Illinois Governor Blagojevich Bounced From Office

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By Christopher Wills


Associated Press Writer SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP)—Gov. Rod Blagojevich was unanimously convicted at his impeachment trial and thrown out of office Thursday, ending a nearly two-month crisis that erupted with his arrest on charges he tried to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Blagojevich becomes the first U.S. governor in more than 20 years to be removed by impeachment.

After a four-day trial, the Illinois Senate voted 59-0 to convict him of abuse of power, automatically removing the second-term Democrat. Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, one of his critics, immediately became governor.

In a second 59-0 vote, the Senate further barred Blagojevich from ever holding public office in Illinois again.

"We have this thing called impeachment and it's bleeping golden and we've used it the right way," Democratic state Sen. James Meeks of Chicago said during the debate, mocking Blagojevich's expletive-laden words as captured by the FBI on a wiretap.

Blagojevich's ordeal is far from over. Federal prosecutors are expected to bring a corruption indictment against him by April, after which a trial date will be set.

Blagojevich, 52, had boycotted the first three days of the impeachment trial, calling the proceedings a kangaroo court. But on Thursday, he went before the Senate to beg for his job, delivering a 47-minute plea that was, by turns, defiant, humble and sentimental.

He argued, again, that he did nothing wrong, and warned that his impeachment would set a "dangerous and chilling precedent."

"You haven't proved a crime, and you can't because it didn't happen," Blagojevich (pronounced blah-GOY-uh-vich) told the lawmakers. "How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?"

The verdict brought to an end what one lawmaker branded "the freak show" in Illinois. Over the past few weeks, Blagojevich found himself isolated, with almost the entire political establishment lined up against him. The furor paralyzed state government and made Blagojevich and his helmet of lush, dark hair a punchline from coast to coast.

One lawmaker after another rose somberly on the Senate floor to accuse Blagojevich of abusing his office and embarrassing the state. They denounced him as a hypocrite, saying he cynically tried to enrich himself and then posed as the brave protector of the poor and "wrapped himself in the constitution" by decrying the impeachment process as unfair.

They sprinkled in historical references, from Pearl Harbor's "day of infamy" to "the whole world is watching" chant from the riots that broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. They cited Abraham Lincoln, the Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus as they called for the governor's removal.

Not a single legislator rose in Blagojevich's defense.

Blagojevich did not stick around to hear the vote. He took a state plane back to Chicago. Returning to his North Side home, he told reporters he planned to go jogging. But he had not left the house when the vote came down.

The verdict capped a head-spinning string of developments that began less than two months ago. It was widely known that federal prosecutors had been investigating Blagojevich's administration for years — some of his closest cronies have already been convicted — but his Dec. 9 arrest by the FBI caught nearly everyone off guard.

U.S. Attorney Patrict Fitzgerald said prosecutors had no choice but to step in and stop a political corruption "crime spree" — one that was gaining speed before a tough new campaign finance law took effect Jan. 1.

The most spectacular allegation was that Blagojevich had been caught on wiretaps scheming to sell an appointment to Obama's Senate seat for campaign cash or a plum job for himself or his wife.

"I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden, and I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing. I'm not gonna do it," he was quoted as saying on a government wiretap.

Prosecutors also said he illegally pressured people to make campaign contributions and tried to get editorial writers fired from the Chicago Tribune for badmouthing him in print.