Friends Few and Far Between for Blago

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.  — Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich doesn't have many friends these days, particularly among the lawmakers who will decide whether to throw him out of office.

The vote to begin impeachment proceedings was unanimous. Former allies have fallen silent after his Dec. 9 arrest on corruption charges. Members of a special impeachment committee are uniformly negative in their comments and questions.

"Isn't anyone here going to stand up for the governor?" Blagojevich attorney Ed Genson asked the committee last week.

The response was silence.

Blagojevich even has trouble finding support closer to home. His circle of aides and informal advisers has fallen apart due to arrests, resignations and the pressure of a federal investigation that dates back six years. His chief legislative ally is retiring next month.

There have been few details about what Blagojevich is doing behind closed doors at his Chicago office, other than signing a few bills and attempting to maintain an air of "business as usual." His spokesman has said the governor is meeting with aides and staff about Illinois' $2 billion-plus budget gap, but no one has provided details or stepped forward to confirm Blagojevich is even talking with anyone. He spends the rest of time at home, save for a few visits to Genson's office.

As for support, Blagojevich's chief of staff, John Harris, was arrested along with the governor and has resigned. Deputy Governor Bob Greenlee and General Counsel William Quinlan also quit. Both were mentioned in the criminal complaint, though neither has been accused of any wrongdoing.

Blagojevich's woeful situation leaves him immensely vulnerable to impeachment in the House and then conviction in the Senate.

Lawmakers can vote against him for any reason they want. They don't have to follow rules of evidence or consider reasonable doubt. They could vote to throw him out of office simply because they don't consider him fit to be governor.

That's an easier vote to make if no one will stand up and defend the governor.

His closest ally in the House, Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, said nothing to support Blagojevich when the House voted to establish an impeachment committee. At a news conference, Hoffman instead said he would resign if he were in Blagojevich's position.

Rep. Ken Dunkin, one of the few people with kind words for the governor, said the two-term Democrat faces payback for years of feuding with the Legislature.

"There are a lot of political vendettas that are being played out right now," said Dunkin, D-Chicago. "It appears to be headed toward a political witch hunt, because there's not an indictment and there's definitely not a conviction."

Yet Dunkin voted along with everyone else to begin impeachment proceedings.

Things were far different when Republican Gov. George Ryan was engulfed in scandal. Even as the public turned away from Ryan, he remained popular among lawmakers. That insulated him from any serious impeachment threat.

Blagojevich faced impeachment talk even before the FBI arrested him, alleging that he schemed to shake down a hospital executive for campaign donations, tried to benefit from appointing the replacement for President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat and more. The talk soon turned to action after Blagojevich was hauled into bond court.

That means his fate lies in the hands of people who have spent years nursing resentments toward Blagojevich — like the House member who called him "a madman" or the senator who says he and Blagojevich nearly got into a fistfight.

"A lot of it has to do with a lack of trust," said Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield.

Bomke is Exhibit A. He has been a passionate critic ever since he supported a 2003 Blagojevich initiative in exchange for a promise to reopen a shuttered mental health facility in his district. The facility never reopened.

Blagojevich may have hoped to gain a friend by naming Roland Burris to the Senate, but Burris has been careful not to defend the governor. In fact, Burris has said the federal corruption charges describe "reprehensible" conduct by Blagojevich.

And Burris is being asked to testify before the House impeachment committee, which hopes to wrap up its work this week and give the House a recommendation on whether to consider impeachment.

It would take a simple majority vote for the House to impeach, which basically means accusing Blagojevich of misconduct. Then the state Senate would hold a trial to determine whether he's guilty. A conviction there requires a two-thirds majority vote.

The committee is not conducting its own investigation of the criminal charges against Blagojevich. Federal prosecutors have asked the panel not to talk to witnesses.

But the committee has reviewed the allegations and sworn statements included in the criminal charges. It has also taken testimony on a variety of issues, such as the governor's decision to expand a health care program lawmakers had rejected and his insistence on spending $2.5 million on foreign flu vaccine that couldn't be brought into the country.

His attorney generally hasn't challenged the allegations. Instead, Genson argues they don't merit impeachment.

He has urged lawmakers to impose a standard of evidence and declare that he cannot be impeached unless there is "clear and convincing" evidence of a crime or serious misconduct.

"I understand this is not a trial. I understand this is not a courtroom, but the fact is, due process is due process," Genson said.

The committee members, however, made it clear that they're not interested in restrictions.

"There is no definition in the law," said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. "It will be 118 definitions in the House and 59 definitions in the Senate."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us