January 26th, 2009
01:20 PM ET
9 years ago

Impeachment trial begins against Illinois governor

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/26/art.blagohand0126.gi.jpg caption="Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich decided not to be present Monday for the start of his impeachment trial in the state senate."]
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CNN) - The Illinois state Senate began its impeachment trial on Monday against Gov. Rod Blagojevich, without the governor present.

Blagojevich said he expects lawmakers to vote to convict him. He is facing federal corruption charges for several allegations, including trying to trade or sell the Senate seat that became vacant after Barack Obama was elected president.

He has boycotted the trial, instead scheduling appearances on several news programs Monday, including CNN's "Larry King Live."

Speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America," Blagojevich restated his complaints about the "unconstitutional" impeachment trial, which he said "denies me the right to call witnesses to defend myself and prove my innocence."

He said he is certain that the Senate will vote to remove him from office, and he expects they will demand he step down "relatively soon."

According to the federal complaint, Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris - who also was arrested on federal corruption charges - were "conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits" for Blagojevich by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a U.S. senator to replace Obama.

"I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden," Blagojevich allegedly said in one recorded conversation, referring to his authority to appoint, according to the complaint. "I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing."

Asked about those alleged quotes, Blagojevich told ABC that federal prosecutors "took snippets of conversations completely out of context."

"When the whole story comes out, you'll see that the effort was to work
to have a senator who can best represent Illinois," he said.

He told ABC that he had been considering many candidates for the position, including TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

"She seemed to be someone who had helped Barack Obama in a significant way become president," Blagojevich said. "She was obviously someone with a much broader bully pulpit than other senators."

He eventually appointed former state Attorney General Roland Burris.

In an interview with NBC's "Today Show," he said his arrest on the morning of December 9 took him by surprise, but he is drawing inspiration from people such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.

"I thought it was actually a friend of mine who was playing a practical joke," he said of his arrest. "Unfortunately it wasn't. And then the day unfolded and I had a whole bunch of thoughts - of course my children, and my wife - and then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi and tried to put some perspective in all of this and that's what I'm doing now."

Earlier this month, Blagojevich, a second-term Democratic governor, was impeached by an overwhelming vote in the Illinois House of Representatives. He has denied wrongdoing and said the House impeachment vote was politically motivated.

Under Illinois' constitution, the state House of Representatives can vote to impeach an executive or judicial officer, but it is the state Senate that conducts the trial. A two-thirds majority vote in the Senate is required to convict an officer of an impeachable offense.

Blagojevich is specifically asking for a change in a Senate trial rule that prevents him from calling witnesses such as Valerie Jarrett, a confidant of President Obama; Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.; and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel, claimed Blagojevich, agrees that he did not break any laws.

Blagojevich also contested a rule that he claims does not allow him to challenge the basic assertions in the state House impeachment report.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, part of the nine-member committee that put the Senate trial rules together, called Blagojevich's complaints "the theater of the absurd."

He said the House prosecution team responsible for presenting the impeachment case to the Senate is operating under the same restrictions as Blagojevich with regard to calling witnesses. Murphy said on "Good Morning America" that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has asked both sides to "defer to the criminal prosecution" of Blagojevich, and "limit witnesses."

He noted that the governor has every right to submit "positive statements that the governor says exonerate him" - such as those from Jarrett, Jackson, and Emanuel - as evidence in the Senate trial.

"We have lowered the standard for the admission of evidence for the governor to bend over backwards to make this fair," Murphy said. "The suggestion that this is somehow unfair to the governor is the most self-serving, ludicrous statement I have ever heard in my life. It couldn't be fairer for this guy."

Murphy dismissed Blagojevich's complaint that the governor's basic rights were being violated because he cannot challenge the basic assertions in the House impeachment report.

A similar rule was in place during President Bill Clinton's 1999 U.S. Senate impeachment trial, Murphy noted, and Clinton was ultimately acquitted.

"What you've seen here ... is a cynical effort on the part of this governor that's perfectly consistent with his actions over the last six years, to try and further undermine the faith in this process that the people already have," Murphy said.

Blagojevich missed deadlines this month for answering the impeachment charge and for filing a motion to dismiss, a spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has said.

Filed under: Rod Blagojevich
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Louis

    ***Question of the Day***–Are the taxpayers of Illinois paying for him to bop around the country and be on TV?

    January 26, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  2. ray


    January 26, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  3. shamous mc

    Let the good times and the heads roll!

    January 26, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  4. drbenk

    All that's left is his use of the "Twinkie" defense. Snake Eyes is right...what a buffoon.

    January 26, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  5. Meh

    I really think this guy is mentally ill.

    January 26, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  6. Bob the Observer

    I had always heard the "beady eyes" thing, but had never seen it in action. This guy is the epitome of "Mr. Beady Eyes."

    January 26, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  7. drew

    Where is Blago's make up, funny red nose, and funny wig? It is obvious that this guy is a clown! I just hate knowing that the circus he works for is the US government!

    January 26, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  8. joeb

    Illinois needs to get rid of this sicko as soon as possible.

    January 26, 2009 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  9. Lynn in NM

    So, do you honestly think that the people of America are going to revolt because you think you are innocent? You should be in court. Ah well, another politician that thinks they are above the law.

    January 26, 2009 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  10. Charles in MN

    68,000 jobs lost today, thanks Obama, appreciate it, really.

    January 26, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  11. R in Maine

    Illinois deserves better.

    January 26, 2009 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  12. Liz

    Of course he wanted Oprah! He could have cashed in big time with her. Let the impeachment begin!

    January 26, 2009 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  13. Pam from Georgia

    "The fix is in" said Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Sounds like he's been watching too many Mobster movies. Nobody respectable speaks that way.

    January 26, 2009 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  14. Shannon

    I saw this guy in the view today. I was laughing, what an idiot. Is he for real. I liked how Joy Behr was trying to get him going. Great stuff maybe he can get a book deal.. If Sarah Palin can this guy can.

    January 26, 2009 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  15. Chad

    Yeah, this guy's a buffoon. But did he do anything worse than what Bush and Cheney did? Where was their impeachment?

    January 26, 2009 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  16. CA Indie for Obama

    Hope it is a quick trial with a guilty verdict, given what has been disclosed in the media so far. i find it difficult to believe he was not extorting people for that open Senate seat.

    January 26, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  17. Susan

    Gov. Blagojevich's "media tour" today is totally disrespectful of the laws of the state of Illinois and this country. The media should be ashamed of themselves for supporting his effort. Step up, Blago, be a man and face your accusers with some dignity. No sympathy from me!

    January 26, 2009 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  18. NICK

    I really think this Gov. is mentally ill. The Courts should order that he undergo psycho evaluation. Get him out of office.

    January 26, 2009 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  19. smiff

    Arrest this maroon and lock him up in Gitmo till all the other "special" peeps are turned loose. He should make bunches of buds and bring some credibility back to Chicago politics. Who knows we may even get a potus without ties to teerorests. Wishful thinking.

    January 26, 2009 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  20. EBC

    Kick the BUM out pronto!!

    Yesterday would be too late.

    January 26, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
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