Blagojevich arrest, Blagojevich taped conversations, Blagojevich pay-to-play
Seth Perlman/AP
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

Illinois State Supreme Court Rejects Bid to Sack Blagojevich

December 17, 2008 07:52 PM
by Anne Szustek
Illinois’ highest court declined state Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s request to invoke Rule 382, which would have had embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich ousted from office.

Illinois Supreme Court Rejects Rule 382 Attempt

The Illinois state Supreme Court did not move to pass state Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s bid to have a complaint filed that would have had the justices rule on Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s fitness for office, as well as a temporary order that would have blocked him from appointing someone to take the Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The court also declined a private petition to have Blagojevich ousted from office on disability grounds as per Illinois’ constitution.

Blagojevich can still be removed from office via impeachment, however.

Madigan launched a motion with the Illinois state Supreme Court Dec. 12 in a bid to have Blagojevich declared unfit for office by invoking “Rule 382,” which asks the justices of the state’s highest court to vote on a governor’s ability to govern. Use of the bylaw is unprecedented in Illinois history, which has seen four governors come under indictment in recent history.

Soon after Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI on Dec. 11 on bribery solicitation and wire and mail fraud charges in connection with an alleged attempt to sell Obama’s Senate seat, Madigan indicated she would use Rule 382 to get the governor out of office should he not resign or the state legislature not move with impeachment proceedings.

If successful, the attorney general’s move would have rendered impeachment unnecessary. Impeachment proceedings were launched earlier this week, when Michael Madigan, the Ill. House speaker, head of the Illinois Democratic Party and Lisa Madigan’s father, announced at a press conference Monday in state capital Springfield that he is having a committee of 12 Democratic and 9 Republican state House members research and issue findings to determine Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s fitness for office.

Michael Madigan co-chaired Blagojevich’s 2006 gubernatorial reelection campaign, but once Blagojevich was under investigation Madigan began orchestrating a movement within the party to teach Democratic party candidates how to get Blagojevich impeached.

“We plan to proceed without delay,” Madigan said at the press conference Monday. The group plans to start work Tuesday and proceed through the end of the year.

Blagojevich’s chief of staff John Harris resigned Dec. 12, after being arrested by the FBI three days earlier.

Lisa Madigan, like her father once an ally of Blagojevich’s, has come out as a staunch political adversary of Blagojevich over the past few years. Both she and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had launched investigations into alleged “play-for-play” politics in the Blagojevich administrations. In mid-2006 Madigan, with approval from Fitzgerald, released a letter to the public outlining the possible misconduct. Fitzgerald then had Madigan step aside from the case so as not to impede the federal investigation.

Background: Blagojevich arrested for alleged attempt to sell Obama Senate seat

Blagojevich and John Harris, his chief of staff, were charged Tuesday with bribery solicitation and conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the district of Northern Illinois.

During a Tuesday morning press conference, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has long been investigating possible “pay-to-play” corruption in the Blagojevich administration, said that in addition to other corruption allegations, the governor of Illinois was allegedly soliciting bribes of as much as $1 million in exchange for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The charges are detailed in a 76-page complaint.

“Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low,” Fitzgerald said during the press conference. “The conduct would make Lincoln turn in his grave.”

Prior to the governor’s arrest the Chicago Tribune had already reported that, with the reported cooperation of John Wyma, federal investigators had taped some of Blagojevich’s conversations. Wyma was Blagojevich’s chief of staff when the governor represented Illinois’ Fifth District in Congress.

The probe revealed that Blagojevich’s staff was approached by a representative of “Senate Candidate 5” with an offer to pay Blagojevich in exchange for being appointed to the empty Senate seat. According to Chicago’s ABC affiliate WLS, the governor said in the taped conversation, “You know, he’d raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator.”

Blagojevich also allegedly desired, in exchange for a preferential Senate appointment, a cabinet post or a post as an ambassador, "tangible, up front" cash, six-figure salaried corporate board positions for his wife Patricia as well as a plum salaried position with a union-affiliated group or a non-profit for himself.

The governor also allegedly said in one of the taped conversations that he had concerns about the "financial security" of the family. “I want to make money,” he allegedly said.

With regard to candidates for positions who apparently refused to pay kickbacks, Blagojevich, according to Fitzgerald's statement, "They're not willing to give me anything but their appreciation. [Bleep] them."

Federal agents took Blagojevich into custody around 6 a.m. CST Tuesday at his house on Chicago’s Northwest Side. According to a source of WLS, the Illinois governor is being held at Chicago-area FBI headquarters on the city’s West Side.

The state’s lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, said during a phone interview with WLS, “I’ve heard the reports but I don’t know whether it’s true or not,” also saying that he was not notified “through any official channels” of Blagojevich’s detainment.

The governor maintained yesterday that his conversations were “always lawful.” Lt. Gov Quinn told WLS, “The Governor remains the Governor. … The presumption is you’re always innocent until proven guilty.”

Blagojevich and Harris are to appear in court later Tuesday. Other allegations against the governor include passage of a yet-unsigned $8 million bill for Children's Memorial Hospital in exchange for a $50,000 campaign contribution from a high-ranking hospital staff member, and assistance for the Tribune Company's sale of Wrigley Field in exchange for firing members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board who were critical of the governor, one of whom allegedly was listed by name.

Blagojevich allegedly told the Tribune Company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday, "Fire all those [bleep] people, get 'em the [bleep] out and get us some editorial support."

Related Topic: Attorney: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Is “Senate Candidate 5”

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., has been confirmed by his laywer, James D. Montgomery, as “Senate Candidate 5,” the potential tap to fill the Senate seat to be vacated by President-elect Barack Obama contingent on paying a bribe of as much as $1 million to Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Montgomery stressed that Jackson never offered to put up the cash or offer any other favors allegedly requested by the governor, however. Montgomery also said that Jackson is unware of the identity of “Individual D,” the person who apparently ventured to pay Blagojevich the kickback to secure Jackson’s appointment.

“Congressman Jackson has never authorized anyone to seek the governor’s support in return of money, fund-raising or other things of value,” Montgomery said at a Wednesday press conference. “Secondly, the congressman is not aware of any alleged associate having made such a proposal.”

Blagojevich, whose administration has long been plagued by corruption allegations, was taken into federal custody Tuesday in connection with the alleged Senate-seat scandal.

The probe, which Blagojevich likened to “Nixon and Watergate,” revealed that on Oct. 31 Blagojevich’s staff was “approached to ‘pay to play’” by a representative of someone referred to by Fitzgerald only as “Senate Candidate 5.”

Jackson, who was well known to be actively campaigning for Obama’s vacant Senate seat, was informed Monday evening of Blagojevich’s pending arrest, as well as the possibility of his name coming up in an investigation.

Jackson had met with Blagojevich in person earlier Monday to discuss the possibility of the congressman assuming the seat.

“I reject and denounce pay-to-play politics and have no involvement whatsoever in any wrongdoing,” Jackson said in a Tuesday statement after Blagojevich’s arrest.

Jackson is the son of the famous civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. He has represented Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, which covers parts of Chicago’s South Side as well as some adjacent suburbs, since 1995.

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