Illinois state Senate ousts corruption-tainted Blagojevich

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been removed from office after the state Senate convicted him of abuse of power. Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell the US Senate seat vacated by US President Barack Obama.


AFP - Illinois lawmakers on Thursday ousted the state's corruption-tainted governor accused of trying to auction off President Barack Obama's Senate seat for personal gain.

The state Senate voted 59 to 0 that Democrat Rod Blagojevich abused his power and should be removed from office. He will be replaced by Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn.

The senators found Blagojevich guilty of engaging in a lengthy pattern of pay-to-play politics in which he traded campaign donations for political favors and tried to swap his ability to pick Obama's replacement for a cabinet post, ambassadorship or high-paying job for himself or his spouse.

"He repeatedly abused his power and we need to extinguish it and extinguish it today," senator Kirk Dillard said prior to the vote.

The bulk of the charges in the articles of impeachment stem from a 76-page FBI affidavit released in the wake of his December 9 arrest amid what prosecutors called a "political corruption crime spree."

Blagojevich has not yet been indicted on the fraud and extortion charges and his criminal trial is months or possibly years away.

But Illinois lawmakers said the evidence against Blagojevich was staggering.

Blagojevich is a "devious cynical, crass and corrupt politician, and someone from whom the people of this state must be protected," Senator Dale Righter said prior to the vote.

"He should be removed from office, and he should be prohibited from ever holding office in this state again."

Blagojevich, who boycotted the first three days of the trial and refused to answer questions from state lawmakers, made an impassioned plea to save his job Thursday. 

"I have done absolutely nothing wrong," Blagojevich said in closing arguments.

"I followed every law ... and when the whole truth is heard, and the whole story is told, that ultimately is what will be shown."

Blagojevich said he wanted all of the FBI wiretaps to be played to prove that the damning quotations used in the affidavit were taken out of context, including an expletive-filled description of his chance to name a senator as a "golden" opportunity he would not give away for "nothin'."

Four of the secretly taped conversations were played during the impeachment trial but federal prosecutors asked lawmakers not to dig into the criminal charges against Blagojevich out of concern that it could interfere with the criminal trial.

Prosecutors say those tapes show Blagojevich pressuring a racetrack owner for a hefty campaign donation in exchange for help passing favorable legislation.

But Blagojevich said they are simply "conversations relating to the things all of us in politics do in order to run campaigns and try to win elections."

While it would involve some "political embarrassment," Blagojevich said he could be exonerated if those he discussed the senate seat with were required to testify: including Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senate majority leader Harry Reid.

But the senators were not swayed and said the limited evidence that federal prosecutors allowed them to examine was more than sufficient.

"The governor's word is not worth the paper it's written on," senator John Jones said.

Obama, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, so far has managed to emerge essentially unsullied by the scandal that shone a national spotlight on the culture of corruption in Illinois.

Five of the past nine Illinois governors have been indicted or arrested for fraud or bribery and Blagojevich's predecessor, Republican George Ryan, is serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for fraud and racketeering.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, is the first Illinois governor to be impeached.

Obama, who was born in Hawaii and moved to Chicago to work as a lawyer and community organizer, managed to advance in the state without much help from Democratic "machine" politics.

And he has remained incredibly distant from Blagojevich, who has been surrounded by allegations of corruption since shortly after his 2002 election.

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