Blago: ‘I Will Fight Until I Take My Last Breath'

Governor says he will be vindicated

Gov. Rod Blagojevich came out fighting Friday.

"I am not going to quit a job the people hired me to do, " the governor said. "I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath."

Blagojevich issued a short statement but did not take any questions. He thanked the people who have supported him and his wife, Patti, since he was charged with trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat.

"I intend to answer every question in a court of law," he said. "I will be vindicated." [Read: Full Transcript]

About an hour after Blagojevich's statement, Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn encouraged the governor to step aside under a constitutional provision that would allow him to keep his title and give his duties to an acting governor.  

Quinn said the state cannot wait for Blagojevich to fight his legal battles while there are so many state issues that need to be addressed.

Quinn, a top contender in the 2010 race for governor, has previously called for Blagojevich's resignation.

Illinois Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna said anything less than a resignation is "unacceptable." Ed Genson has bashed what has gotten his client into the legal bind: FBI wiretaps that prosecutors say catch Blagojevich scheming to deal President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat for campaign cash or a plum job.

Genson told an Illinois House panel considering whether to impeach Blagojevich that its consideration of the recorded excerpts he cast as meaningless "jabbering" was inappropriate, if not illegal. "I think you're using evidence that was illegally obtained," he said Thursday.

After the committee recessed its hearing until next week, Genson told reporters he planned to go after the taped conversations in court at some point. 

Members of the House panel pledged Thursday to do nothing that would interfere with the investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. If Fitzgerald asks lawmakers not to interview certain witnesses, the panelists will abide by that, they said.
"The fact that no one has denied that the governor has said those things (on tape) is relevant. That evidence already is on our record," said state Rep. Lou Lang, a suburban Chicago Democrat.
While hopeful that Fitzgerald lets the panel "go in some directions" with some potential witnesses in the criminal case,"if he shuts us down completely, this committee will deal with it," Lang said.
Genson said he expected federal grand jurors to eventually indict his client, which would likely unseal many of the documents in support of the charges, perhaps marking the point where his legal attack may truly begin.
"I'm talking that within the next few months the air will clear a little bit and we'll be able to get access to all the things that we need to get access to," he said. "And I'll be able to look at those things."
The impeachment process appears certain to grind on until then, possibly into next year, with or without Fitzgerald's help. Without it, the committee probably will emphasize some lower-profile allegations of misconduct against Blagojevich: defying the Legislature, failing to honor reporters' Freedom of Information requests, and trading state jobs and contracts for campaign contributions.
On Wednesday, the Illinois Supreme Court rejected a request to declare him unfit to serve, and Genson made it clear that the governor is not going down without a fight.
Federal prosecutors' case could be undermined -- or at least greatly complicated -- if Illinois lawmakers compel certain witnesses to testify. Following the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, the convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter were thrown out after the courts determined that the cases against them were built too much on testimony they gave to Congress under a promise of immunity.
The impeachment committee sent Fitzgerald a letter Thursday formally asking for information about people mentioned by pseudonyms in the criminal complaint, and requesting his guidance  on who can be called to testify. Fitzgerald refused to comment.
When the panel returns Monday, its members hope to discuss any guidelines or restrictions Fitzgerald may place on them.
Committee chairwoman Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat like the governor, noted that even before Blagojevich's arrest last week, some lawmakers were calling for his impeachment.
"We've got plenty of evidence out there of questionable activity on the part of the governor," she said.
Besides the Senate-seat-for-sale allegations, the governor was accused of trying to strong-arm the Chicago Tribune into firing editorial writers who criticized him and pressuring a hospital executive for campaign donations.
Outraged lawmakers appointed a committee to investigate Blagojevich and issue a recommendation on whether he should be impeached.
Genson had no comment on what restrictions Fitzgerald should place on the committee. "They do what they got to do and I do what I've got to do, and then what happens is what we've got to do," Genson said.
Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which allows impeachment in cases of "high crimes and misdemeanors," the Illinois Constitution does not define an impeachable offense. No Illinois governor has ever been impeached, so lawmakers have little to go on.
Genson has complained about the lack of a clear standard and suggested he might raise the issue in court if the governor is impeached.
"I don't know what the line is," he told the committee. "The line should be based on evidence, should be based on due process, should be based on confrontation."

Undivided Attention

Work all but stopped at the James R. Thompson Center as employees watched Blagojevich make his first public statements since his arrest on federal corruption charges.

 All over the state government office building in downtown Chicago, workers could be seen crowded around TV sets or watching Blagojevich on computers at their desks, including Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who watched the news conference in his office.

Inside the press room, it was packed with journalists including one TV crew that was from Serbia. The story is huge in that country
because it's where Blagojevich's ancestors are from.

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