- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 10, 2009

Members of the Illinois House of Representatives voted Friday to impeach Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, setting up a Senate trial to determine whether the first Democrat to be elected governor of Illinois in 30 years should be removed from office for an abuse of power.

In an overwhelming 114-1 vote, the House accused the second-term Democrat of allowing his ego and ambition to drive his decisions, saying he betrayed his oath of office and was not fit to lead the state.

“We stand here today because of the perfidy of one man: Rod Blagojevich,” said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Democrat who chaired a special impeachment committee. “To overturn the results of an election is not something that should be undertaken lightly.”

Another Democrat, Rep. Jack D. Franks, said it was the “duty” of state legislators “to clean up the mess and stop the freak show that’s become Illinois government.”

Mr. Franks, who also served on the impeachment committee, said that while the atmosphere in the state capitol was one of sadness as a result of the vote, “it’s a new day. It’s a dawn.”

At a news conference following the vote, Mr. Blagojevich — accused of trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama — said the impeachment vote was “of course not a surprise. It was a foregone conclusion.

“From the very moment of my re-election, I’ve been engaged in a struggle with the House to try to get things done for people,” he said, describing the vote as an offshoot of disagreements he had with the House over issues ranging from public-works programs and expanded access to health care to property tax relief.

The furor over that Senate seat continued to roil Friday. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Blagojevich’s appointment to the seat, former state Attorney General Roland Burris, could be seated even though the secretary of state refused to sign the paperwork.

But Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said at a news conference that the U.S. Senate will still require a signature.

“There has never in the history of the Senate been a waiver of the requirement that the secretary of state’s signature be part of the appointment process — never,” Mr. Durbin said.

However, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was more circumspect, releasing a statement after Mr. Durbin’s words had been reported saying merely that Democratic leaders were taking legal advice on the matter.

“The Senate parliamentarian, the secretary of the Senate and Senate legal counsel are advising Senate leadership as we consider a way forward,” spokesman Jim Manley said.

The Senate Democratic Caucus warned Mr. Blagojevich a month ago that “under no circumstance” would it seat any Blagojevich appointee. But it had backed off that hard-line stance earlier this week saying Mr. Burris could be seated under some conditions, until Mr. Durbin’s Friday remarks appeared to retrench Senate Democrats into their earlier position.

At an impromptu news conference, Mr. Blagojevich surrounded himself with some of the people he claimed to have helped as governor, including a man in a wheelchair and a transplant recipient. He took no questions.

Mr. Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing, and his attorney, Ed Genson, said Thursday’s committee vote to recommend impeachment that the outcome “was predetermined from the start.” Mr. Genson said he was hopeful his client would “receive a fair trial in the Senate.”

A new General Assembly will be sworn in Wednesday. The Senate trial is set to begin Jan. 26.

That timetable means the affair will continue to shadow Democrats, and Mr. Obama in particular, well after his inauguration. Prosecutors said Mr. Obama is not under investigation, but have interviewed him as a witness. They also have interviewed several top aides.

The 90-minute impeachment debate began Friday morning, during which charges were debated on whether Mr. Blagojevich had betrayed his oath of office. Not one member of the House stood in the governor’s defense.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross said Mr. Blagojevich “repeatedly and systematically” violated his oath of office and the trust voters had placed in him.

“You ought to be angry. You ought to be disgusted,” he said. “We have no choice but to vote ‘yes’ today.”

Rep. John Fritchey, a Democrat who also served on the impeachment committee, said Mr. Blagojevich put self-interest above the public interest. “This House is united to right the wrong that’s been done to the people of Illinois,” he said.

“It’s been an ugly and shameful spectacle. Rod Blagojevich, you should be ashamed of yourself,” Democratic Rep. Susana Mendoza said.

FBI agents arrested Mr. Blagojevich on Dec. 9, accusing him in a criminal complaint of conspiring to use his position to sell to a successor the vacated Senate seat. The complaint included an FBI agent’s sworn affidavit saying wiretaps captured Mr. Blagojevich talking about what he could get for the seat, how to pressure people into making campaign contributions and more.

A federal prosecutor called Mr. Blagojevich’s eagerness to sell the seat the most “appalling” of the federal corruption charges leveled against the Democratic governor and his top aide.

According to the affidavit, prepared by FBI agent Daniel W. Cain, the bureau began investigating Mr. Blagojevich in 2003, when he took office from disgraced former Gov. George Ryan, now serving a six-year sentence on a federal corruption conviction.

The investigation already has won convictions against people close to Mr. Blagojevich’s administration, including Tony Rezko, a convicted real estate developer who was Mr. Blagojevich’s principal fundraiser and also raised money for Mr. Obama. Rezko was and is now cooperating with federal authorities in the hope of receiving a lesser sentence, according to court records.

No other Illinois governor has ever been impeached.

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