — to remove Blagojevich. The Senate also could bar him from ever again holding office in Illinois.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn would replace him.
Practically the entire political establishment has lined up against Blagojevich. The last of two House votes on impeachment was 117-1, with his sister-in-law the only dissenter.
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