Illinois Senate Ousts Governor
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. It's official. Rod Blagojevich has been removed from office.
THOMAS FITZGERALD: 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.
SIEGEL: The Illinois governor made a final dramatic pitch to the state Senate today to try to keep his job. He delivered a defiant closing argument in his impeachment trial, but the Senate still voted 59 to nothing to remove him from office. NPR's David Schaper reports from the state Capitol in Springfield, Illinois.
(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL)
FITZGERALD: The Senate is back in session. We're informed that the governor will be here momentarily. We'll see.
DAVID SCHAPER: Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Fitzgerald slyly noted how Governor Blagojevich has thumbed his nose at this historic impeachment trial all week long and that he has refused to put up a defense before today. Blagojevich has been trashing the proceedings on TV talk shows as biased and unfair. And when he finally stood before the 59 silent, stoic, and solemn members of the Illinois state Senate, he picked up on that theme again telling them he wanted to present the unadulterated truth.
ROD BLAGOJEVICH: And have a chance to be able to show you here in the Senate, show the people of Illinois, and show anybody else who's listening that I have done absolutely nothing wrong, that I followed every law, that I never ever intended to violate any law.
SCHAPER: In a fast-pace statement that lasted close to an hour, Blagojevich went through the 13 articles of impeachment brought against him by the Illinois House. Those articles charge the governor with abusing the power of his office, breaking state and federal laws, and betraying the public trust. Blagojevich says none of those allegations is proven.
BLAGOJEVICH: You haven't proved a crime, and you can't because it hadn't happened. How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?
SCHAPER: Blagojevich criticized audio recordings played during the impeachment trial. Those tapes recorded from FBI wiretaps are of conversations in which the governor is talking about a $100,000 campaign contribution he allegedly tried to extort from a horse race track owner. Prosecutors say Blagojevich was withholding his signature on a bill the horse racing industry wanted until he got that hefty contribution. Here is how Blagojevich tried to refute those allegations.
BLAGOJEVICH: You guys are in politics. You know what we have to do to go out and run - and run elections. There was no criminal activity on those four tapes.
SCHAPER: He did not address at all what some senators consider the most damaging evidence against him - the federal corruption charges that alleged Blagojevich tried to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama to the highest bidder. His silence on that issue is a point hammered home by special prosecutor David Ellis in his rebuttal to Blagojevich.
DAVID ELLIS: He doesn't think for one minute about the people. He just thinks about himself.
SCHAPER: Ellis says Blagojevich can make a good speech when the cameras are on and he knows people are listening. But it's a different story when the lights and cameras are off, that he thinks no one is listening. Then the governor focuses on what he can get for himself, Ellis said. And it happened 60 times in 60 conversations recorded by FBI wiretaps.
ELLIS: He has abused the power of his office. He has traded it for personal gain time and time again. I think the people of this state have had enough.
SCHAPER: Most Illinois senators seem to agree and were unmoved by Blagojevich's speech, including Republican Matt Murphy.
MATT MURPHY: The governor is a very able speaker, and he gave a very good presentation. But the truth of the matter is the man lies exceedingly well, and he did it repeatedly in his remarks.
SCHAPER: After deliberating for close to three hours, senators voted unanimously to convict Blagojevich and remove him from office. Blagojevich had already returned to his Chicago home while he still had use of the state plane. After the vote, he told reporters he's disappointed but not surprised.
BLAGOJEVICH: I'm going to keep fighting to clear my name. I guess I'll just have to wait until I have my day in court.
SCHAPER: David Schaper, NPR News, in Springfield, Illinois.
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