Illinois lawmakers are expected to vote Friday on whether to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich. If that happens, he would be the first sitting governor in the state's history to face such action.
The Democrat faces a wide range of federal corruption charges, including allegations that he wanted to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.
The Illinois House special impeachment committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that the full House impeach Blagojevich.
"This is a very sad day in the state of Illinois," said Chicago Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie. She chairs the committee, which has been gathering evidence of the governor's alleged improprieties since shortly after Blagojevich's arrest a month ago.
"The totality of the evidence clearly suggests that this is an individual who is not fit to be governor of the state of Illinois," she said.
The Illinois House takes up the matter Friday. If the lawmakers vote to impeach, the Illinois Senate would then put the governor on trial in a couple of weeks. A conviction would result in his removal.
Lawmakers say the criminal charges that accuse Blagojevich of trying to sell or trade his official duties for campaign cash or other personal benefits call into question almost every action he now takes.
And their case for impeachment goes beyond criminal allegations. They say he abused the power of his office: bypassing the Legislature to create new programs he couldn't pay for; circumventing hiring laws to give jobs to political allies; and misappropriating taxpayer funds.
"He has snubbed his nose at that oath of office and, therefore, snubbed his nose at the people and the constitution," said Republican Rep. Mike Bost. "And it hurts tremendously to know that we have a chief executive officer [who] can't realize the pain that his actions have caused the state of Illinois."
'Nobody Is Above The Law'
But while many decried the day as a sad one for Illinois, Republican Bill Black took an opposite view.
"I think it's a good, glad, happy day for Illinois," he said, "because it points out that nobody is above the law and anybody will be held accountable for their actions."
After the impeachment committee vote, Blagojevich issued a statement calling the proceedings flawed and biased and the outcome a foregone conclusion.
"I don't think that the hearing did much more than reinforce decisions that had already been made," Blagojevich attorney Ed Gensen said.
Earlier in the day, Gensen filed a motion in federal court to try to get Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and his top assistants thrown off the corruption case. Gensen contends Fitzgerald made prejudicial statements when outlining the charges against Blagojevich.
Fitzgerald said the governor was "on a political corruption crime spree" and that his conduct "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave."
An assistant U.S. attorney calls the motion meritless.
Meanwhile, former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris testified before the impeachment committee Thursday about how Blagojevich chose to appoint him to the Senate seat vacated by Obama.
Burris reiterated that he didn't offer anything to Blagojevich in exchange for the seat, nor did the governor ask him to "pay to play." Burris responded emphatically when asked by lawmakers if he ever discussed any quid pro quo with the governor.
"Absolutely, positively not," he said.
It's not just Illinois lawmakers seeking that assurance from Burris under oath — it was a condition set by Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate before they would consider allowing Burris to take his seat.
"I feel I passed the test with flying colors," he said.
But Burris still has another test to pass: He needs the signature of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to certify his appointment to the Senate — a second condition for him to be seated.
Burris is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to force White to sign. There is no word on when the court might rule.