Blagojevich impeachment trial begins

January 26, 2009 3:58:01 PM PST
The prosecutor in the impeachment trial of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said his goal is not to punish the governor.

Instead, David Ellis says the goal of impeachment is to protect citizens from someone who has "repeatedly and utterly abused the powers of his office."

Ellis was picked by the Illinois House to present the case in a Senate trial. Senators will decide whether to convict the governor and remove him from office.

In his opening statement Monday, Ellis said he won't try to prove Blagojevich committed a crime because it isn't a criminal trial. The question, he says, is whether Blagojevich abused his authority.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9, accused of scheming to benefit from his power to name President Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate. He was impeached by the House earlier this month on additional charges of circumventing hiring laws and defying decisions by the General Assembly. A two-thirds majority of the Senate could convict him at trial and throw him out of office.

While refusing to attend the trial, Blagojevich made clear he would only defend himself through a media blitz.

"I'm talking to Americans to let them know what's happening in the land of Lincoln," he said on ABC. "If they can do it to a governor, they can do it to you."

In addition to the appearance on ABC, NBC's "Today" show also aired an interview with the governor Monday.

He reiterated his innocence Monday, telling ABC that "I did nothing wrong. And if I did something wrong, I would have resigned."

State senators have denied Blagojevich's claims of bias.

The U.S. attorney has asked senators to bar testimony from anyone federal prosecutors say would jeopardize the criminal corruption trial against the governor, Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy told ABC on Monday. Murphy noted Blagojevich and the impeachment trial prosecutor have the same limitations.

"The suggestion that this is somehow unfair to the governor is the most self-serving, ludicrous statement I have ever heard in my life," Murphy said. "It couldn't be fairer for this guy."

Still, Blagojevich claims he can't call witnesses who would say they talked to him about Obama's Senate seat and Blagojevich said nothing improper.

But the governor would be able introduce public statements from such people - for example, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel saying on a news show that Blagojevich did nothing wrong when the two of them talked.

The rules also let Blagojevich seek testimony from any witnesses not related to the criminal case. But Blagojevich ignored all deadlines for proposing witnesses or introducing evidence. He also ignored the opportunity to comment on proposed Senate rules or challenge them after they were adopted.

In recent days, Blagojevich has compared himself to the hero of a Frank Capra movie and a cowboy being lynched for a crime he didn't commit. He said that when he was arrested on federal corruption charges, he took solace from thinking of other jailed leaders - Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.

Blagojevich also has hired a public relations firm, but spokesman Lucio Guerrero said Monday that the state won't be footing the bill.

Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn would replace him, becoming Illinois' 41st governor.

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