House panel might not hear tapes

January 8, 2009 3:15:46 PM PST
The House Impeachment Committee may never hear the tapes of the governor's phone conversations.That's the result of a federal judge setting a timetable on Thursday for the release of those tapes made by federal agents.

The governor's defense team filed a motion demanding that the U.S. attorney from the northern district and his assistants rescue themselves from the case.

As far as the tapes, the decision on whether they'll be turned over to the House Impeachment Committee won't come until next month at the earliest. That's long after the House panel will have completed its work. And it's possible they wouldn't even be available for a trial.

Attorneys for the governor and two others heard on the secretly recorded tapes say they will likely argue that the tapes not be made available to the House Impeachment Committee.

The House panel has said it wants the tapes to make a better-informed decision, but is prepared to move ahead without them.

A scheduling decision in court on Thursday afternoon means that the tapes - if they are to be turned over o e impeachment inquiry - may not be available until February 5 at the earliest. It's possible that a trial of the governor may be well underway by then.

"We've got to brief it, the government has to respond. We reply and then the judge decides," said Michael Ettinger, attorney for Robert Blagojevich.

Chief Judge James Holderman said on Thursday that while he's aware of the legislative requests for the tapes in a timely fashion, he said that in the interests of justice, "What we do here may not fit that timetable."

In the meantime, attorneys for the governor have filed a motion - that was under seal - asking that U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald and all of his assistants on the Blagojevich matter be removed from the case. They contend that the announcement and details of the Blagojevich arrest last month was filled with inflammatory, prejudicial comments.

"One never knows how a judge is going to rule," said Ettinger.

The assistant U.S. attorney handling the case in court on Friday called that defense motion meritless.