- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s impeachment trial opened on Monday with a vacant chair reserved for the governor, who boycotted the proceedings and instead spent the day on the TV talk-show circuit in New York, complaining that he is being railroaded.

“The fix is in,” Mr. Blagojevich declared on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

As the Illinois Senate assembled for the first impeachment trial of a U.S. governor in more than 20 years, David Ellis, the House-appointed prosecutor, told the chamber that he will show that Mr. Blagojevich “repeatedly and utterly abused the powers and privileges of his office.”

In one of his first orders of business, Mr. Ellis won approval from the Senate to summon as a witness an FBI agent who oversaw the profanity-laden wiretaps that led to Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest on corruption charges last month.

With Mr. Blagojevich refusing to present a defense, Illinois senators could vote within days on whether to oust the 52-year-old Democrat on a variety of charges, including allegations that he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Obama.

State senators maintained that the trial will be fair, despite Mr. 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.

Mr. Blagojevich insists the remarks attributed to him have been taken out of context.

Pressed on what context would justify using Mr. Obama’s Senate seat to land a job for himself, Mr. Blagojevich said he didn’t try to make an illegal trade.

“If you do an exchange of one for the other, that’s wrong,” he told ABC’s “Nightline,” according to a transcript of Monday night’s show. “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? Those are natural discussions people have. … Those are legitimate, honest discussions.”

The impeachment trial opened with the presiding judge, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, saying: “This is a solemn and serious business we’re about to engage in.”

When Chief Justice Fitzgerald asked whether the governor was present, there was a long silence. The seats set aside for Mr. Blagojevich and his attorney were vacant.

Chief Justice Fitzgerald ordered the proceedings to continue as if Mr. Blagojevich had entered a not guilty plea.

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