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Published: Friday, 1/30/2009

Illinois Senate ousts embattled governor by unanimous vote

FROM THE BLADE'S NEWS SERVICES

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was thrown out of office yesterday without a single lawmaker coming to his defense, brought down by a government-for-sale scandal that stretched from Chicago to Capitol Hill.

Mr. Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat, 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 ousting the second-term Democrat.

In a second, identical vote, lawmakers further barred Mr. Blagojevich from ever holding public office in the state again.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, one of Mr. Blagojevich's critics, was promptly sworn in as governor and said he would work to "restore the faith of the people of Illinois in the integrity of their government."

Mr. Blagojevich's troubles are not over. Federal prosecutors are drawing up an indictment against him on corruption charges.

Outside his Chicago home last night, Mr. Blagojevich vowed to "keep fighting to clear my name."

"Give me a chance to show you that I haven't let you down," he said.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn was promptly sworn in as governor and said he would work to "restore the faith of the people of Illinois in the integrity of their government." Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn was promptly sworn in as governor and said he would work to "restore the faith of the people of Illinois in the integrity of their government."
SETH PERLMAN / AP Enlarge

This dramatic day in Illinois politics promises to have repercussions for years to come.

Mr. Quinn and lawmakers must bail out a state in the red by as much as $5 billion and the campaign for statewide offices including governor formally kicks off late this year when candidates file to run in the February, 2010, primary.

Highlighting the day's serious nature, Mr. Blagojevich offered his own impassioned closing argument after ignoring a Senate impeachment trial all week.

Alternately praising and upbraiding those who soon decided his political fate, Mr. Blagojevich urged the Illinois Senate not to remove him from office, saying he has "done absolutely nothing wrong" and "never, ever intended to violate the law."

"There hasn't been a single piece of information that proves any wrongdoing," Mr. Blagojevich said. "How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?"

Mr. Blagojevich warned senators against setting a "dangerous precedent" that would overrule an electorate that twice elected him. Senators dismissed his plea, saying Mr. Blagojevich violated the public trust and paralyzed state government.

"He reminded us today in real detail that he is an unusually good liar," state Sen. Matt Murphy said. "We bent over backward to make sure that this process was fair."

Earlier, the governor blasted the rules that he claimed don't allow him to call witnesses or challenge evidence.

"I was hopeful I would have that opportunity. I was hopeful I would have the chance to call every single witness in the criminal complaint. It would have been nice to have them here and tell you, under oath, what they know," Mr. Blagojevich said. "Unfortunately, these rules have prevented me from being able to do that."

Mr. Blagojevich decried a "rush to judgment."

He also defended his decision to try to import lower cost prescription drugs from Canada as an attempt to help people.

"If you're impeaching me, then we need to impeach to governors of Wisconsin, of Kansas, of Vermont," because all of them also were interested in his Canadian drug plan.

While we're at it, Mr. Blagojevich said, they should "reach into the United States Senate and remove John McCain and Ted Kennedy" because they supported the idea at the time.

Mr. Blagojevich also said the Senate should demand that President Obama fire his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, because Mr. Emanuel "gave me the idea" when he was a congressman from Illinois' 5th District.

"If you're going to get rid of me, why do they get to stay in office?" Mr. Blagojevich asked.

House Prosecutor David Ellis spent 45 minutes outlining evidence he said is more than enough to convict the governor. He often quoted from federal criminal charges released Dec. 9, the day Mr. Blagojevich was arrested at his Chicago home.

Mr. Ellis started by highlighting federal allegations that Mr. Blagojevich conspired to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Obama to benefit himself and his family.

Mr. Ellis then discussed federal allegations that Mr. Blagojevich tried to pressure Tribune Co. to fire Chicago Tribune editorial writers in exchange for state money to help with the sale of the Cubs.

Mr. Ellis then detailed three alleged schemes in which Mr. Blagojevich tried to raise campaign cash in return for official state action as he tried to stockpile $2.5 million in his campaign fund before a new ethics law took effect Jan. 1.



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