Governor's impeachment trial begins Monday

January 25, 2009 8:40:31 PM PST
The impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich is set to begin Monday at approximately 12 p.m. The governor will be a 'no show' in Springfield, but he'll be all over national television. He flew to New York Sunday today for appearances on Good Morning America, The View, and Larry King Live.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is criticizing the governor for his media blitz. The federal lawmaker said Blagojevich should be defending himself before the state Senate. Durbin added that Barbara Walters is not his jury.

Fifty-nine senators will take their seats in a chamber, and they will listen as a House prosecutor presents the case against the governor. There is a single article of impeachment claiming that Rod Blagojevich has abused the power of his office. It cites 13 examples, including the alleged sale of Barack Obama's Senate seat and the allegation that the governor would direct state money to the Cubs if the Tribune would fire editorial writers the governor thought unfair.

While most of the allegations are part of the federal criminal case against the governor, five are not.

The governor authorized the purchase of foreign flu vaccine four years ago. Prosecutors will argue that the vaccine purchase violated federal law. It was not needed, never used, and wound up being shipped to Pakistan where it was destroyed because the vaccine had expired.

Also, the governor's decision to expand health care programs despite the fact legislators said 'no' since there was no funding for it is at issue. His decision to proceed anyway stirred impeachment talk over a year-and-a-half ago.

"If it's insane to try to provide health care to people, then I plead guilty. And if they want to impeach me for bringing healthcare to everyone in Illinois, then they got me, and I'll probably be thrown out of office," Blagojevich said July 7, 2007.

"I'm not even getting a fair trial. They're just hanging me," the governor said referring to state lawmakers during a news conference held Friday, Jan. 23, 2009.

The governor and his lawyers will not be inside the chamber Monday for the start of the trial. It is, they say, a kangaroo court, fundamentally unfair.

"Of course it's not a fair process. But it's not meant to be a trial, and the defense team is basically saying 'What role to we have to play here, and if we can't play a positive role in defending our client, why should we play at all?" said Prof. Leonard Cavise of the DePaul College of Law.

"We're not gonna do this in a frivolous way. We have not done it in a frivolous way," said state Senate Pres. John Cullerton.

The new Senate president says the governor, despite his statements to the contrary, can call witnesses and present evidence. He also says the governor filed no objections when the Senate was drafting the impeachment trial rules in public.

"We take this very seriously. Even if the governor offers no defense, believe me, there will be very serious deliberation over whether we should remove him from office," said Cullerton.

What this tribunal decides will make history, and those who'll be sitting in judgment say the weight of history cannot be minimized.

"And long after Rod Blagojevich is a footnote in history, the precedent will be there. So, this trial is bigger to me than Rod Blagojevich," said State Sen. Kirk Dillard who represents Westmont.