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Illinois Begins Blagojevich Impeachment Trial


From NPR News, it's All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. The governor of Illinois is living up to his pledge to fight hard as his impeachment trial gets started in the state Senate. But Rod Blagojevich isn't making his case to the lawmakers. He's making it to the public.

SIEGEL: The Illinois House impeached Blagojevich earlier this month following his arrest on corruption charges. They accused him of official misconduct and abusing the power of his office. If convicted by the Senate, the governor will be immediately removed from office.

NORRIS: But Blagojevich refused to attend his trial, and instead he went to New York to make his case on national television. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER: In making the rounds at network and cable TV studios, Blagojevich is facing the most pointed questions yet about the allegations he tried to illegally sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama to the highest bidder. On "Good Morning America," Blagojevich was asked about his alleged comments caught on FBI surveillance tapes that the Senate seat is, quote, "bleeping golden," and that he's just not giving it up for bleeping nothing.

(Soundbite of TV show "Good Morning America")

Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): They took snippets of conversations completely out of context, did not provide all of the tapes to tell the whole story, and when the whole story comes out, you will see that the effort was to work to have a senator who can best represent Illinois and one that could help us create jobs and provide health care.

SCHAPER: The Democratic governor seems to be suggesting that there was nothing more than political horse-trading going on and that he was trying to leverage the Senate seat to the benefit of the people of Illinois. Blagojevich also continues to rail against the rules established for his Senate impeachment trial and against his critics, including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who calls Blagojevich "cuckoo."

(Soundbite of TV show "Good Morning America")

Governor BLAGOJEVICH: Here's a question I have to you, to Mayor Daley and everyone else. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? How is it that you can make a couple of allegations, take some conversations completely out of context?

SCHAPER: In recent days, Blagojevich has compared his own plight to those of world leaders of the past who were jailed for their convictions, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi. Blagojevich says he is going to the airwaves instead of defending himself in Springfield to let the rest of the world know what he is up against, which he contends is a bipartisan conspiracy to remove him from office. On "The Today Show," he complained that the fix is in because the impeachment trial rules are unfair. He contends they don't allow him to call witnesses in his defense.

(Soundbite of TV show "The Today Show")

Governor BLAGOJEVICH: You can conceivably bring in 15 angels and 20 saints led by Mother Theresa to come in and testify to my good character and my integrity and all the rest. It wouldn't matter. There's no chance whatsoever to have a fair hearing.

SCHAPER: Meantime, a somber mood fell over the chambers of the Illinois state Senate.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

Chief Justice THOMAS FITZGERALD (Illinois Supreme Court): President Cullerton moves that the Senate resolve itself into an impeachment tribunal for the purpose of commencing the trial of the impeachment of the governor.

SCHAPER: Illinois Supreme Court justice Thomas Fitzgerald is presiding.

Chief Justice FITZGERALD: Seeing no objection, it is so ordered. The Senate is now resolved into an impeachment tribunal.

SCHAPER: As Illinois state senators began the first impeachment trial of a governor in the state's history, they said Blagojevich is wrong about the trial rules and that he is misstating what they do and don't allow. Before the House prosecutor began to present his case, Republican Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said the rules will provide the governor with a fair trial even without him being here.

(Soundbite of Senate hearing)

State Senator CHRISTINE RADOGNO (Republican, Lemont, Illinois): We will work expeditiously, but efficiently, and we will be fair and thorough. That is the only way that we can move beyond the immense challenges that we face today and to deal with the business of the state.

SCHAPER: The House prosecutor then began laying out the case saying this trial will deal with the chief executive who has, quote, "repeatedly and utterly abused the privileges of his office." With the governor and his attorneys boycotting the impeachment trial, it will likely last less than the two weeks planned. And Blagojevich could be removed from office before the week's end. David Schaper, NPR News in Springfield, Illinois. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.