MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Here's the latest in the Rod Blagojevich corruption scandal. Today in the Illinois General Assembly, a lawyer for the Democratic governor sparred with the committee that's considering impeachment. The governor's attorney said some lawmakers on the panel had already made up their minds. Also today, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear a case challenging Blagojevich's fitness to hold office. NPR's David Schaper reports from the state Capitol in Springfield.
DAVID SCHAPER: Surrounded by cameras, Blagojevich attorney Ed Genson walked into the ornate Illinois House committee hearing room in the state Capitol and bumped into a familiar face.
(Soundbite of committee meeting)
Unidentified Man: Welcome to Springfield.
Mr. ED GENSON (Defense Attorney): Yeah. I'm really happy to be here.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SCHAPER: That sarcastic response by Genson, a renowned Chicago defense attorney known for his tough cross-examinations and colorful courtroom antics, was a preview of what may well be a vigorous defense of the governor. Blagojevich was arrested last week on charges that he, among other things, schemed to benefit from his power to appoint a U.S. senator. The special House committee of inquiry into impeachment first moved to adopt the rules lawmakers will use to consider whether to recommend Blagojevich be impeached, and Genson immediately objected.
Mr. GENSON: In going over the rules and in going over the statute and going over the Constitution applicable to this proceeding, I find nothing, nothing in either - in any of those places that talks about what is the basis and what the basis for impeachment can be. I find nothing in any of those places regarding the standard of proof. And I would suggest, on behalf of Rod Blagojevich, that if we are going to hearing relative to these rules, that those two matters be dealt with.
SCHAPER: Illinois' Constitution does not adhere to the federal standard for impeachment - that of high crimes and misdemeanors - and simply states that the Legislature can impeach a governor based on cause. Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie is chairing the special impeachment committee.
Assemblywoman BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE (Democrat, Chicago, Illinois): We're not a court of law. We're not quite a grand jury. We're not bound by specific rules of evidence or specific procedures that might apply if we were in fact a grand jury or a panel of judges. These we are not.
SCHAPER: Other committee members added that the impeachment inquiry is not to determine whether or not Blagojevich committed crimes in office, but whether he has abused his authority and betrayed the public trust and, if so, should he be removed from office? Republican state Representative Bill Black.
Assemblyman BILL BLACK (Republican, Danville, Illinois): The office of governor does not belong to Rod Blagojevich, and it does not belong to the Illinois Democrat Party. It belongs to the people of Illinois. And by all accounts, the people have lost confidence in Governor Rod Blagojevich.
SCHAPER: But it's comments such as those that led to another objection by Blagojevich attorney Ed Genson. He asked that Black and a couple of other members of the committee be recused or removed.
Mr. GENSON: A number of the people who are on this committee express views that were - made it perfectly clear that they'd already made up their mind in this case.
SCHAPER: Committee Chairwoman Currie responded that the panel will be fair. But, she added, they are not jurors and not forbidden from expressing their opinions. Genson objected to other matters, too. And at times the exchanges got testy. He complained that the committee gave the governor too little notice of this hearing. And Genson argued that it's illegal for the committee to use material from the federal government's wiretaps of the governor's conversations. Currie responded that the legislative body is not bound by the same rules as courts of law and can use those potentially damning conversations.
Across the street from the state Capitol, the Illinois Supreme Court decided it will not take up a request from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan that Blagojevich be declared unfit to hold office. And the governor himself made brief comments to reporters this morning before taking a jog through his North Side Chicago neighborhood, saying that he is dying to talk to the people of Illinois and tell his side of the story. That day may soon be here, maybe even later today or tomorrow. Blagojevich then quoted Elvis, telling reporters to "hang loose." David Schaper, NPR News, in Springfield, Illinois.
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