Illinois Impeaches Gov. Blagojevich

The Illinois House has voted to impeach Governor Rod Blagojevich. We examine the impeachment proceedings and what happens next for the embattled governor.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

From NPR News, it's Day to Day. The Illinois House has voted 114 to one to impeach Governor Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich is facing allegations of attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat left open by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder. The governor held a press conference this afternoon responding to the vote.

(Soundbite of press conference, January 9, 2009)

Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): We're going to move forward, and I'm going to continue to fight every step of the way. Let me reassert to all of you once more that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, and I'm confident that at the end of the day, I will be properly exonerated.

COHEN: That was Rod Blagojevich speaking earlier this afternoon.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

Joining us from the state capitol in Springfield is NPR's David Schaper. David, the vote, 114 to one, who was the one?

DAVID SCHAPER: Well, it's a Chicago Democrat, Milton Patterson, a state representative from the city of Chicago, who said that when he read the impeachment committee's report, he really wasn't comfortable voting against the governor because he has no firsthand knowledge of any of the evidence. And he said it was his own gut feeling that the governor should not be impeached at this point in time. A couple of others - one other member voted present, and a few other members of the Chicago delegation - Democrats who have a bit of a closer relationship to the governor - thought it might have been a little bit premature because he has not been convicted of any crimes, just accused of crimes in the federal courts thus far.

ADAMS: David, remind us; what do the articles of impeachment actually accuse Blagojevich of?

SCHAPER: The House alleges in its resolution to impeach the governor that he has betrayed the public trust; he has violated his oath of office; he's abused the authority of his office in putting his own personal interests to head of the state's interests. The case used much of the information in the criminal complaint filed by federal authorities against the governor at the time of his arrest last month that laid out many allegations of pay-to-play politics in Illinois, in which the governor is accused of trying to cash in on his official duties of state government, including allegedly trying to auction off to the highest bidder the Illinois U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. But the case for impeachment goes far beyond those criminal charges. The totality of the evidence, the House report says, demonstrates an abuse of office of the highest magnitude. Chicago Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie, who chaired the special House impeachment committee to compile the evidence against the governor, made the case to her colleagues on the House floor.

(Soundbite of speech)

State Representative BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE (Democrat, Chicago, Illinois): This governor tramples on the legislative prerogative. He breaks state and federal laws. In his own words, he expresses a willingness to barter state official acts and state taxpayer money for personal and political gain. This governor has violated his oath of office; this governor has breached the public trust; this governor must be impeached, and I urge your aye vote.

SCHAPER: Other members on the House floor compared it to a circus, a freak show and an embarrassment for the state of Illinois, and argued that the governor must be removed from office.

ADAMS: Well, the word "impeachment" means that the process now starts. There will be a trial in the Senate, in the State Senate there. When will that start?

SCHAPER: Well, the indication now from Senate leaders is that the trial would not begin until probably January 26th. The new Senate is being sworn in, a new legislature; both the House and the Senate will be sworn in next Wednesday. And after that time, they will adopt rules by which the committee will proceed. But because many Illinois lawmakers are going to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President-elect Obama the week following, they didn't want to have to start and stop the trial. So, they're not going to begin until after everybody returns on the 26th of January.

ADAMS: NPR's David Schaper talking with us from Springfield, Illinois. Thank you, David.

SCHAPER: Thank you, Noah.

ADAMS: Day to Day continues in a moment.

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Illinois House Votes To Impeach Governor

Speaker Michael Madigan presides over the Illinois House of Representatives. i i

hide captionSpeaker Michael Madigan presides over the Illinois House of Representatives as lawmakers discuss a resolution to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Speaker Michael Madigan presides over the Illinois House of Representatives.

Speaker Michael Madigan presides over the Illinois House of Representatives as lawmakers discuss a resolution to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Illinois House voted Friday to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich, making him the first chief executive in the state's history to face the ignominy of a trial before the state Senate.

Blagojevich, who is looking at criminal corruption charges for allegedly using his office in a scheme that included trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, was impeached by a 114-1 vote. The decision came exactly one month after federal prosecutors unveiled corruption charges against the governor.

Blagojevich has denied the criminal charges. He criticized the House impeachment process as biased and said a Senate trial would produce a different result.

At a brief appearance before reporters Friday, Blagojevich characterized the impeachment as a political vendetta executed against him by the House.

"The House's action today and the causes of the impeachment are because I've done things to fight for families that are with me here today," said Blagojevich, flanked by people he said represented the issues facing Illinois. He did not take questions from reporters.

The governor said he would be "properly exonerated."

Democratic Rep. Jack Franks was one of many who urged his colleagues to vote in favor of impeachment. Franks called his role in the process his proudest moment as a legislator.

"It's our duty to clean up the mess and to stop the freak show that has become Illinois government," he said.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that he schemed to profit from his position as governor. The criminal complaint included an FBI agent's sworn affidavit describing wiretaps that caught Blagojevich allegedly talking about what he could get in exchange for appointing someone to Obama's seat.

A House committee on Thursday had unanimously recommended impeachment. The vote was based in part on the criminal charges but also other allegations as well — that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies and that he spent millions of dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn't needed and couldn't be brought into the country.

Democratic Rep. Suzanna Mendoza said Blagojevich's legacy would be "cloaked in shame and darkness."

"It's been an ugly and shameful spectacle," she said.

The committee's report said citizens of Illinois "must have confidence that their governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own. It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so."

Blagojevich chose not to testify before the House panel that recommended his impeachment. "His silence in this great matter is deafening," said House Democratic Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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