ARI SHAPIRO, host:
Illinois lawmakers are expected to vote today on whether to impeach their governor. If that happens, it would be the first time in the state's history. Democrat Rod Blagojevich faces a wide range of federal corruption charges, including allegations that he wanted to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder. Yesterday, Roland Burris told the state's impeachment committee how he came to be Blagojevich's choice for the seat. From the Illinois state capital in Springfield, NPR's David Schaper reports.
DAVID SCHAPER: This should be an exciting time for Illinois lawmakers here in the state capital. One of their former colleagues, who walked these echoey halls with them just a few years ago, is about to be sworn in as president. But the scandal that's engulfed Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich in the weeks since the election of Barack Obama has cast a pall under this capitol dome.
State Representative BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE (Democrat, Chicago, Illinois): This is a very sad day in the state of Illinois.
SCHAPER: Chicago Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie chairs the Illinois House Special Impeachment Committee, which has been gathering evidence of the governor's alleged improprieties since shortly after Blagojevich's arrest a month ago.
Rep. CURRIE: The totality of the evidence clearly suggests that this is an individual who is not fit to be governor of the state of Illinois, and I vote yes.
SCHAPER: The committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that the full House impeach Blagojevich. The Illinois House takes up the matter today, and if the House votes to impeach, the Illinois Senate would then put the governor on trial a couple of weeks from now. 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 most 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. Republican State Representative Mike Bost.
State Representative MIKE BOST (Republican, Carbondale, Illinois): He has snubbed his nose at that oath of office, and therefore snubbed his nose at the people and the constitution, and it hurts tremendously to know that we have a chief executive officer that can't realize the pain that his actions have caused the state of Illinois.
SCHAPER: But while many decry this as a sad day for Illinois, Republican Bill Black takes an opposite view.
State Representative WILLIAM B. BLACK (Republican, Danville, Illinois): I don't think this is a sad day for Illinois; I think it's a good, glad, happy day for Illinois, because it points out that nobody is above the law and anybody will be held accountable for their actions.
SCHAPER: After the impeachment committee vote, Governor Blagojevich issued a statement, calling the proceedings flawed and biased and the outcome a foregone conclusion. Blagojevich attorney, Ed Genson.
Mr. ED GENSON (Counsel, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich): I don't think that the hearing did much more than reinforce decisions that had already been made.
SCHAPER: Earlier in the day, Genson 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. Genson contends Fitzgerald made prejudicial statements when outlining the charges against Blagojevich. Fitzgerald said the governor was, quote, "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.
Meantime, former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris testified before the impeachment committee about how Blagojevich chose to appoint him to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack 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.
Mr. ROLAND BURRIS (Former Attorney General, Illinois, Democrat; Appointee, U.S. Senate): Absolutely, positively not.
SCHAPER: It's not just Illinois lawmakers seeking that assurance from Burris under oath, but it was a condition set by Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate before they'll consider allowing Burris to take his seat.
Mr. BURRIS: I feel I passed the test with flying colors.
SCHAPER: 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. David Schaper, NPR News, in Springfield, Illinois.
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