The Illinois Senate voted to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office Thursday, marking the first time in the state's long history of political corruption that a chief executive has been impeached and convicted.
The 59-0 vote followed several hours of public deliberation in which senator after senator stood up to blast Blagojevich, whose tenure lasted six years. And it came after a four-day impeachment trial on allegations that Blagojevich abused his power and sold his office for personal and political benefit.
The conviction on a sweeping article of impeachment means the governor was immediately removed from office. The Senate also unanimously voted to impose the "political death penalty" on Blagojevich, banning him from ever again holding office in Illinois.
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Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, Blagojevich's two-time running mate, has become the state's 41st governor.
The whirlwind of change capped a dramatic day in Illinois politics that promises to have repercussions for years to come. Quinn and lawmakers must bail out a state in the red by as much as $5 billion, and the campaign for statewide offices including governor formally kicks off late this year when candidates file to run in the February 2010 primary.
Highlighting the day's serious nature, Blagojevich offered his own sprawling, passionate closing argument after ignoring a Senate impeachment trial all week to take his case to the nation on the talk-show circuit.
Alternately praising and upbraiding those who will decide his political fate, Blagojevich urged the senators not to remove him from office, saying he has "done absolutely nothing wrong" and "never, ever intended to violate the law."
"There hasn't been a single piece of information that proves any wrongdoing," Blagojevich said to senators who were mostly stoic. "How can you throw a governor out of office with insufficient and incomplete evidence?"
Blagojevich warned senators against setting a "dangerous precedent" that would thwart the will of an electorate that twice voted for him.
"Imagine what future governors will face if I'm thrown out of office for this," Blagojevich said.
Senators dismissed the governor's plea, saying Blagojevich violated the public trust and paralyzed state government.
"He reminded us today in real detail that he is an unusually good liar," said state Sen. Matt Murphy said. "We bent over backwards to make sure that this process was fair."
Others took issue with Blagojevich's criticism of the impeachment trial rules, saying the governor could have asked for a vote on witnesses he wanted to call or evidence he wanted to present.
"At its core, it is dishonest, and it must be rejected by the members of this Senate," Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) said. "We must find him unfit for this great office."
Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) said Blagojevich is "inept, he's corrupt, he's cost the state millions of dollars."
Dillard, who worked for two previous Republican governors, also referenced the now-infamous colorful language Blagojevich is alleged to have used on secret federal recordings. "Former Gov. Jim Edgar's strongest language was "Golly, or Jimminy Christmas.'"
House prosecutor David Ellis attacked Blagojevich's speech in his short rebuttal argument.
"When the camera's on, the governor is for the little guy, the little people. When the camera's off, what are his priorities?" Ellis asked, pointing behind him to a poster board with transcripts of intercepted phone conversations. "`Legal, personal, political,'" Ellis said, paraphrasing words attributed to Blagojevich by federal authorities. "Nothing in that statement about the people of Illinois."
Earlier, the governor blasted the rules that he claimed don't allow him to call witnesses or challenge evidence.
"I was hopeful I would have that opportunity. I was hopeful I would have the chance to call every single witness in the criminal complaint. It would have been nice to have them here and tell you, under oath, what they know," Blagojevich said. "Unfortunately, these rules have prevented me from being able to do that."
Blagojevich decried a "rush to judgment."
"I'm here to talk to you, to appeal to you, to your sense of fairness," Blagojevich told senators. "I'm asking you as I speak to you today to imagine yourself walking in my shoes."
Blagojevich also defended his decision to try to import lower cost prescription drugs from Canada as an attempt to help people.
"If you're impeaching me, then we need to impeach to governors of Wisconsin, of Kansas, of Vermont," because all of them also were interested in his Canadian drug plan.
While we're at it, Blagojevich said, they should "reach into the United States Senate and remove John McCain and Ted Kennedy" because they supported the idea at the time.
Blagojevich also said the Senate should demand that President Obama fire his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, because Emanuel "gave me the idea" when he was a congressman from Illinois' 5th District.
"If you're going to get rid of me, why do they get to stay in office?" Blagojevich said.
The governor also defended a decision to buy $2.6 million of flu vaccine in 2005 that was never used. He said if the Senate wanted to impeach him on that, it should have done so during his first term when the medicine was bought.
"This didn't just happen yesterday. This happened in the first term," Blagojevich said.
The governor also rambled at points, dropping names during unrelated tangents. He recalled being a rookie congressman and meeting Virginia Sen. John Warner, whom he noted was married to actress Elizabeth Taylor. Warner mistook Blagojevich for a staff member and asked him to fetch a coffee, the governor recalled.
Blagojevich seemed at times to be trying to patch up a bad personal relationship. He noted that he has struggled more with lawmakers in the House, while he has traditionally found more support in the Senate.
"I know we've had some ups and downs," Blagojevich said to senators. "But we've also had some chances to work together."
"The ends were moral," Blagojevich said, and the means were legal.
"I know my style sometimes--I know," Blagojevich said. "But I want you to know where I come from. I have been blessed to live the American Dream."
The governor's speech came after prosecutor Ellis urged Illinois senators to convict Blagojevich, saying the evidence shows the governor throughout his tenure abused his power to benefit himself.
"The people of this state deserve so much better," Ellis said in a quiet voice, concluding the first part of his closing argument. "Governor Blagojevich should be removed from office."
The House prosecutor spent 45 minutes outlining evidence he said is more than enough to convict the governor. He often quoted from federal criminal charges released Dec. 9, the day Blagojevich was arrested at his North Side home.
"Every decision this governor made was based on one of three criteria," Ellis said. "The governor's legal situation, his personal situation and his political situation."
Ellis started by highlighting federal allegations that Blagojevich conspired to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama to benefit himself and his family.
"It's an effing valuable thing. You just don't give it away for nothing,'" Ellis said, quoting from federal court filings. "The governor wanted to make a trade."
Ellis then discussed federal allegations that Blagojevich tried to pressure Tribune Co. to fire Chicago Tribune editorial writers in exchange for state money to help with the sale of the Cubs.
Blagojevich had 15 conversations with former chief of staff John Harris in a month, repeatedly directing Harris to talk to high-ranking Tribune Co. executives, Ellis said.
There would be no money from the state to help with the sale of the Chicago Cubs "unless those editorial board members are fired," Ellis said.
"The governor knew what he was doing was harmful," Ellis said.
Ellis then detailed three alleged schemes in which Blagojevich tried to raise campaign cash in return for official state action as he tried to stockpile $2.5 million in his campaign fund before a new ethics law took effect Jan. 1.
One involved an $8 million grant to Children's Memorial Hospital that authorities have said Blagojevich wanted to result in a $50,000 campaign contribution.
"He even contemplated breaking his commitment, holding back the money," Ellis said.
Another scheme involved a $1.8 billion tollway project that Blagojevich allegedly wanted to fetch a $500,000 campaign contribution.
"If they don't perform, eff `em," Ellis quoted Blagojevich as saying.
The third scheme was a plan to trade his signature on horse racing impact fee bill for a campaign contribution from a horse track owner. During this portion, Ellis played a series of FBI recordings of Blagojevich and lobbyist Lon Monk, his former chief of staff.
The last tape Ellis played was between Monk and Blagojevich in which Ellis said Monk told the governor he could apply some pressure to secure a political donation from the racetrack owner before the governor signed a bill that would benefit him.
"Give John Johnston a call," Monk urged. "It's a two-minute conversation."
"I'd be happy to do it," the governor responded.
"I think it's better if you do it -- just from a pressure point of view," Monk said.
"Yeah. Good." Blagojevich said.
"I'm telling you he's gonna be good for it," Monk said later in the conversation. "I got in his face."
"Good," the governor said, lamenting that it would be "a whole year" before he got all of the contribution.
Tribune reporter James Janega contributed to this report.
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