Blagojevich ousted in impeachment

Ill. Senate votes 59-0 to bar him from future office in state

January 30, 2009|By Ray Long and Rick Pearson | Ray Long and Rick Pearson,Chicago Tribune


The Illinois Senate voted to remove Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich from office yesterday, marking the first time in the state's long history of political corruption that a chief executive has been impeached and convicted.

The 59-0 vote followed several hours of public deliberation in which senator after senator stood up to blast Blagojevich, whose tenure lasted six years. And it came after a four-day impeachment trial on allegations that Blagojevich abused his power and sold his office for personal and political benefit.

The conviction on a sweeping article of impeachment means the governor was immediately removed from office. The Senate also unanimously voted to impose the "political death penalty" on Blagojevich, banning him from ever again holding office in Illinois. Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, Blagojevich's two-time running mate, has become the state's 41st governor.

Highlighting the day's serious nature, Blagojevich offered his own sprawling, passionate closing argument after ignoring a Senate impeachment trial all week to take his case to the nation on the talk-show circuit.

Alternately praising and upbraiding those who will decide his political fate, Blagojevich urged the senators not to remove him from office, saying he has "done absolutely nothing wrong" and "never, ever intended to violate the law."

"There hasn't been a single piece of information that proves any wrongdoing," Blagojevich said to senators who were mostly stoic. "How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?" Blagojevich warned senators against setting a "dangerous precedent" that would thwart the will of an electorate that twice voted for him.

"Imagine what future governors will face if I'm thrown out of office for this," Blagojevich said.

Senators dismissed the governor's plea, saying Blagojevich violated the public trust and paralyzed state government.

"He reminded us today in real detail that he is an unusually good liar," state Sen. Matt Murphy said. "We bent over backwards to make sure that this process was fair." Others took issue with Blagojevich's criticism of the impeachment trial rules, saying the governor could have asked for a vote on witnesses he wanted to call or evidence he wanted to present.

"At its core, it is dishonest, and it must be rejected by the members of this Senate," Sen. Bill Haine said.

"We must find him unfit for this great office."

Sen. Kirk Dillard said Blagojevich is "inept, he's corrupt, he's cost the state millions of dollars."

Dillard, who worked for two previous Republican governors, also referenced the colorful language Blagojevich is alleged to have used on secret federal recordings. "Former Gov. Jim Edgar's strongest language was "Golly, or Jiminy Christmas.' "

House prosecutor David Ellis attacked Blagojevich's speech in his short rebuttal argument.

"When the camera's on, the governor is for the little guy, the little people. When the camera's off, what are his priorities?" Ellis asked, pointing behind him to a poster board with transcripts of intercepted phone conversations. " 'Legal, personal, political,' " Ellis said, paraphrasing words attributed to Blagojevich by federal authorities. "Nothing in that statement about the people of Illinois." Earlier, the governor blasted the rules that he claimed don't allow him to call witnesses or challenge evidence.

"I was hopeful I would have that opportunity. I was hopeful I would have the chance to call every single witness in the criminal complaint. It would have been nice to have them here and tell you, under oath, what they know," Blagojevich said. "Unfortunately, these rules have prevented me from being able to do that."

Blagojevich decried a "rush to judgment." "I'm here to talk to you, to appeal to you, to your sense of fairness," Blagojevich told senators. "I'm asking you as I speak to you today to imagine yourself walking in my shoes." Blagojevich also defended his decision to try to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada as an attempt to help people.

The governor also defended a decision to buy $2.6 million of flu vaccine in 2005 that was never used. He said if the Senate wanted to impeach him on that, it should have done so during his first term when the medicine was bought.

Blagojevich seemed at times to be trying to patch up a bad personal relationship. He noted that he has struggled more with lawmakers in the House, while he has traditionally found more support in the Senate.

"I know we've had some ups and downs," Blagojevich said to senators. "But we've also had some chances to work together." "The ends were moral," Blagojevich said, and the means were legal.

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