Court rejects attempt to remove governor

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - December 18, 2008 - Attorney Ed Genson called the impeachment effort "Alice in Wonderland" and discounted federal wiretaps in which Blagojevich is heard talking about selling or trading Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

The Illinois House impeachment committee faces even more pressure now that the state's highest court has blocked an attempt to declare the two-term governor unfit to serve because of his legal and political troubles.

The panel planned to hear from its first witnesses Thursday, including state government's top internal watchdog. The chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, said the committee will focus on whether Blagojevich abused his power by defying lawmakers, refusing to release public documents and spending money without authorization.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Lisa Madigan denied a request by Genson to have the state pay for Blagojevich's impeachment defense, a significant move because Genson said federal officials are seeking to freeze the governor's campaign fund - $3.6 million as of June - a source Blagojevich could tap to pay his legal bills.

Madigan's office said the impeachment review is a case against Blagojevich's capacity as governor and isn't a court action - a classification that doesn't entitle the governor to taxpayer-funded legal representation.

Genson appeared before the panel Wednesday and challenged it on multiple fronts. He said three members should be removed, the committee's rules should be changed and it should not consider accusations in a criminal complaint against the governor.

Blagojevich, who left his home Thursday morning without speaking to reporters, has been under siege since his arrest last week on charges that he tried to auction off Obama's seat. But he got some good news Wednesday when the court refused to hear the attorney general's legal challenge to his fitness to serve.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan had argued that Blagojevich's problems amount to a disability, so Blagojevich should have been stripped of his authority temporarily just as if he were physically incapacitated.

The court rejected her challenge without comment. Madigan, a contender for governor in 2010, said she was disappointed by the ruling and urged the impeachment committee to act quickly.

The court's decision renewed calls from Republicans for a special election to choose Obama's successor in the Senate. They argue that neither Blagojevich nor Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn - who would take over if Blagojevich goes - should be allowed to make the appointment.

Genson said he doesn't expect Blagojevich will make an appointment.

"Harry Reid said that they're not going to accept anybody he picks," said Genson, referring to the Senate majority leader. "Why would he do that?"

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said he didn't know if Genson was correct about the governor's intentions.

Blagojevich denies any wrongdoing and is defying an avalanche of demands for his resignation.

The Illinois House has appointed a 21-member committee to review the possibility of impeachment. The panel, divided 12-9 between Democrats and Republicans, will recommend whether the full House should move to impeach Blagojevich. If that happened, the state Senate would then decide whether the governor is guilty.

Genson said it would be "frankly illegal" for the committee to base an impeachment recommendation on the corruption case against Blagojevich. The criminal complaint doesn't provide full conversations and context, he said, and it can't be cross-examined like a witness.

The complaint says prosecutors have Blagojevich on tape talking about bartering Obama's seat for personal gain, but Genson told the panel the words do not amount to illegal actions.

He called the wiretaps "two months of somebody who obviously likes to talk a lot, but two months of nothing getting done."

"There's no evidence that anyone ever asked anybody for anything with regard to that (U.S. Senate) seat," Genson added.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, challenged Genson to have Blagojevich testify.

"If we want the facts, we should have your client here. If you want to get to the facts, let's bring him here, let's ask the questions," Franks said.

Genson told the committee that neither the law nor the constitution spell out the standard for impeachment or what evidence should be considered. He also questioned the panel's impartiality.

Genson argued that three lawmakers - Franks and Republicans Bill Black of Danville and Jil Tracy of Mount Sterling - should be removed because their opening statements indicate they've made up their minds.

Lawmakers rejected all of Genson's complaints, saying the committee has broad power to review anything related to the governor's performance. They said Genson's courtroom-style objections won't change the panel's approach.

"He's trying to throw up enough dust ... to make people think the governor is guilty of nothing - pure as the new driven snow," Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said afterward.


Associated Press writers Jim Suhr and John O'Connor in Springfield and Deanna Bellandi in Chicago contributed to this report.

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