Blagojevich: Why Oust Me on Unproven Charges?

Thursday, 29 Jan 2009 12:16 PM

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. Rod Blagojevich is asking senators at his impeachment trial how they can vote him out of office based on criminal charges that haven't been proven.

Blagojevich says removing him from office would set a "dangerous and chilling precedent" for future governors. He says he's "begging" for senators to let him prove his innocence.

The governor is telling senators that an FBI agent reading the allegations to lawmakers - as happened this week - does not amount to proving the charges.

Blagojevich's arrest last month on corruption charges has played prominently at his impeachment trial.

Federal prosecutors allege he schemed to sell President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a plum job for himself. Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing. There is no trial date set in the criminal case.

The Democratic governor repeated his frequent complaint that he wasn't allowed to call witnesses who would have defended him against the criminal charges at the heart of the impeachment case.

Blagojevich did acknowledge that the truth of his actions might not be flattering in some cases. He referred to taped conversations played earlier in the Senate trial. The tapes appeared to show Blagojevich linking legislation to campaign contributions.

He said that's something "all of us in politics do."

The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon on whether to convict Blagojevich and remove him.

He told the Illinois Senate that he decided to give the closing argument at the trial because he wants to counter the evidence - including secretly recorded conversations - that's been presented against him. He says those tapes are the types of discussions everyone has to get things done in politics.

Blagojevich says he's innocent and throwing him out of office would set a dangerous precedent.

He arrived at the Capitol as impeachment prosecutor David Ellis was giving his closing statement on the Senate floor.

Blagojevich's own words prove "a pattern of abuse of power," the prosecutor at his impeachment trial insisted Thursday, as the embattled Democrat arrived at the state Capitol insisting he hasn't given up hope.

Blagojevich arrived hours before a possible vote to remove him from office, planning a "passionate" speech in what could be a last-ditch attempt to keep his job.

"I'm not giving up hope here. I'm going to keep fighting for the people of Illinois," Blagojevich said as his security detail dropped him off near a side door to the Capitol.

Inside, impeachment prosecutor David Ellis delivered a 40-minute closing argument, playing secretly recorded conversations in which Blagojevich appears to discuss using legislation to pressure someone into making a campaign donation.

He also quoted snippets of other conversations federal prosecutors released when they arrested Blagojevich last month.

"Every decision this governor made was based on one of three criteria: his legal situation, his personal situation and his political situation," Ellis told the state senators who will vote later Thursday on whether to remove Blagojevich from office.

Blagojevich's statement was to follow Ellis.

The two-term governor, who told reporters as he left his Chicago home that he looked forward to the proceedings, made a public showing of his arrival, saying he wasn't nervous about delivering the statement that could help decide whether he keeps his job.

Previously, he has said his removal is a foregone conclusion.

Blagojevich had avoided the trial all week - calling it biased and unconstitutional - but reversed course Wednesday and asked to make a closing argument.

His request shocked the Senate and lawmakers didn't know what to expect.

"Like so many others, I'm going to be on pins and needles just waiting to see what he's going to be delivering us. It could be anything," said Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest.

Blagojevich was working past midnight Wednesday on his "passionate" speech that will explain why he decided to appear at the trial, his public relations firm Thursday. The two-term governor, a Democrat, has denied wrongdoing.

"He at least wants to have his final say," spokesman Lucio Guerrero said Thursday morning.

The governor will not testify, which involves taking an oath and answering questions from the prosecutor and senators. Instead, he has 90 minutes to deliver a closing statement.

Afterward, the House prosecutor has 30 minutes for a rebuttal. Then, senators then hold public deliberations, with each getting five minutes to speak. A vote on whether to convict, censure or acquit the governor could come later Thursday.

If Blagojevich is convicted, he will immediately be removed from office and replaced by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat. No other Illinois governor has been impeached, let alone convicted in a Senate trial.

Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, called Blagojevich's decision to only make a statement "cowardly, but consistent with the way he has governed."

Blagojevich, 52, was arrested last month on a variety of federal corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing President Barack Obama's Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.

He was impeached in the House on Jan. 9 for abuse of power. The 13 accusations included plotting to give financial assistance to the Tribune Co. only if members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board were fired, awarding state contracts or permits in exchange for campaign contributions and violating hiring and firing laws.

Thursday's closing arguments came after the prosecution rested its case Wednesday, the third day of the unprecedented trial to decide whether Blagojevich should be punished for abuse of power.

A conviction is all but certain. Blagojevich presented no defense, and virtually the entire Illinois political establishment has turned against him. The House voted 117-1 to impeach him, and the lone "no" vote came from his sister-in-law.

Despite the long odds, one of Blagojevich's few friends in the Senate scoffed at the idea of a resignation. It's just as likely senators will see the Easter Bunny hopping through the Capitol, said Sen. James DeLeo, D-Chicago.

"I think he wants to be heard," DeLeo said.

Blagojevich repeatedly has said he won't resign. But he also said he wouldn't take part in the trial.

While the Senate has considered accusations Blagojevich is corrupt, the governor appeared on one New York news show after another earlier this week to proclaim his innocence and declare the trial rigged against him.

"It's a kangaroo court," Blagojevich said Tuesday on Fox News Channel. "My lawyers and I believe that to be part of a process like that is to dignify a fraudulent impeachment process that sets a dangerous precedent for governors in Illinois and governors across America."

But Wednesday afternoon, Blagojevich's acting chief of staff contacted Senate President John Cullerton's chief of staff to ask that the governor be allowed to make a statement before the trial concludes.

The case against Blagojevich, presented by Ellis, included audio of secretly recorded conversations in which the governor appears to discuss demanding a campaign contribution in exchange for signing legislation. Senators also heard from an FBI agent who vouched for the accuracy of eye-popping Blagojevich quotes that were included in the criminal complaint against him.

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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