Ill. House Approves Blagojevich Impeachment Inquiry

Update: The impeachment effort stalled Tuesday. And, as I speculated below, Patrick Fitzgerald isn't happy about being asked to turn over documents pertaining to his ongoing indictments and investigation.


By a vote of 113 to 0, the Illinois House has approved an impeachment proceeding against indicted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

But the House also held off on calls to strip the disgraced governor of his power to appoint Obama's successor, angering Republicans who accused Democrats of a power play aimed at protecting their dominance of state politics.

The House panel is expected to hold several weeks of hearings, scheduled to begin Tuesday, and has the power to issue subpoenas and compel witnesses to testify. The panel also will seek information from the U.S. attorney's office as well as information gained from other parts of the federal investigation, such as information arising from the conviction of top Blagojevich adviser and fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko.

I imagine U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald won't be happy about turning over information obtained during his investigation. [More...]

Today, he confirmed he asked President-Elect Barack Obama to refrain from releasing information about staff contacts with Blagojevich until the week of Dec. 22.

Meanwhile, Blagojevich shows no signs of caving in.

On Monday, he signed a dozen bills into law, including one involving the horse-racing and casino industries that federal prosecutors allege Blagojevich was using to squeeze campaign contributions in exchange for his signature.

As for how the impeachment proceedings will proceed:

If the newly formed panel recommends impeachment, the House will vote on its findings. If Blagojevich is impeached by the House, the matter would go to the Senate, which acts as jury. The chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court would preside over the chamber.

This hardly inspires confidence in the Senate portion -- the rules will be written in the future:

Retiring Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and his successor, Sen. John Cullerton, were working on drawing up rules for conducting an impeachment trial.

Blagojevich has chosen veteran Chicago defense attorney Ed Jensen to represent him. And, the New York Times reports, more defense lawyers are coming forward with doubts as to whether Blagojevich's conduct with respect to his alleged attempts to sell Obama's senate seat or obtain a personal benefit from whomever he did appoint, amounts to a crime.

Several lawyers said Mr. Fitzgerald might need more evidence to prosecute Mr. Blagojevich over the issue.

“It’s a very difficult case for a number of reasons; not the least is the nebulous nature of the charges and the inherently difficult issues when you’re talking about a person executing his First Amendment right to promote a particular politician,” said Michael D. Monico, a former federal prosecutor who is now a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago.

“Merely thinking about something is not a crime,” said Mr. Monico, a lawyer for Christopher Kelly, a former Blagojevich fund-raiser who was indicted last year on tax charges “Just talking about something is not a crime. You need another action for someone to commit a crime.”

< Sen. Caroline Kennedy? | Tuesday Morning Open thread >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    I'll sleep ever-so-much easier tonight (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by oculus on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:29:13 AM EST
    knowing Obama's organization investigated itself and found it did nothing wrong.

    It is very Dubyaesque :) (none / 0) (#14)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:20:38 AM EST
    I do have to wonder (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Salo on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 11:00:36 AM EST
    exactly what Blago did wrong. The governors have arbitrary powers over vacant seats anyway...maybe they shouldn't have that ability in general.

    It seems to me that the Governor shouldn't really be able to appoint a Senator in the fiorst place and a special election ought to be held in all cases if a seat opens up in a non elec tion year.  I like the idea of a special by-election going on out of season.   it's fun.


    I don't know if Blago did anything wrong (none / 0) (#25)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 11:30:52 AM EST
    Until the evidence is out there who knows????? I didn't even realize he wasn't real popular with his constituents until the press began reporting on that.  I am mighty tired of political leaders investigating themselves only to declare that they have found themselves free of wrong doing.  I have a teenager that does that all the time and I'm tired of that too :)

    I know nothing and I don't (none / 0) (#19)
    by oculus on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:52:56 AM EST
    want to change that by watching TV news.  

    But (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:40:28 PM EST
    do we know what we don't know, or do we know not what we know not of?

    Innocent Until Proven Guilty (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Continuum on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 09:20:56 AM EST
    Will someone kindly point out to me, where the Governor has been found guilty of any crime.

    The only info seems to be statements made by Fitzgerald as a prosecutor (which seem highly predjudicial).

    It is disgusting that the Dems have joined with the Republicans in calling for the governor's head before he has a chance to make any defense.  This is reminiscent of the Red Queen from "Alice in Wonderland".  Punishment first, and trial afterwards.

    Guilty, innocent??? So far, nothing but nothing has been proven.  No facts in courts.  Absolutely nothing.

    Guilty of a crime vs. guilty of betraying our (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by samtaylor2 on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 09:56:08 AM EST
    trust are two different accusations.  Though his innocence or guilt in terms of a crime have not been proven, he is guity of violating the trust of the people of illinois.  He broke the spirit of the law and the position he has swarn to uphold.

    selling the seat at auction sounds... (none / 0) (#24)
    by Salo on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 11:04:03 AM EST
    ...more honest to me than appointing a crony.

    well said.. (none / 0) (#34)
    by Prithimp on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 03:12:12 PM EST
    113 to zip.... (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by kdog on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:15:13 AM EST
    It's almost like the legislature is in a big rush to get rid of Blags before he spills all the beans about how state government really runs.

    Some might be afraid... (none / 0) (#17)
    by EL seattle on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:31:24 AM EST
    ... of what he knows.  Most might be upset by the apparent corruption.  But I think that this unanimous vote goes to show that in 2008, the elected representatives of that state are all confident that the voters there believe that no one likes a potty-mouth.

    Actually.... (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:38:14 AM EST
    I thought his colorful voabulary was his one redeeming quality!  Here I am thinking politicians must be of a different species...then the tape comes out and I learn they speak my language.  So much for my species theory:)

    It ain't just what the Gov. knows. (none / 0) (#20)
    by oculus on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:58:31 AM EST
    Add Rezko and the people who testified against him.

    Impeachment and trial before the Senate (none / 0) (#2)
    by andgarden on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:45:17 AM EST
    is unavoidably political. But in this case, I doubt it will be partisan.

    Impeachment is necessary (none / 0) (#4)
    by Fabian on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 02:32:21 AM EST
    if for no other reason that to pressure Blagojevich to resign, which would be the idea outcome.

    If no resignation, then the usual tedious process of impeachment which is messy and grabs headlines, but hopefully gets rid of a corrupt administrator.

    Crime (none / 0) (#5)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 07:23:17 AM EST
    A question:

    Isn't the mere soliciting of a money in return for an appointment of a Senate seat a crime?  Does he actually have to receive the money?
    It would appear from the transcripts that Blago was doing more than "thinking about" committing a crime. Is the planning of robbing a bank a crime - or does that amount to "thinking about it"?

    It also does read as if the democrats are circling the wagons just as the republicans do.

    I think we need some Nader-like reforms, or this will never end.

    I don't see impeachment (none / 0) (#6)
    by Fabian on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 07:35:41 AM EST
    as "circling the wagons".  Circling the wagons is when everyone and their media pals decry the investigation as a blatant partisan witch hunt and issue blanket denials of everything.

    Impeachment, pressuring Blagojevich to resign and even petitioning to have him declared unfit is Damage Control in my opinion.  I'm actually impressed that they are working so fast and furiously to remove Blagojevich.  

    (Ohio AG Mark Dann was effectively booted this spring.  When he tried to stick it out while talk of impeachment grew, Gov Strickland made it clear that Dann had no support from the governor's office and Dann resigned.  This was in April, with the general election just months away.)


    Circling (none / 0) (#29)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:38:24 PM EST
    The part I referred to as "circling the wagons" was the reference to "But the House also held off on calls to strip the disgraced governor of his power to appoint Obama's successor..."

    It appeared to me that they would rather let this guy retain the power to appoint rather than call for an election. Understandable - but leaving the power in the hands of a corrupt Democratic official rather than throwing it open to the democratic process of an open election is what I was referring to as circling the wagons.

    How they can impeach him and also allow him to retain the power to appoint a successor to Obama escapes me.


    The main charges are ... (none / 0) (#10)
    by Robot Porter on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 09:49:50 AM EST
    "conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, and soliciting bribes."

    The real question is he being prosecuted for indelicately demanding what politicians for ages have gotten?

    Is it just a question of manners and etiquette?



    That's what i thought.. (none / 0) (#22)
    by Salo on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 11:02:25 AM EST
    ...why is a governor able to apoint cronies to a democratic institution anyway.  Vacant seats ought to have a by election and be decided by the voters.

    I say Blago knows something (none / 0) (#7)
    by Saul on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 08:11:00 AM EST
    and that is why he is being so cool and aloof about the whole thing.  His thinking is he feels confident the charges against him are weak and has a great chance to win this.  Plus if there is an impeachment process there will be exposure  by Rezko and no telling what he can say.

    More importantly he still has the power to appoint whoever he wishes.  If he just has to go down he will make an appointment just to make sure the democrats do not get who they want.  Just out of spite.

    won't happen that way (none / 0) (#8)
    by wystler on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 09:02:08 AM EST
    Should Blagojevich go ahead and try to make a Senate appointment, unless there's a whole lot of groundwork laid, the US Senate will refuse to seat that person. There's no way he'll be able to make an appointment out of spite.

    OTOH, it's conceivable that the parties involved could find a way to make a negotiated appointment to fill the seat if the impeachment looks to become protracted. Were this the case, the US Senate and Illinois Dems (Mike Madigan & Co) will have reached an agreement on a placeholder type. (There's at least one guy out there who could become that appointment.)


    Does it require senate confirmation? (none / 0) (#12)
    by Saul on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:13:30 AM EST
    I was under the impression that the governor in every state had the last and only word on who he picks and that his or her choice does not need go through the senate confirmation process.  If a governor needs senate confirmation can you site the document ( i.e. like in the constitution) where senate confirmation is required on  a governors choice to fill a vacancy.  

    Article 1, Section 5 (none / 0) (#15)
    by Radix on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:24:49 AM EST
    That's what they appear to be resting their hopes on. However, the Supremes ruled in Powell, that the senate doesn't have the broad authority they think they have. So we'll see.

    no state senate confirmation required, but ... (none / 0) (#35)
    by wystler on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 03:54:43 PM EST
    US Constitution, Art. I Sec 5:

    Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members, ...

    Thus, the folks on Capitol Hill could determine that a Blagojevich appointee was unqualified. Not aware of any precedent, nor do I believe the US Senate could be bound by same.


    Here's my question (none / 0) (#16)
    by Steve M on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:27:50 AM EST
    If Blagojevich and his aide agree that they're going to demand something in exchange for the Senate seat - let's say it's something that's unambiguously a bribe, like a job for Blagojevich's wife - that agreement can satisfy one element of a conspiracy charge.  It doesn't matter if they actually go through with it or not, there can still be a conspiracy.

    But to have a conspiracy, you don't just need an agreement, you need an overt act.  If it was conspiracy to commit murder, the overt act could be buying the gun.  But if it's conspiracy to solicit a bribe, I'm totally unclear on what could constitute an overt act, short of actually soliciting the bribe.  Does the complaint against Blagojevich actually spell out the government's theory in terms of what the overt act was?

    Re: bribery......would this count? (none / 0) (#27)
    by vml68 on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:24:08 PM EST
    "The elder Kennedy (D-Mass.), who's battling brain cancer, has sent word to Gov. Paterson's office that Caroline Kennedy, 51, has contacts and family connections that would mean legislation affecting New York would receive prompt attention, family sources said."
    Or is this considered business as usual?

    Heh (none / 0) (#28)
    by Steve M on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:32:56 PM EST
    That would most certainly be business as usual.  Not being an expert myself, I'd still try to break it down into three categories:

    1. Political horse-trading, i.e. "you support my bill and I'll support yours."  This might appear unseemly at times but it is pretty well-accepted stuff.

    2. "Pay-for-play," which is to say, "you support my bill and I'll raise money for your campaign."  This seems to be sort of a gray area depending on how explicit it is.  In some contexts it's clearly illegal.

    3. Outright bribery, i.e. "you support my bill and I'll pay you cash, give a job to you or your family member, etc."  This involves a personal benefit and it is clearly illegal as long as there's a quid pro quo.  In the absence of a quid pro quo ("Senator X has passed a lot of legislation that benefits our company, so let's show our appreciation by giving his kid a job"), it often looks fishy but is not illegal.

    The Ted Kennedy scenario you reference would pretty clearly fall into category 1.  On some level it's nothing more than a statement of fact concerning Caroline Kennedy's obvious family connections.  But let's flip it a bit and imagine Teddy saying, "if you appoint anyone other than Caroline, don't be surprised if NY gets shafted in the next appropriations bill," now it sounds a lot more ominous, right?  So often it boils down to nothing more than how you couch things.

    huh? (none / 0) (#31)
    by txpublicdefender on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:42:09 PM EST
    I don't even think it falls into category 1.  It sounds like he is saying that if Caroline becomes the Senator, she has the connections necessary to make sure that issues important to New York will get the attention they need in the Senate.  Isn't that the exact same thing she would be saying to the voters in an election?  "If you elect me, I will use all my resources, skills, and longstanding relationships to make sure that the issues that are important to our state are addressed by the U.S. Senate."  How is that political horse-trading?  Is it political horse-trading when someone tells the voters that they will work to get a tax rebate or tax cut for the people of their state if they are elcted?  That's promising "something of value" in exchange for a vote.  It's also normal campaigning.  The voters, and the apointers, I think, are right in wanting to know what you will bring to the table for your constituents if you are elcted or appointed to represent them.

    Well (none / 0) (#33)
    by Steve M on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 01:28:31 PM EST
    it is horse-trading because it's Ted Kennedy saying it, rather than a person completely outside of the process.  After all, he's not just commenting objectively on the significance of Caroline's family connections; he IS the family connections.  But I don't really think it's worth arguing about.

    Don't you think Fitzgerald knows (none / 0) (#23)
    by NYShooter on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 11:03:53 AM EST
    everything we know?

    Would he go public, put his reputation on the line, point-counter point every issue discussed here, and then order an arrest, if he wasn't sure he had the goods?

    Since we won't "know" until the trial (or a deal/plea) common sense would dictate leaning towards "guilty" would be a good bet.

    too much being made of this (none / 0) (#32)
    by txpublicdefender on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:46:23 PM EST
    I think too much is being made of the idea that Fitzgerald is a tough, smart prosecutor, and he wouldn't have gone public and made an arrest if he didn't have what he needs to convict.  This was not an ordinary case.  He clearly moved more quickly than he would have wanted to from a prosecution standpoint because he felt an obligation to step in before a crime could be completed, ie., before Blago actually appointed someone to the Senate.  

    I think Fitzgerald knew that he was taking a bit of a risk with the legal case by going public at this stage, but felt an obligation not just to convict, but rather to prevent harm to the public.  Now, he is hoping that by interviewing more people who will come forward that he will still be able to make the legal case stick.  He may well be able to do just that.

    But to say that, "Hey, it's Fitzgerald, so I know there is a solid criminal case here," is ignoring the special circumstances of this case, IMO.


    Impeachment is a sad and serious (none / 0) (#26)
    by KeysDan on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 12:14:19 PM EST
    undertaking.  It should be embarrassing not only to the office holder affected,  but also, to that office holder's party--a party that fielded and/or vouched for that individual.  However, it does not seem to me to be akin to a "dreaded nuclear" option.  It is a prescribed political remedy for governmental malpractice--the penalty is not jail or monetary fine, it is removal from the job.  The customary procedures are not rash, but involve consideration by committees, a majority vote of the House and a 'trial' by the senate, with conviction requiring a two-thirds vote. The legislators should realize that there will be electoral accountability for their actions, and that impeachment is not a devious means to undo an election. If such is attempted, it is very likely to have major blowback.  For the Democratic Party to do nothing about Blagojevich at this point, would seem to be neither responsive or responsible.  The impeachment process is a better way to address concerns than a recall.  For example, if Gray Davis had been impeached, much of the basis for citizen concern would have been ameliorated; the blame for the energy problem would have uncovered the role of Enron and Cheney, at that time. Daryl Issa wanted to be governor in the worst way and spearheaded a recall, but lost out to Arnold. That recall did undo a recent election.

    House approves Blago Impeachment Inquiry (none / 0) (#36)
    by Rajan on Tue Dec 16, 2008 at 10:09:35 PM EST
    It is absolutely improbable that Obama was not informed, during the daily briefings he is reported to be receiving even now  from various federal intelligence agencies including the FBI, about the court-authorized wire-tapping of Blago's telephone conversations. It would, therefore, be equally improbable  if   he had not been  advised well in advance to keep a safe distance from the Illinois governor and keep his own nose clean in this regard  (but let some of his lackeys do the dirty work) so that he can claim with a straight face that he had no contact whatsoever with Blago in  regard to the latter's plan to  auction the US senate seat vacated by him to the highest bidder when the scandal would eventually and inevitably break out, as it has done now. I am ,however, surprised that it has not occurred to some enterprising reporter to ask Obama at his press conference  whether he had been tipped off  in this matter by the FBI officially or by someone in the FBI (who is eager to curry favor with the new boss) unofficially. To what extent Obama would have entangled himself in this murky business, given his past track  record and penchant for associating himself with characters with dubious antecedents, had he not been fore-warned, as I suspect,  that Patrick Fitzgerald  had been stalking the unsuspecting Blango, is anybody's guess.  Nonetheless,   the body language of Barack Obama when he announced from a podium that he had never  had any contact whatsoever with the Ill. Governor, Blago was very  similar to that of his mentor and role-model, Bill Clinton when he  declared vehemently under oath  and  wagging his index finger at his audience:  " I did not have  sex with that woman!".  Bribery, like prostitution, is a game which always requires two players - one on each side of the court.  And, a telephone conversation needs at least  two participants - one at each end of the line unless it is made out that the Blago bloke was only talking to himself  detailing his own intentions or negotiating with a ghost over the telephone, neither of which is actionable under the law.  It is, therefore, blatantly unfair and inequitable that only the intending bribe-taker is being charged and prosecuted  while no potential bribe-giver is  even being targeted. What is happening in this instance is very much akin to the hooker being always hooked by the vice squad but her `john' being invariably let off the hook, as it has happened in the case of another infamous governor, Eliot Spitzer of New York!

    He's Not Leaving Soon (none / 0) (#37)
    by squeaky on Wed Dec 17, 2008 at 04:53:40 PM EST

    CHICAGO - The Illinois State Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon denied an emergency request from the state's attorney general, Lisa Madigan, to consider removing besieged Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich from power.