Ill. governor pleads his case to impeachment trial


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 5:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 5:54 p.m.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) In a long-shot attempt to save his job, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich insisted Thursday he had done nothing wrong and shouldn't be removed from office over unproven criminal charges and complaints about his management decisions.

"You haven't proved a crime, and you can't because it didn't happen," Blagojevich said at his Senate impeachment trial. "How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?"

The plea did not appear to move lawmakers. After a lunch break, senator after senator stood up and declared Blagojevich unfit to hold office as they prepared for a historic vote on whether to toss him out.

"The whole world is watching Illinois today, and you know what? I'm tired of it," said Democratic Sen. Terry Link of the Chicago suburb of Waukegan. "You don't know whether to get angry or cry because we've been duped again. You were with the last governor, and we were with this governor," he said, pointing first to Republicans and then to his fellow Democrats.

Blagojevich acknowledged he sometimes mingled campaign fundraising with government decisions or cut administrative corners to achieve his goals. But he maintained his motivation was always to help constituents.

FBI wiretaps from a federal corruption probe captured something "all of us in politics do in order to run campaigns and win elections," Blagojevich told senators, who were to vote later Thursday on ousting him.

The governor said he would like to apologize, but couldn't because he didn't do anything wrong. The senators watched attentively. Many leaned forward in their seats. Some took notes.

"It's painful and it's lonely, but I want you to know I never, ever intended to commit a criminal act," Blagojevich said.

The two-term Democratic governor spoke for 47 minutes, then smiled and winked at reporters as he passed the press box on his way out of the Senate.

Blagojevich's emotional defense was in sharp contrast to the picture drawn by impeachment prosecutor David Ellis. He told senators Blagojevich's own words, caught on tape in the federal corruption probe, reveal an abuse of power.

"Every decision this governor made was based on one of three criteria: his legal situation, his personal situation and his political situation," Ellis said.

"The people of this state deserve so much better. The governor should be removed from office," he added.

The governor's impeachment was triggered by his arrest last month on a variety of federal corruption charges. The criminal complaint against him included a long list of shocking quotes that portrayed Blagojevich as trying to auction off President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat and pressure people for campaign donations.

But Blagojevich said Thursday those are mere allegations that have not been proven. Also unproven are claims his administration evaded state hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, expanded a health care program without legislative approval and spent $2.6 million on flu vaccine that went to waste.

After the governor's presentation, Ellis said Blagojevich simply dismissed most of the allegations, never explaining his actions and never denying the quotes attributed to him by federal prosecutors.

Ellis hammered away at Blagojevich's decision not to answer detailed questions under oath.

"He talked more about the evidence with Barbara Walters on 'The View' than he did here in this chamber today," Ellis said.

The governor had refused to take part in the trial, but surprised everyone by asking to make a closing statement. By doing so instead of testifying, Blagojevich didn't have to be sworn in or answer questions.

Ellis earlier played the only Blagojevich recordings federal prosecutors have released a few minutes of telephone conversations that appear to show Blagojevich linking his decision on legislation to getting a campaign contribution.

Blagojevich did not deny the quotes attributed to him by federal prosecutors, such as calling Obama's Senate seat "a (expletive) valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing."

Nor did he provide the context that he has repeatedly said would show that his comments were not criminal.

Only a small part of Blagojevich's defense was dedicated to a point-by-point rebuttal of the impeachment charges. Much of it focused on his complaints about not being allowed to call witnesses related to the criminal charges against him or insisting that he was always motivated by a desire to help the struggling Illinoisans he has met.

"What he said was factually untrue. It was moving, but it was false," said Sen. Chris Lauzen, a Republican from Aurora.

Blagojevich painted himself as a child of immigrants whose hard work allowed him to live the American dream.

Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval of Chicago called the governor's speech "a little too cute for a process that is very serious."

Blagojevich left the Capitol immediately after his presentation, taking a state plane home to Chicago for perhaps the last time. Returning to his North Side home, he told reporters he planned to go for a run.

Each senator was given five minutes to speak before the final vote on Blagojevich's fate. Republican Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon called him "a devious, cynical, crass and corrupt politician."

Conviction is virtually certain, as even Blagojevich acknowledges. He presented no defense during the impeachment trial and has few, if any, allies left in state government.

If Blagojevich is convicted, he will immediately be removed from office and replaced by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat. No other Illinois governor has been impeached, let alone convicted in a Senate trial.

Blagojevich, 52, was arrested last month on a variety of federal corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing Obama's Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.

He was impeached in the House on Jan. 9 for abuse of power. The 13 accusations included plotting to give financial assistance to the Tribune Co. only if members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board were fired, awarding state contracts or permits in exchange for campaign contributions, and violating hiring and firing laws.

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