Ill. AG Asks Court To Declare Blagojevich Unfit

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked the state's Supreme Court to strip Gov. Rod Blagojevich of his powers. Blagojevich, who was arrested on corruption charges this week, has ignored calls for his resignation. But his chief of staff, John Harris, has resigned.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Today in Illinois, court action, a resignation and denials in the unfolding corruption scandal. The state's attorney general asked the Illinois Supreme Court to remove Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich from office and Blagojevich's chief of staff who was also arrested in the probe, step down. And to, Congressman Jesse Jackson Junior denied the news report that his brothers and fundraisers were part of a pay-to-play scheme to win him a Senate seat. NPR's Cheryl Corley has our story.

CHERYL CORLEY: After Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested this week on corruption charges, the state's Attorney General Lisa Madigan said before she took any action, she would wait to see if the governor would resign on his own. Today, the waiting game ended and Madigan announced that she had filed a request with the State Supreme Court asking the court to strip Governor Blagojevich of his powers.

Ms. LISA MADIGAN (Attorney General, Illinois): I have asked the Supreme Court to appoint the lieutenant governor as the acting governor. I recognize that this is an extraordinary request but these are extraordinary circumstances.

CORLEY: On Tuesday, the governor and his Chief of Staff John Harris were arrested, accused of engaging in pay-for-play politics. Federal prosecutors said the most egregious instance was the governor's alleged effort to get money and favors in exchange for his ability to appoint someone to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama. Next week, when state lawmakers gather, impeaching the governor is likely to be on the agenda, but Madigan says she'd filed her lawsuit because any impeachment would take time and state government would be paralyzed by a governor incapable of doing his job.

Ms. MADIGAN: Let me also be clear that my pleadings are not - they are not about whether the governor's conduct should result in his criminal conviction. This case is about whether the governor has the ability to legitimately and effectively carry out his duties and exercise his authority as governor.

CORLEY: Madigan's filing is the first of its kind in the state's history. Three citizens have filed a similar complaint. Everyday since his arrest, the governor has shown up for work at his Chicago office. Before he left home today, he and his family prayed with three ministers, Reverend Marshall Hatch says they avoided talking politics.

Reverend MARSHALL HATCH (Head Pastor, New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, West Garfield, Chicago): One of the things that we wanted to do was - you know, give people even in the state of reason to hope that at some point, you know, we'll be all able to move beyond the present tension and then get back to the business of understanding that we got some tremendous problems and people are suffering in so many ways in this state and across the country.

CORLEY: And so, says Reverend Hatch, they read Bible Scriptures and prayed. And then the governor left for work. A few hours after the attorney general's press conference, the governor's office issued a press release saying he had signed a bill that would give insurance coverage to parents of children with autism. The governor has ignored calls for him to leave office. But today, Chief of Staff John Harris who was also charged and arrested this week resigned. His attorney says it was the right thing to do. There remains a question about the vacant U.S. Senate seat and Congressman Jesse Jackson Junior who was once considered a leading contender denied again today that he was involved in any pay-to-play scheme. The Chicago Tribune reported today that one of the congressman's brothers and Jackson fundraisers may have tried to influence the process on the congressman's behalf. Jackson says no. But Robert Starks, a political science professor at Northeastern Illinois University says it will be difficult for Jackson to remain viable for the Senate post.

Professor ROBERT STARKS (Political Science, Northeastern Illinois University): It would be difficult. I don't think it would be impossible because there are, you know, many stories in American politics where people have been, you know, accused of wrongdoing and have bounced back and, you know, have made come backs. I think however, it does hurt his immediate chances at this point.

CORLEY: Despite that vacancy, the focus of Illinois lawmakers for now is ousting the governor. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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Blagojevich's Removal Sought As Top Aide Quits

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Friday asked the state Supreme Court to temporarily remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office, saying he has been effectively "disabled" by the public corruption charges brought against him.

Blagojevich's chief of staff, John Harris, who was charged along with the governor earlier this week, resigned on Friday.

In court documents, Madigan asked the Illinois Supreme Court to allow Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn to immediately take over as acting governor until the court determines whether Blagojevich is fit to serve.

A State In Limbo

Madigan said the public corruption allegations against Blagojevich have severely hampered the state's ability to borrow money to fund state services, including medical care, schools, day-care centers, nursing homes and mental health institutions.

"The pervasive nature and severity of these pending charges disable Mr. Blagojevich from making effective decisions on critical, time-sensitive issues, including filling the United States Senate seat, signing or vetoing legislation, dispersing state funds or awarding state contracts," Madigan asserted in the state's pleadings.

If the court does not remove Blagojevich, Madigan asked that he be barred from appointing a senator to fill the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama; acting on any legislation; directing state agencies in negotiating or executing contracts; and other duties associated with the office.

Blagojevich, 52, and Harris, 46, were arrested Tuesday on federal conspiracy and solicitation of bribery charges. Blagojevich, who denies wrongdoing, has continued to work at his office in downtown Chicago.

Blagojevich met with several ministers at his home on Friday. The Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church, said the group did not discuss the public corruption allegations.

Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said Blagojevich was on a "political corruption crime spree," participating in a number of schemes that included efforts to sell an appointment to Obama's now-vacant Senate seat.

Illinois law instructs the governor to fill that seat, and Fitzgerald said phone calls intercepted by government wiretaps between Blagojevich, Harris and a number of Senate hopefuls showed that the governor wanted to trade an appointment for campaign contributions, a Cabinet post, an ambassadorship or other jobs.

Legislature May Act

Senate Democrats have warned Blagojevich not to name a replacement. The Illinois state Legislature has planned a special session Monday and could strip Blagojevich of his power to fill the seat.

Blagojevich and Harris have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.

The solicitation charge is related to a scheme to pressure the Tribune Co. to fire several members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board in exchange for state assistance in the purchase of Wrigley Field. The Tribune Co. owns the historic ballpark, and the company was attempting to negotiate its sale to the Illinois Finance Authority.

In court documents filed Friday, Madigan also asked the court to bar Blagojevich from directing the activities of the Illinois Finance Authority. The IFA is a self-financed state authority engaged in issuing taxable and tax-exempt bonds, making loans and investing capital for businesses, nonprofits and local governments.

Madigan encouraged the Legislature to move forward with efforts to impeach the governor; she said she decided to take legal action because it would be faster.

"When you have no confidence from the people, in a democracy there's nowhere else to go but to resign," Lt. Gov. Quinn said.

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