Blago. ousted as Ill. gov.; Quinn sworn in

Blago disqualified from holding future offices in Ill.
January 30, 2009 9:55:59 AM PST
The Illinois Senate unanimously voted to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office Thursday.Former Governor Rod Blagojevich spoke to a crowd of supporters outside his home after being connected out of office. He vowed to keep fighting for the people and against the accusations of corruption.

"I love the people of Illinois today, now, more than I ever did before," said Blagojevich.

"The ordeal is over," said new Gov. Pat Quinn.

The state's new leader, Pat Quinn, assured Illinoisians that the worst is behind them and it was time to get to work.

Quinn, begins his first full day in office Friday morning. He took the east of office after the state Senate kicked Blagojevich out of office.

The vote was unanimous, despite Blagojevich's arguments on the Senate floor.

The ousted governor held an impromptu news conference taht lasted an hour to hour and a half Thursday night. And Blagojevich was emotional. He was also philosophical about his fate and adamant about proving his innocence.

"You want to come over on Super Bowl Sunday? Come on, neighbor. Come on over," one neighbor yelled.

Now that he's out of office and has more time at home, private citizen Rod Blagojevich could be spending more time with his neighbors. Following the impeachment vote in Springfield, dozens of neighbors and supporters gathered outside his home amid a scrum of reporters and photographers. Some were there to watch history and even pose for photos with the former governor. Others were there to wish him well.

"This is the best day of my life, is when I was allowed to vote for you, and I am very, very saddened that they don't allow you to finish out your term. That's wrong," said one neighbor.

Blagojevich repeated his criticism that the impeachment process was unfair and still maintains his innocence.

"The fix was in. The fix was in from the very beginning. And, you know, just take a deep breath and just take a second and ask yourself, how can you possibly not know the fix is in when they put together rules that don't allow me to bring in witnesses?" he said.

A handful of people gathered outside the Blagojevich home later to light a candle on his front step and pray for him. They say they were grateful for Blagojevich's efforts on healthcare for children and the state's poor. Blagojevich has charges pending against him. He maintains he has done nothing wrong.

New Governor Pat Quinn is vowing to restore the government's integrity. He took the oath of office soon after the Senate vote.

Governor Quinn has to hire what amounts to his entire team within a few weeks. There are dozens of inner circle people who serve at the pleasure of the governor, including the chief of staff, administration lawyers, deputy governors, budget staff, cabinet members and press aides. Some of the people from the Blagojevich administration are likely going to be held over, but most are likely to resign, making this personnel transition a huge challenge for the new governor.

Quinn has quietly been interviewing people during the past six weeks or so and telling those that he likes to be ready to go at basically a few days' notice, meaning next week, on Monday, there could be some new state employees.

As he's trying to assemble that team, the new governor will have to confront the state's horrific financial crisis. As is widely reported, Illinois is months behind in paying its bills, and the projected budget deficit reportedly could now range between $5 billion and $10 billion. A state treasurer said before the senate voted that he wanted a meeting Thursday night with Quinn because the financial situation is so dire.

State Sen. Rickey Hendon talked about Blagojevich's last stand Thursday, speaking to the state Senate in an attempt to defend himself.

  • VIDEO: Blagojevich delivers closing argument, Part 1
  • VIDEO: Blagojevich delivers closing argument, Part 2


  • "Rod is very talented in speech making and politics, but it didn't change anything. It was 59-0. It didn't change anything," Hendon said.

    Hendon spoke out about the rules of the Senate trial and how they applied to the former governor, and that was the central part of Blagojevich's debate.

    "I studied impeachments over the last month or so, and they're normally broken into more than one category, more than one article of impeachment," Hendon said. "The House lumps everything together shotgun style, and it kind of restrains what the Senate could do. The healthcare things I wanted separated out because I thought they were executive privilege. But they wouldn't allow us to do it, so we had one vote, and that was to convict."

    Hendon said the proceedings have made him more of a reformer than ever.

    "Now, I want a recall for everybody - the counties commissioners, everybody," Hendon said. "Let's have it for everybody. Let's have public financing of campaigns. You want to get rid of paper? No donations for anybody, not a state party, not a candidate, no one. We could pay for it with tax increases that you're about to get. We can do it. So let's get something good out of this."

    Some Illinoisans are angry, some sad, but all ready to move on.

    "I never want to see a day like this again, and I suspect the Illinois people don't either. We had to be a national joke for the last several weeks, and we're better than that," said one voter.

    "I think it's time to close this chapter in Illinois' political history and look ahead. I think it's time for a new governor to accept the responsibility of guiding our state in a very difficult time," said another.

    "Illinois' long nightmare is over, six-year nightmare has ended today," another person said.

    President Barack Obama issued a statement saying, "This ends a painful episode for Illinois. For months, the state has been crippled by a crisis of leadership. Now, that cloud has lifted. I wish Governor Quinn the best and pledge my full cooperation as he undertakes his new responsibility."

    Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat, becomes the first U.S. governor in more than 20 years to be removed by impeachment.

    After a four-day trial, the Illinois Senate voted 59-0 to convict him of abuse of power, automatically ousting the second-term Democrat. In a second, identical vote, lawmakers further barred Blagojevich from ever holding public office in the state again.

    "He failed the test of character. He is beneath the dignity of the state of Illinois. He is no longer worthy to be our governor," said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Republican from suburban Chicago. Blagojevich's troubles are not over. Federal prosecutors are drawing up an indictment against him on corruption charges.

    Outside his Chicago home Thursday night, Blagojevich vowed to "keep fighting to clear my name," and added: "Give me a chance to show you that I haven't let you down."

    And in a joking reference to Chicago's history of crooked politics, he reached down to a 9-year-old boy in the crowd of well-wishers and said: "I love you, man. You know, this is Chicago. You can vote for me. You're old enough."

    Blagojevich, 52, had boycotted the first three days of the impeachment trial, calling the proceedings a kangaroo court. But on Thursday, he went before the Senate to beg for his job, delivering a 47-minute plea that was, by turns, defiant, humble and sentimental.

    He argued, again, that he did nothing wrong, and warned his impeachment would set a "dangerous and chilling precedent."

    "You haven't proved a crime, and you can't because it didn't happen," Blagojevich told the lawmakers. "How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?"

    The verdict brought to an end what one lawmaker branded "the freak show" in Illinois. Over the past few weeks, Blagojevich found himself isolated, with almost the entire political establishment lined up against him. The crisis paralyzed state government and made Blagojevich and his helmet of lush, dark hair a punchline from coast to coast.

    Many ordinary Illinoisans were glad to see him go.

    "It's very embarrassing. I think it's a shame that with our city and Illinois, everybody thinks we're all corrupt," Gene Ciepierski, 54, said after watching the trial's conclusion on a TV at Chicago's beloved Billy Goat Tavern. "To think he would do something like that, it hurts more than anything."

    In a solemn scene, more than 30 lawmakers rose one by one on the Senate floor to accuse Blagojevich of abusing his office and embarrassing the state. They denounced him as a hypocrite, saying he cynically tried to enrich himself and then posed as the brave protector of the poor and "wrapped himself in the constitution."

    They sprinkled their remarks with historical references, including Pearl Harbor's "day of infamy" and "The whole world is watching" chant from the riots that broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. They cited Abraham Lincoln, the Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus as they called for the governor's removal.

    "We have this thing called impeachment and it's bleeping golden and we've used it the right way," Democratic Sen. James Meeks of Chicago said during the debate, mocking Blagojevich's expletive-laden words as captured by the FBI on a wiretap.

    Blagojevich did not stick around to hear the vote. He took a state plane back to Chicago. He did, however, use his last day in office to grant clemency to a prominent Chicago real estate developer and a former drug dealer, just hours before the vote to oust him.

    The verdict capped a head-spinning string of developments that began with his arrest by the FBI on Dec. 9. Fderal prosecutors had been investigating Blagojevich's administration for years, and some of his closest cronies already have been convicted.

    The most spectacular allegation was that Blagojevich had been caught on wiretaps scheming to sell an appointment to Obama's Senate seat for campaign cash or a plum job for himself or his wife.

    "I've got this thing and it's (expletive) golden, and I'm just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing. I'm not gonna do it," he was quoted as saying on a government wiretap.

    Prosecutors also said he illegally pressured people to make campaign contributions and tried to get editorial writers fired from the Chicago Tribune for badmouthing him in print.

    Obama himself, fresh from his historic election victory, was forced to look into the matter and issued a report concluding that no one in his inner circle had done anything wrong.

    In the brash and often theatrical style that has infuriated fellow politicians for years, Blagojevich repeatedly refused to resign, reciting the poetry of Kipling and Tennyson and declaring at one point last month: "I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong."

    Even as lawmakers were deciding whether to launch an impeachment, Blagojevich defied the political establishment and stunned everyone by appointing a former Illinois attorney general, Roland Burris, to the very Senate seat he had been accused of trying to sell. Top Democrats on Capitol Hill eventually backed down and seated Burris.

    As his trial got under way, Blagojevich launched a media blitz, rushing from one TV studio to another in New York to proclaim his innocence. He likened himself to the hero of a Frank Capra movie and to a cowboy in the hands of a Wild West lynch mob.

    The impeachment case included not only the criminal charges against Blagojevich, but allegations he broke the law when it came to hiring state workers, expanded a health care program without legislative approval and spent $2.6 million on flu vaccine that went to waste. The 118-member House twice voted to impeach him, both times with only one "no" vote.

    Seven other U.S. governors have been removed by impeachment, the most recent being Arizona's Evan Mecham, who was driven from office in 1988 for trying to thwart an investigation into a death threat allegedly made by an aide. Illinois never before impeached a governor, despite its long and rich history of graft.

    Blagojevich grew up in a working-class Chicago neighborhood, the son of a Serbian immigrant steelworker. He married the daughter of a powerful city alderman and was schooled in the bare-knuckle, backroom politics of the infamous Chicago Machine, winning election to the Illinois House in 1992 and Congress in 1996.

    In 2002, he was elected governor on a promise to clean up state government after former GOP Gov. George Ryan, who is serving six years in prison for graft. But he battled openly with lawmakers from his party, and scandal soon touched his administration.

    Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a former top fundraiser for Blagojevich, was convicted of shaking down businesses seeking state contracts for campaign contributions. Witnesses testified that Blagojevich was aware of some of the strong-arm tactics. Rezko is said to be cooperating with prosecutors.

    Quinn is a 60-year-old former state treasurer who has a reputation as a political gadfly and once led a successful effort to cut the size of the Illinois House. By Thursday night, Blagojevich's name and picture had disappeared from the State of Illinois Web site's home page. Instead, an unobtrusive "Pat Quinn, Governor" was in the upper right corner.

    Blagojevich pleads his case

    In a long-shot attempt to save his job, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich insisted Thursday he had done nothing wrong and shouldn't be removed from office over unproven criminal charges and complaints about his management decisions.

  • VIDEO: Blagojevich delivers closing argument, Part 1
  • VIDEO: Blagojevich delivers closing argument, Part 2


  • Blagojevich acknowledged he sometimes mingled campaign fundraising with government decisions or cut administrative corners to achieve his goals. But he maintained his motivation was always to help constituents.

    FBI wiretaps from a federal corruption probe captured something "all of us in politics do in order to run campaigns and win elections," Blagojevich told senators, who were to vote later Thursday on ousting him.

    The governor said he would like to apologize, but couldn't because he didn't do anything wrong. The senators watched attentively. Many leaned forward in their seats. Some took notes.

    "It's painful and it's lonely, but I want you to know I never, ever intended to commit a criminal act," Blagojevich said.

    The two-term Democratic governor spoke for 47 minutes, then smiled and winked at reporters as he passed the press box on his way out of the Senate.

    The Senate soon began its deliberations on whether to convict, with one senator after another standing to condemn Blagojevich as unfit to hold office.

    Blagojevich's emotional defense was in sharp contrast to the picture drawn by impeachment prosecutor David Ellis. He told senators Blagojevich's own words, caught on tape in the federal corruption probe, reveal an abuse of power.

    "Every decision this governor made was based on one of three criteria: his legal situation, his personal situation and his political situation," Ellis said.

    "The people of this state deserve so much better. The governor should be removed from office," he added.

    The governor's impeachment was triggered by his arrest last month on a variety of federal corruption charges. The criminal complaint against him included a long list of shocking quotes that portrayed Blagojevich as trying to auction off President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat and pressure people for campaign donations.

    But Blagojevich said Thursday those are mere allegations that have not been proven. Also unproven are claims his administration evaded state hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, expanded a health care program without legislative approval and spent $2.6 million on flu vaccine that went to waste.

    After the governor's presentation, Ellis said Blagojevich simply dismissed most of the allegations, never explaining his actions and never denying the quotes attributed to him by federal prosecutors.

    Ellis hammered away at Blagojevich's decision not to answer detailed questions under oath.

    "He talked more about the evidence with Barbara Walters on 'The View' than he did here in this chamber today," Ellis said.

    The governor had refused to take part in the trial, but surprised everyone by asking to make a closing statement. By doing so instead of testifying, Blagojevich didn't have to be sworn in or answer questions.

    Ellis earlier played the only Blagojevich recordings federal prosecutors have released -- a few minutes of telephone conversations that appear to show Blagojevich linking his decision on legislation to getting a campaign contribution.

    Blagojevich did not deny the quotes attributed to him by federal prosecutors, such as calling Obama's Senate seat "a (expletive) valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing."

    Nor did he provide the context that he has repeatedly said would show that his comments were not criminal.

    Only a small part of Blagojevich's defense was dedicated to a point-by-point rebuttal of the impeachment charges. Much of it focused on his complaints about not being allowed to call witnesses related to the criminal charges against him or insisting that he was always motivated by a desire to help the struggling Illinoisans he has met.

    "What he said was factually untrue. It was moving, but it was false," said Sen. Chris Lauzen, a Republican from Aurora.

    Blagojevich painted himself as a child of immigrants whose hard work allowed him to live the American dream.

    Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval of Chicago called the governor's speech "a little too cute for a process that is very serious."

    Blagojevich left the Capitol immediately after his presentation, taking a state plane home to Chicago for perhaps the last time.

    Each senator was given five minutes to speak before the final vote on Blagojevich's fate. Republican Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon called him "a devious, cynical, crass and corrupt politician."

    Conviction is virtually certain, as even Blagojevich acknowledges. He presented no defense during the impeachment trial and has few, if any, allies left in state government.

    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.

    Blagojevich, 52, was arrested last month on a variety of federal corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing 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.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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