Impeachment trial underway without gov

January 26, 2009 8:47:59 PM PST
The historic impeachment trial of governor Rod Blagojevich got underway in the state Capitol on Monday.Though the governor was missing, the trial began with a solemn mood and powerful words.

"The governor has betrayed the public trust. He has violated his constitutional oath. He is no longer fit to govern. He should be removed from office," said House prosecutor David Ellis.

In a 20 minute blistering presentation, Ellis said the evidence will show that Rod Blagojevich used his official powers as bargaining chips, sought to fill a Senate seat like a sports agent shopping a star athlete, and that his own words will show he knew what he was doing was illegal.

The governor was represented by an empty chair. The proceedings, he says, are a sham but they will go on without him.

On Tuesday, FBI agent Daniel Cain will be called to testify about the federal criminal case against the governor. His testimony will be limited to confirming the authenticity of the secret tape recordings of the governor, but it moves the criminal case more solidly into the impeachment trial.

Four short taped conversations of the governor will be publicly played on Tuesday. They deal with an alleged attempt by Rod Blagojevich to extort a campaign contribution in return for signing legislation favorable to the horse racing industry.

"I'm anxious to hear them because they're an important part of what the House is presenting to us as to why the governor should be removed from office," said Sen. Christine Rodogno, Senate Republican leader.

Senators are allowed to ask questions only in writing during the proceedings and Chicago Democrat Ricky Hendon, a frequent ally of the governor ,offered some questions critical of the way the accusations against Blagojevich have been structured. But he stopped short of calling the Senate trial unfair.

"I think we have fair rules and think the governor should have been here to defend himself. I do think we need to tweak it just a bit to get at the truth. It's very difficult to get at the truth without the defense being here," said Sen. Rickey Hendon, (D) Chicago.

The tapes that are expected on Tuesday will be brief and not as explosive as what's attributed to the governor in the profanity-laced discussions of the Senate seat. Nonetheless, the tapes will include the voice of the governor in what the U.S. Attorney's office described as a discrete criminal episode.