JACKI LYDEN, host:
The impeachment trial of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins tomorrow in the Illinois State Senate. He's already been impeached by the House for his alleged attempt to sell Barack Obama's old seat in the U.S. Senate. But rather than defend himself in person, Blagojevich will be in New York courting public opinion, appearing on "Good Morning America" and "The View." NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER: Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested in December and charged with what the U.S. attorney in Chicago calls a political corruption crime spree, is making some pretty interesting analogies to his plight.
In interviews on sympathetic talk-radio programs and in a news conference Friday, Blagojevich first referred to December 9, the day FBI agents woke up him up and took him from his home in handcuffs, as his own Pearl Harbor Day. He then likened himself to the Jimmy Stewart character in the Frank Capra classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," saying he's fighting against a political industrial complex. And then there was this...
Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): I like old movies, and I like old cowboy movies.
SCHAPER: Blagojevich compared his situation to a Gary Cooper-like character in an old Western, wrongfully accused of cattle-rustling or stealing horses. But he says even in the old Wild West, someone usually called for a fair trial before hanging the accused.
Governor BLAGOJEVICH: Under these rules, I'm not even getting a fair trial. They're just hanging me.
SCHAPER: Governor Blagojevich says the rules adopted by the Illinois Senate to be used in his impeachment trial this week are unfair and a total sham.
Governor BLAGOJEVICH: To be part of a process that doesn't allow for calling of witnesses, and worse than that, it doesn't allow for me or any citizen to challenge charges that are brought against me, is a fundamental violation of the Constitution. It is a trampling of the Constitution.
State Senator JOHN CULLERTON (Democrat, Chicago, Illinois; President, Illinois Senate): I think he's misreading the rules.
SCHAPER: Democrat John Cullerton is president of the Illinois Senate, and he chaired the committee that drafted the rules for the impeachment trial.
State Senator CULLERTON: It is not a criminal case. It's not about his liberty. It's about his job. And there are definitely different rules in a criminal trial.
SCHAPER: Cullerton says because there has been no impeachment trial in Illinois in well over a century, the Illinois Senate used as a model for its rules the trial of President Clinton by the U.S. Senate a decade ago.
Blagojevich complains that he cannot call his own witnesses in his defense. But the rules state that the governor can call whomever he wants as long as they are willing to appear voluntarily. But the rules state that neither side can subpoena anyone whose testimony might undermine the federal criminal case against the governor, per the request of the U.S. attorney's office.
Blagojevich also complains that the transcript of the House committee that brought the impeachment charges against him will be entered as evidence, even though they are just accusations and not proven. But Cullerton says the rules also allow the governor to introduce whatever evidence he wants to contradict what is in the House record.
State Senator CULLERTON: The rules of evidence are actually, unlike a trial, are very broad, they're very wide open. The governor can introduce evidence like that or any other, even hearsay evidence if he felt it would help him.
SCHAPER: Cullerton says the impeachment trial will be as fair as it can be. But Jeffrey Shaman, a constitutional law professor at DePaul University in Chicago, says impeachment trials are really political procedures and are not unbiased. Under Illinois' constitution, senators only need to find cause to remove the governor from office, and they get to define what cause is. But Shaman says there is a remedy for the governor.
Professor JEFFREY SHAMAN (Constitutional Law, DePaul University, Chicago): If there is any unfairness here, instead of boycotting the procedure, the governor and his attorneys should go to the trial, and they should on a charge-by-charge basis argue to the Senate that there's not sufficient evidence to convict on this particular charge.
SCHAPER: Instead, Governor Blagojevich will try to salvage what's left of his flagging political career through a media blitz of national TV appearances. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.