HARTFORD, Conn. - The House committee investigating whether to recommend the impeachment of Gov. John G. Rowland of Connecticut began taking testimony in public hearings yesterday, the first such proceeding involving a current U.S. governor in 16 years.
The image that emerged of Rowland, a third-term Republican who was once a star of his party, was of a financially strapped politician who made ends meet, in part, through the help of gifts from people who conducted business with the state. Yesterday, the focus was on the governor's relationship with a businessman who arranged the rental and sale of Rowland's condominium at inflated prices.
The day had elements of spectacle and drama fitting for its gravity, from persistent attempts by the governor's lawyers to discredit the investigation to the authoritative manner in which the lawyer for the committee, Steven F. Reich, navigated documents detailing the governor's personal finances.
"Not one of us wanted to go through this, I can tell you, on both sides of the aisle," said Rep. Demetrios S. Giannoros, a Democrat, who was one of only a handful of lawmakers who does not sit on the 10-member impeachment committee but who attended the hearing.
It would be the first impeachment of a current governor since 1988, when Gov. Evan Mecham of Arizona was impeached and later removed from office on charges of corruption. President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 and acquitted the next year after a trial in the Senate.
The House Select Committee of Inquiry is scheduled to make a recommendation to the full House by June 30 on whether Rowland should be impeached. If the committee recommends impeachment and the House follows its recommendation by voting to impeach, the governor would be tried in the state Senate as soon as next month.
If the governor is impeached, he would relinquish duties to Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell while he is on trial.
The hearings come six months after the scandal escalated when Rowland acknowledged lying about renovations to his Litchfield vacation cottage that were paid for by people working for or conducting business with the state.
That acknowledgment, in December, centered on an existing federal corruption investigation into state contracting, and prompted the impeachment inquiry, which began in January.
Array of gifts
The impeachment inquiry expanded to include an array of gifts and benefits the Rowland received, from tailored suits to champagne and Cuban cigars from a convicted felon, to the governor's involvement in the awarding of millions of dollars in building contracts to people now under federal investigation.
Rowland, 47, has said he has done nothing worthy of removal from office, and he insists that he will not resign.
Yesterday, Rowland spent much of the day at home as the hearings unfolded.
"I think it goes without saying, he's going to be watching," said his spokesman, Christopher Cooper.