Blagojevich arrest, Blagojevich taped conversations, Blagojevich pay-to-play
M. Spencer Green/AP
Rod Blagojevich

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich Removed From Office

January 29, 2009 06:26 PM
by Anne Szustek
The Ill. state Senate voted unanimously to remove Blagojevich from office, forever banning him from politics in the state. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is to assume his seat.

Blagojevich State Senate Impeachment Trial Ends in Unanimous Decision for Ouster

Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich was ousted from office in a state Senate tribunal Thursday in relation to the charges levied on him during his Jan. 9 impeachment in the state House of Representatives. He is the first Illinois governor and the eighth governor in the history of the United States to be removed from office.

His two-time running mate Pat Quinn will be the state’s 41st governor.

Blagojevich pleaded his case during the hours-long deliberation process. “There hasn’t been a single piece of information that proves any wrongdoing,” Blagojevich adressed the stony faced Senate. “How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?”

The Illinois state House of Representatives had already voted on Jan. 9 in a 114-1 vote to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The lone dissenter in the House vote was State Rep. Milton Patterson, a Democrat who represents Chicago’s Southwest Side.

The Sun-Times quoted one House member, Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat, as saying, “Today, we are taking the first step in taking back our government from the darkness and bringing it back to the light. The plague—it is a plague that has been brought on our state by Rod Blagojevich—will be lifted. This is a new day, a better day.”

Blagojevich had been under investigation for alleged “pay-to-play” politics for several months, coming to a head on Dec. 9 when he was detained by FBI agents at his Chicago home for charges related to his alleged attempts to sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Among Blagojevich’s last moves as governor was an expungement for Chicago real estate developer Fred S. Latsko, who in 1985 was convicted of deception and forgery. Latsko was pardoned by then-Gov. Jim Thompson in 1989. The Chicago Sun-Times writes, "Latsko, 43, is a Chicago socialite who reportedly was one of Oprah Winfrey’s guests at her fundraiser for Barack Obama at her California mansion in 2007. He bought her sprawling estate in Rolling Prairie, Ind., in 2005."

Blagojevich also pardoned Jimmie L. Beck and expunged his charges in relation to battery and drug offenses.

Prior to Blagojevich’s removal from office, only seven sitting governors had been removed from office: William Holden of North Carolina and Nebraska’s David Butler, both in 1871; New York’s William Sultzer in 1913; James Ferguson of Texas in 1917; John C. Walton of Oklahoma in 1923; Henry Johnston, also from Oklahoma, in 1929; and Arizona’s Evan Mecham in 1988.

Illinois, however, has its own longstanding history of political corruption. Former Ill. Gov. George Ryan, Blagojevich’s predecessor, is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for fraud and racketeering in connection with his involvement in procuring illegal truck driving licenses.

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, who represents Obama’s Hyde Park neighborhood, was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying that the statement outlining Blagojevich’s impeachment “show a public servant who has betrayed his oath of office, who has betrayed the public trust, who is not fit to govern the state of Illinois.”

Michael Madigan, the Ill. House speaker and head of the Illinois Democratic Party, announced at a Dec. 15 press conference in state capital Springfield that he was 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, possibly culminating in the governor’s impeachment.

A House Committee led by Currie voted unanimously on Jan. 8 in favor of Blagojevich’s impeachment.

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.

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

Blagojevich and John Harris, his chief of staff, were charged Dec. 9 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. Federal agents took Blagojevich into custody around 6 a.m. CST that morning at his house on Chicago’s Northwest Side.

During a press conference that morning, 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 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.”

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 nonprofit for himself.

The governor also allegedly said in one of the taped conversations that he had concerns about the “financial security” of his 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.”

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

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 Dec. 8, “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”

U.S. 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 Obama contingent on paying a bribe of as much as $1 million to 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 press conference. “Secondly, the congressman is not aware of any alleged associate having made such a proposal.”

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 the evening prior to Blagojevich’s pending arrest, as well as the possibility of his name coming up in an investigation.

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.

Historical Context: Impeachment not just for presidents

With the Jan. 9 state House vote, Blagojevich joined a small group of American presidents and governors who have been impeached. Three presidents have been impeached, and seven governors have had to leave office as a result of impeachment.

President Bill Clinton was the last president impeached, in 1998, over allegedly lying under oath about an affair he had with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He was acquitted and finished his term. President Richard Nixon, who was impeached over an alleged cover-up surrounding a burglary at the Democratic National Convention, resigned shortly after Congress approved articles of impeachment.

The first president impeached, Andrew Johnson, did not generate enough votes to remove him from office, according to The History Place. Johnson, who had fought with the Congressional majority over Reconstruction in the South, was impeached for removing Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, from his cabinet.

The last governor who was impeached and removed from office was Evan Mecham in 1988. Mecham was Arizona's governor, according to the Associated Press, and “was convicted of attempting to thwart an investigation into a death threat allegedly made by an aide in fall 1987.” The Arizona Senate had just one more vote than necessary to convict him.

Before Mecham, the last governor impeached was Oklahoma’s Henry Johnston in 1929, who “had declared martial law and ordered the National Guard to surround the Capitol to prevent the Legislature from assembling to investigate the governor,” the AP reported. Johnston wasn’t convicted in 1929, but he was impeached again the next year and had to leave offfice.

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