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Blagojevich Ousted by Illinois State Senate

Posted by tothewire on January 30, 2009

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich arriving home in Chicago after speaking in his own defense at his impeachment hearing at the state capitol in Springfield, Illinois on Thursday.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich arriving home in Chicago after speaking in his own defense at his impeachment hearing at the state capitol in Springfield, Illinois on Thursday.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois State Senate on Thursday convicted Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on a sprawling article of impeachment that charged him with abusing his power. The vote prompted the governor’s immediate and permanent ouster, and ended nearly two months of political spectacle in which he sought unsuccessfully to salvage his reputation and career here and across the country.

The senators also voted to permanently bar him from seeking public office in Illinois.

Mr. Blagojevich, a two-term Democrat who rose from the ranks of Chicago ward politics on the strength of his charisma and family connections, is the first governor in the state’s history to be impeached. The senators voted 59 to zero in favor of removing him after a four-day trial; a dramatic, 45-minute speech by Mr. Blagojevich in which he declared his innocence; and about two hours of deliberation.

According to state law, Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor, assumed chief executive power upon the vote and was expected to take the oath of office for ceremonial purposes before the end of the day.

Mr. Blagojevich still faces federal criminal charges in a wide-ranging corruption case that, among other things, accuses him of trying to sell President Obama’s former United States Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Impeachment proceedings against Mr. Blagojevich erupted in the days after Dec. 9, when Mr. Blagojevich was arrested in the federal case. An Illinois House committee met for seven days before recommending that he be impeached on accusations that he tried to sell the president’s former Senate seat, traded state contracts for campaign contributions and expanded a state health care program without legal legislative authority.

Mr. Blagojevich is the first governor nationally to be removed since 1988, when Arizona lawmakers removed Gov. Evan Mecham from office.

The vote to convict Mr. Blagojevich capped a trial that took a dramatic turn on Thursday morning when he arrived here in the capitol to deliver an impassioned closing argument to the senators. The city was captivated — as were people all across the state — as Mr. Blagojevich pleaded his innocence in blunt, unsparing terms.

“You haven’t proved a crime and you can’t because it hasn’t happened,” he told the legislators, in his first appearance at his own trial. “How can you throw a governor out of office with incomplete or insufficient evidence?”

In his remarks, Mr. Blagojevich asked the senators to put themselves in his shoes, and cast himself as a hard-working pragmatist who did whatever it took to help the people of his state — even when that sometimes meant skirting legislators and their rules. He flatly denied any criminal wrongdoing, excoriating the process that led him to the low point of essentially begging to keep his job. And he picked apart the article of impeachment, straining at times to present his point of view in sympathetic terms.

“I’m appealing to your sense of fairness,” he said, adding later, “I did a lot of things that were mostly right.”

He ended his remarks with a general apology for the frenzy that has enveloped the state as a result of his case and told legislators, let’s “continue to do good things for the people.”

In an interview after his statement, Senator Christine Radogno, the Republican leader of the Senate, said she was not persuaded. “I’m immune to his speech giving,” she said. “We’ve seen those tricks before.”

“He gives a good speech,” she added. “He’s a performer. He’s very good at that. Perhaps he can get a job in the arts.”

After Mr. Blagojevich appeared, the lawmakers took a recess to allow Democrats and Republicans to meet in separate groups. When they returned, David Ellis, the House prosecutor, rebutted Mr. Blagojevich’s statement, criticizing him for not speaking under oath or taking questions.

“He simply says there’s no evidence and walks off the stage,” Mr. Ellis said.

“He says, ‘walk a mile in his shoes,’ ” he continued. “Well, if I were innocent and I were in his shoes, I would have taken that witness stand and I would have testified and I would have told you why I was innocent. The governor didn’t do that.”

Earlier this morning, spectators had packed the Senate gallery in anticipation of possibly seeing, for the first time in the state’s history, the removal from office of a sitting governor. A line of people stretched down the corridor, waiting to get in.

Mr. Blagojevich’s announcement on Wednesday that he wanted to address the Senate on Thursday came about an hour before the prosecution rested its case, and brought negative reactions from lawmakers. Many had previously lamented his absence from the proceedings and had repeatedly requested he testify.

“It’s somewhat cowardly that he won’t take questions,” said Senator Dan Cronin, a Republican, on Wednesday. “If he had something to say, he should have come down here like a man and faced the music.”

During a publicity tour this week, Mr. Blagojevich repeatedly professed his innocence, calling the impeachment trial unfair, and complaining bitterly that many of the statements attributed to him on recordings of his telephone conversations, made by federal agents in the corruption case, had been taken out of context.

Senators here denounced the publicity campaign. Earlier on Wednesday, the Senate president, John Cullerton, a Democrat, challenged Mr. Blagojevich to appear in Springfield. “If he wants to come down here, instead of hiding out in New York and having Larry King asking questions instead of the senators — I think he’s making a mistake.”

By MALCOLM GAY and SUSAN SAULNY

http://www.nytimes.com/

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