Illinois panel calls for Blagojevich impeachment

A panel of 21 Illinois state senators voted unanimously to recommend impeachment of Governor Rod Blagojevich, after FBI agents arrested the Democrat in December on charges he conspired to commit fraud and solicit bribes.


REUTERS - A legislative committee on Thursday recommended the impeachment of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, citing widespread abuse of power including allegations he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

If the Illinois House of Representatives votes to accept the recommendation from its investigating committee and impeach Blagojevich, he would be tried in the state Senate and face removal from office if convicted.

The two-term Democrat has denied any wrong-doing. He issued a statement saying the impeachment proceedings "were flawed, biased and did not follow the rules of law. ... When the case moves to the Senate, an actual judge will preside over the hearings, and ... the outcome will be much different."

The Illinois House could vote as soon as Friday to approve the impeachment. How soon a trial could begin was not clear.

The 21-member House committee -- 12 Democrats and nine Republicans -- voted unanimously to recommend impeachment and conviction, along with the governor's removal from office and a ban on his ever holding public office in the state again.

The committee launched hearings in the state capital, Springfield, a week after FBI agents arrested Blagojevich in December on charges he conspired to commit fraud and solicit bribes.

The charges were supported by a criminal complaint that detailed conversations laced with profanity culled from two months of court-approved wiretaps on the governor's phones.

The committee's report described as "shocking" the governor's efforts to exchange the Senate appointment for campaign contributions or high-paid jobs for him or his wife.

In a surprise move that further upset fellow Democrats, Blagojevich last week appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill Obama's vacant seat.

Blagojevich, 52, said he was compelled to act because the Democratic-controlled Legislature ignored his call for a special election to fill the seat.

In Washington, Senate leaders at first vowed not to seat Burris or anyone appointed by Blagojevich, but agreed on Wednesday to accept him if certain conditions were met.


Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talked in recent days and agreed "an amicable solution" needed to be reached on Burris so the matter would not be a distraction to Democratic efforts to move an ambitious agenda, a Democratic Party aide said.

As one of the Senate leadership's conditions of seating him, Burris appeared before the same Illinois impeachment panel on Thursday to declare his appointment was above-board and free of the pay-to-play politics of which Blagojevich stands accused.

"I can state there was nothing legal, personal or political exchanged (with the governor) for my appointment to the seat ... absolutely, positively not," Burris, 71, told the committee.

The state's senior senator, Dick Durbin, said the U.S. Senate will carefully review Burris' testimony.

"The people of Illinois deserve full representation in the U.S. Senate and we all hope this situation can be resolved in a fair and timely manner," Durbin said in a statement.

Democrats are awaiting a number of legal and procedural moves that will likely clear the way for Burris to take office after a vote by the full Senate.

Another condition of seating Burris was an Illinois Supreme Court order to force a reluctant state official to sign off on the governor's appointment. The court has yet to rule.

The impeachment committee's report cited a litany of transgressions committed by Blagojevich in addition to the criminal charges, which it noted had yet to be proven.

The committee said the governor had "abused his position of trust," side-stepped the Legislature and other governing bodies during his six years in office, made a habit of hiring political supporters and illegally denied outside requests for government information.

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