Ill. High Court Rejects Attempt To Remove Governor
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Anybody who thought the governor of Illinois would have quit by now has another thing coming. Rod Blagojevich is fighting to keep his job. That was the message as the governor met with reporters yesterday. It was also the message as his attorney attacked lawmakers who are considering if the governor should be impeached. NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER: From the very beginning of the hearing of the Illinois House special committee of inquiry into impeachment, Blagojevich attorney Ed Genson made clear his client wouldn't be removed from office without a fight and that it will probably be a long, drawn-out fight at that.
Mr. ED GENSON (Defense Attorney): The issue in this case is the evidence that you have. The evidence that you have is nil, zero, nothing.
Assemblyman JACK FRANKS (Democrat, Woodstock, Illinois): We haven't tried the case. We are getting evidence now. And...
Mr. GENSON: This isn't evidence, and that's my argument. If you'll let me finish, I'll bet you - I'll finish, and then you can go and talk among yourselves and maybe even decide that I'm wrong.
SCHAPER: This exchange between lawyer Genson and Democratic state Representative Jack Franks was typical as lawmakers try to move quickly in their inquiry into whether the governor should be impeached and Genson challenges them every step of the way. In this next exchange, Franks argues that if Genson wants to quarrel with the U.S. attorney's criminal complaint charging Blagojevich with corruption, then lawmakers should be able to question the governor.
Mr. GENSON: So, I'm not allowed to question the lack of confrontation?
Assemblyman FRANKS: No. I'm just saying if we want to get to the facts, we should have your client here...
Mr. GENSON: I'm not allowed to - I might have...
Assemblyman FRANKS: If you want to get to the facts, let's bring him here, let's ask the questions. There are a lot of things we'd like to know.
Mr. GENSON: This is "Alice in Wonderland."
Assemblyman FRANKS: I don't believe so at all.
Mr. GENSON: They talk about...
SCHAPER: Genson questioned the fairness of the lawmakers themselves. He asked that a few be removed from the committee because Genson says they've made comments that suggest they already believe Blagojevich is guilty. After the hearing, Genson elaborated.
Mr. GENSON: If you know of another case coming out of the state of Illinois where there were so many people that wanted to chop somebody's head off, you'd tell me it. But I don't - this is a real witch hunt.
Assemblywoman BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE (Democrat, Chicago, Illinois): I don't think that it's a witch hunt.
SCHAPER: Chicago Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie is chairing the impeachment committee.
Assemblywoman CURRIE: I think we've got plenty of evidence out there of questionable activities on the part of the governor. Remember that we are not sitting as a criminal jury.
SCHAPER: Currie says the impeachment committee is not a court of law and not bound to a trial's rules of evidence. Lawmakers don't have to prove Blagojevich committed a crime in office to impeach him. In fact, the Illinois Constitution says lawmakers only need cause, which Currie says could be that the governor betrayed the public trust or abused his authority.
While this effort to remove Illinois' embattled Democratic governor from office heated up, another effort was stopped cold. The Illinois Supreme Court rejected a request that Blagojevich be declared unfit for office, ruling without comment. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan argued the pay-to-play criminal charges against Blagojevich call into question virtually every action he takes as governor.
The attorney general says in a statement she's disappointed with the court's decision which she says leaves Illinois in an unsustainable situation with a governor who cannot do the job. But Blagojevich is out to prove otherwise. He's been to work every day since his arrest, signing bills, among other duties. And yesterday he spoke briefly with reporters for the first time since his arrest, outside of his northwest side Chicago home.
Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): I can't wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys and, most importantly, the people of Illinois. That's who I'm dying to talk to.
SCHAPER: But Blagojevich wouldn't say when that would be.
Governor BLAGOJEVICH: Just hang loose. Hold on, just hang loose. Now can I get a run in, do you think?
SHAPER: The fit governor then tried to take a run through his neighborhood. His attorney will take another run at state lawmakers today as the impeachment committee calls its first witnesses. David Schaper, NPR News, in Springfield, Illinois.
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