Blagojevich Trial Ends With A New Illinois Governor

Illinois state senators have removed Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office. Not a single lawmaker came to his defense during the impeachment trial. Blagojevich, who was accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat, becomes the first U.S. governor in more than 20 years to be removed by impeachment. Patrick Quinn replaces Blagojevich as governor.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The state of Illinois has a new governor this morning. Patrick Quinn took the oath of office moments after the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to convict Rod Blagojevich at his impeachment trial and remove him from the post late yesterday. More about Governor Quinn in a moment. Now to an historic and turbulent day in the Illinois State Capitol, where Blagojevich made a last- minute attempt to save his job. NPR's David Schaper reports.

(Soundbite of Illinois General Assembly vote, January 29, 2009)

Unidentified Man: Althoff?

State Senator PAMELA J. ALTHOFF (Republican, Crystal Lake, Illinois): Yes.

Unidentified Woman: Bivins?

State Senator TIM BIVINS (Republican, Dixon, Illinois): Yes.

DAVID SCHAPER: One by one, the 59 members of the Illinois Senate cast a vote like none they had ever cast before, and all said yes to convicting the governor.

Justice THOMAS FITZGERALD (Illinois Supreme Court): The article of impeachment, having been sustained by the required constitutional majority, I now pronounce the judgment of conviction against Rod R. Blagojevich, thereby removing him from the office of governor effective immediately.

SCHAPER: Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Fitzgerald presided over the four-day long impeachment trial. After boycotting for three days, Blagojevich retained his flair for the dramatic until the very end, showing up in the Illinois Senate chamber for a last-ditch effort to save what little remained of his once-promising political career.

(Soundbite of Illinois General Assembly hearing, January 29, 2009)

Former Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): I'm here to appeal to you, to your sense of fairness, your sense of responsibility, and to the truth, and to the truth. I'm asking you to acquit me and give me a chance to show my innocence.

SCHAPER: Blagojevich argued the special prosecutor failed to prove any one of the 13 charges in the article of impeachment against him.

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: And you haven't been able to show wrongdoing in this trial. And you've denied me the right to be able to bring in a whole bunch of witnesses who will show you I didn't do anything wrong, and I've done most things right.

SCHAPER: Illinois state senators weren't buying.

State Senator MATT MURPHY (Republican, Palatine, Illinois): He is an unusually good liar.

SCHAPER: Republican Matt Murphy.

Sen. MURPHY: He came down here without impunity, and lied to every member of this chamber.

State Senator JOHN M. SULLIVAN (Democrat, Quincy, Illinois): His appearance today was - to say the least - too little too late.

SCHAPER: Democrat John Sullivan said Blagojevich is no longer fit to govern. During the impeachment trial, senators heard testimony about schemes in which they found Blagojevich abused his authority, bypassed the legislature, mismanaged and misspent taxpayer funds, and traded the official duties of his office for campaign contributions. Democrat James Meeks used the governor's own infamous words when allegedly scheming to cash in on the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama, in explaining his vote.

State Senator JAMES T. MEEKS (Democrat, Calumet City, Illinois): I say, we have this thing called impeachment, and it's bleeping golden, and we've used it the right way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SCHAPER: Outside the Senate chamber, many of the Illinois residents who came to watch the trial say they're glad to see Rod Blagojevich go. Anita Pence(ph) of Litchfield works in the Illinois secretary of state's office and came over on her lunch break to hear Blagojevich speak for the last time as governor.

Ms. ANITA PENCE: He doesn't really care what the people of Illinois think. He keeps talking on and on about all the things he's done. I - you know, I'm beginning to think he thinks he's Mother Teresa reincarnated or something.

SCHAPER: Pence says morale among state workers has plummeted during the Blagojevich scandal. She says she's looking forward to the day Illinois is no longer the butt of the nation's jokes. For his part, Blagojevich immediately flew home to Chicago, using his state plane one last time before the Senate voted him out of office. He says he's disappointed but not surprised, and he vows to fight on - next in the criminal courts. David Schaper, NPR News, in Springfield, Illinois.

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Illinois Senate Votes To Oust Blagojevich

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich addresses the state Senate during his impeachment trial Thursday i i

hide captionIllinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich addresses the state Senate during his impeachment trial Thursday in Springfield. Blagojevich has been accused by federal authorities of corruption, including offering to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Obama.

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich addresses the state Senate during his impeachment trial Thursday

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich addresses the state Senate during his impeachment trial Thursday in Springfield. Blagojevich has been accused by federal authorities of corruption, including offering to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Obama.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Meet Pat Quinn

If Rod Blagojevich was vain and over the top, the new Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, 60, is a mostly humor-challenged pol. He is an outsider who spent many years, and many elections, trying to make it on the inside. He champions the little guy, the powerless, with his longtime support for citizen initiatives, and has spent a career battling special interests.

Read more about Pat Quinn.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was removed from office Thursday after the state Senate voted 59-0 to find him guilty of abuse of power at his impeachment trial in Springfield.

Senators also voted unanimously to bar Blagojevich, a Democrat in his second term, from ever again holding public office in Illinois.

Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn promptly took the oath of office to become the new governor.

"The ordeal is over," Quinn told lawmakers.

The vote came nearly two months after his arrest on corruption charges that included allegations that he tried to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. Following a political sideshow in Washington, D.C., his subsequent choice for the seat, Democrat Roland Burris, became the state's new U.S. senator.

Blagojevich made a last stand Thursday, appearing before state legislators for the first time to insist that they had no proof that he was involved in any illegal activity.

Blagojevich's statement represented his closing argument at a trial that he had boycotted until Thursday, saying the proceedings were biased against him.

"You haven't proved a crime and you haven't given me a chance to disprove a crime," Blagojevich said during a rambling speech that lasted nearly an hour.

Blagojevich, 52, has been under pressure to resign since he was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges of solicitation of bribery and conspiracy, but he has repeatedly maintained that he did nothing wrong. The Illinois House impeached him on Jan. 9, setting the stage for the Senate trial.

The governor attacked the impeachment process throughout, saying it was "rigged."

Last month, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald asked state legislators not to call witnesses who might be involved in the criminal investigation, and they agreed to comply with his request. But Thursday, the governor asked state senators to further investigate the allegations against him or else allow him to call witnesses to address the alleged criminal activity.

"How can you throw a governor out of office who is clamoring and begging and pleading with you to bring witnesses in and prove his innocence?" he said. "Let me show you that I'm innocent, and I didn't do anything wrong."

House-appointed prosecutor David Ellis has tried since Monday to show that Blagojevich abused his power as governor. Before resting his case on Wednesday, Ellis played recordings of government-intercepted conversations in which the governor allegedly demanded campaign contributions in exchange for signing legislation.

Ellis also called witnesses, including an FBI agent, who vouched for the accuracy of excerpts of some of Blagojevich's conversations, which were included in the federal criminal complaint.

The complaint and an accompanying affidavit, which were included in the articles of impeachment, allege Blagojevich was involved in a number of corrupt acts, including a scheme to trade an appointment to President Obama's vacant Senate seat for money, contributions or a lucrative job.

Blagojevich's Senate speech occasionally rambled far from the issue at hand.

At one point, he recounted his life story as the son of immigrants and told of his Serbian father's internment in a Nazi prison camp. In contrast, "I have been blessed to live the American dream," he said.

Before Blagojevich gave his closing arguments, Ellis said the governor was guilty of widespread abuse of power.

"The governor's own words demonstrated, time and time again, that he saw his ability to appoint a U.S. senator as a golden goose, as a bargaining chip to be leveraged for his own personal and political well-being," he said.

Blagojevich has been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and solicitation of bribery in connection with a deal involving the Illinois Finance Authority. So far, a grand jury has not issued an indictment, and no trial date has been set.

Earlier this week, Blagojevich took his case to the public in a media blitz that had him appearing on numerous talk and news shows from Good Morning, America to Larry King Live.

NPR's David Schaper and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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