SPRINGFIELD — State lawmakers insisted Tuesday they could fairly investigate Gov. Rod Blagojevich following years of criticizing him as a terrible leader as they opened unprecedented impeachment proceedings against him.
In the first hints of the drubbing to come, Democratic and Republican committee members struggled to tamp down their revulsion over the national embarrassment created by Blagojevich's arrest a week ago on charges he sought to sell everything from favorable government decisions to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
"There are many in this committee and many in this committee room who have been critical of this governor on a number of issues, but this committee must do its deliberations without regard to politics, without regard to differences of public policy and even without regard to whether the governor is competent and whether he's done his job well," said Rep. Lou Lang (D- Skokie). "It must only be about whether the governor has violated his constitutional oath."
Blagojevich continued his weeklong silence, but his defense attorney planned to represent him Wednesday at the impeachment panel's first day of testimony. Brushing aside repeated calls for his resignation, the Democratic governor signed a bill into law and, according to an aide, was reviewing prison inmate petitions for clemency.
•Republicans at the state and national level railed at the Democratic-led decision of the full legislature to adjourn until mid-January, effectively ending hopes for a special election to fill Obama's seat. The impeachment committee will continue to work.
•In Chicago, Obama declined to take a position on how his Senate seat should be filled and said it was inappropriate to answer questions about any contact that took place between his incoming chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, and the Blagojevich administration. The Tribune has reported Emanuel is on secret recordings discussing the seat and recommending names of Senate successors.
•Aides to U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said the congressman had met with federal prosecutors "for years" about corruption allegations. But his chief of staff acknowledged that none of those conversations touched on the federal investigation of the governor's alleged bid to sell the Senate seat.
The Tribune has reported that some Indian-American businessmen discussed donating to the governor to help persuade Blagojevich to support Jackson's Senate bid.
In Springfield, lawmakers agreed to put off their review of the federal criminal charges against the governor until Ed Genson, Blagojevich's high-profile defense attorney, could arrive Wednesday.
The federal charges against Blagojevich represent the most scandalous information to be reviewed by the House committee. But with the investigation continuing and FBI officials saying they would not assist the impeachment, it is doubtful the criminal charges will play the biggest role in the proceedings.
Still, the criminal acts alleged to have been committed by Blagojevich provided lawmakers with a reason to proceed with impeachment after quietly discussing it for years.
The panel is expected to base its recommendation largely on actions Blagojevich has taken in the governor's chair, including allegations of official misconduct, abuse of power and failing to follow state law. Specific acts include a questionable $1 million grant to a private Chicago school, spending millions of public dollars on outdated flu vaccines and expanding a costly health care program without legislative approval or the money to pay for it.
The committee also is expected to consider the guilty pleas of two Blagojevich donors on federal corruption charges. Ali Ata, a former agency director, said he gave Blagojevich a $25,000 donation and was later rewarded with a high-paid state job. Joseph Cari, a former national Democratic finance chairman, testified that Blagojevich discussed trading state contracts for campaign contributions.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), a top deputy to Speaker Michael Madigan and chairwoman of the investigative panel, said the committee would not dish out "frontier justice." But Madigan, a Blagojevich nemesis, last summer gave talking points to Democratic legislative candidates on reasons they could cite for impeaching the governor.
Anticipating the impeachment issue would come before the Illinois Senate, senators created a committee to write rules for conducting a trial of Blagojevich.
Tribune reporters Rick Pearson and Dan Mihalopoulos contributed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun