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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The legislative committee considering impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich could be at the beginning of its work or nearing the end, depending on the wishes of federal prosecutors.
If prosecutors give the OK, the Illinois House committee will explore the federal criminal charges against Blagojevich by interviewing his aides, reviewing documents and questioning witnesses to the actions that led to Blagojevich’s arrest.
However, some committee members say they expect U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald will steer them away from anything related to his investigation.
If that happens, the panel has little left on its agenda.
”I think we could wrap up our work within two days, maybe three,” the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Jim Durkin, said Sunday.
Chairwoman Barbara Flynn Currie, a Democrat like the governor, wouldn’t go quite so far. She said new issues could still come up and prolong the committee’s work, which began Tuesday.
The committee, which is supposed to produce a recommendation on whether lawmakers should pursue impeachment, hopes to hear Monday what limits prosecutors will suggest. Members have repeatedly said they will do nothing that prosecutors say would interfere the Blagojevich investigation.
Lawmakers said they’ll also hear testimony Monday on state jobs and contracts that Blagojevich gave to major campaign donors and on how prosecutors obtain permission to eavesdrop on their targets. Federal wiretaps are an important part of the case against Blagojevich, and his attorney has questioned their validity.
The governor was arrested Dec. 9 on a variety of federal corruption charges — including scheming to benefit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate.
The arrest, after years of questions about Blagojevich’s honesty and clashes with other state officials, prompted an avalanche of calls for his resignation.
Blagojevich declared Friday that he is innocent and will stay in office to fight the charges. ”I’m not going to quit a job that people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob,” he said.
So far, the committee has heard overviews of several complaints about the governor’s six years in office: Defying the Legislature by launching a health program that had been rejected, refusing to cooperate with government reviews, wasting money and withholding public information.
The committee has not delved into the details of each allegation. Members may seek more detail in a couple of areas, but generally they say an overview will be enough to come up with a recommendation on whether the full House should impeach.
”We’ve pretty well got to the bottom of complaints that the governor has abused his authority here, there or some place else,” Currie said.
The criminal complaint includes a sworn affidavit laying out some of the evidence. In addition, guilty pleas by others caught in the investigation contain other allegations against Blagojevich.
That might not be enough for a criminal conviction of the governor, lawmakers say, but it’s plenty for deciding whether to go forward with impeachment.
If the House approves impeaching Blagojevich, the Senate would hold a trial. It would take a two-thirds vote to remove him from office.
In a sequence of events that neatly captures the contradictions of Barack Obama’s rise through Illinois politics, a phone call he made three months ago to urge passage of a state ethics bill indirectly contributed to the downfall of a fellow Democrat he twice supported, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.
Mr. Obama placed the call to his political mentor, Emil Jones Jr., president of the Illinois Senate. Mr. Jones was a critic of the legislation, which sought to curb the influence of money in politics, as was Mr. Blagojevich, who had vetoed it. But after the call from Mr. Obama, the Senate overrode the veto, prompting the governor to press state contractors for campaign contributions before the law’s restrictions could take effect on Jan. 1, prosecutors say.
Tipped off to Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts, federal agents obtained wiretaps for his phones and eventually overheard what they say was scheming by the governor to profit from his appointment of a successor to the United States Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Obama. One official whose name has long been mentioned in Chicago political circles as a potential successor is Mr. Jones, a machine politician who was viewed as a roadblock to ethics reform but is friendly with Mr. Obama.
Beyond the irony of its outcome, Mr. Obama’s unusual decision to inject himself into a statewide issue during the height of his presidential campaign was a reminder that despite his historic ascendancy to the White House, he has never quite escaped the murky and insular world of Illinois politics. It is a world he has long navigated, to the consternation of his critics, by engaging in a kind of realpolitik, Chicago-style, which allowed him to draw strength from his relationships with important players without becoming compromised by their many weaknesses.
By the time Mr. Obama intervened on the ethics measure, his relationship with Mr. Blagojevich, always defined more by political proximity than by personal chemistry, had cooled as the governor became increasingly engulfed in legal troubles. There is nothing in the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday to indicate that Mr. Obama knew anything about plans to seek money and favors in exchange for his Senate seat; he has never been implicated in any other “pay to play” cases that have emerged from the long-running investigation of the Blagojevich administration.