Blago's Lawyers Singing Different Tunes

Blago may ask courts to block "sham" trial

With his trial in the Senate just four days away, there is a clear discord inside Gov. Rod Blagojevich's legal team.

Defense attorney Sam Adam earlier Thursday said a lawsuit challenging what he called "completely unfair" Senate trial rules is being prepared and could be filed with Illinois Supreme Court within days, pending a final decision on whether to move forward.

Lead defense attorney Edward Genson said that he's not aware of any pending lawsuit because he and the governor's other lawyers aren't speaking to one another.

"I have no idea. They don't communicate with me," Genson said. "I have not been consulted on the impeachment decisions. I'm the only one proceeding in the Federal court."

He stopped short, however, of saying there is a clear split in the governor's team.

"I don't disagree with what they're doing," he said, "because I don't know what they're doing."

Standing alongside Adam outside the attorney's Chicago office Thursday, the governor said he has no intention of mounting a defense unless rules are changed before the Senate trial that will determine whether he's thrown out of office.

"Give me a right to call witnesses, give me a right to subpoena witnesses and documents, to properly prepare a case -- and I'll be the first one there," said Blagojevich, whose voice rose as he spoke. Otherwise, "I'm not going to be a party to a process like that."

"And if it means I have to sacrifice myself to a higher cause, for the people of Illinois and for the principle of due process and the right to call witnesses, then so be it," Blagojevich said.

If a lawsuit is filed, one legal expert said the governor has little chance of blocking impeachment through the courts.

"He might have a prayer but not much more than that. It is extremely unlikely that a court would intervene," said Andrew Leipold, a law professor at the University of Illinois, who noted the judicial branch is hesitant to interfere with responsibilities of the legislative branch.

But Blagojevich added he does not intend to resign.

"I'm not going to resign, of course not," he said. "I've done absolutely nothing wrong."

The state Senate plans to begin the trial Monday whether Blagojevich participates or not, said Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. Phelon dismissed the governor's criticism of the trial as "an unfortunate sideshow."

Blagojevich has not submitted any list of proposed witnesses to the Senate, which will have the final say in who testifies, but the rules bar testimony from anyone that federal prosecutors say would jeopardize the criminal case against Blagojevich. The governor says that means he can't question people who would say he did nothing wrong.

"The truth of the matter is, the way the rules are set up, we can't mount a defense," Adam said Thursday. "The people of Illinois are getting the shaft here because they won"t allow their elected officials to present a defense."

Earlier Thursday, the governor, dressed in his signature black jogging suit, the governer told reporters that his pending impeachment trial is "a sham," adding that his attorneys "rightfully" withdrew from the case, knowing it was "unfair ... due process."

He also referred to Illinois Sen. John Cullerton, who has said Blagojevich has been defiant.

"Let me be clear, this has nothing to do with defiance on my part, and everything to do with respect for the office of governor," Blagojevich said, inviting the reporters gathered in his front yard to go down the block to Cullerton's home and ask him about those comments.

The governor said the state Legislator is trying to "thwart the will of the people," by attempting to impeach "a governor elected twice by the people, without a hearing -- without due process."

Blagojevich's legal team announced last week that they would not participate in the Senate trial -- Adam and his father compared it to a lynching -- and said his conviction is guaranteed. A conviction in the Senate would have no impact on the continuing criminal case against Blagojevich.

The FBI arrested Blagojevich Dec. 9 on a variety of corruption charges, including the allegation that he schemed to benefit from his power to name President Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.

His arrest triggered impeachment proceedings, and the House voted almost unanimously to send his case to the Senate for a trial that will determine whether he's thrown out of office.

The attorney who will present the case against Blagojevich, David Ellis, has asked the Senate to let him call 13 witnesses, most of whom have no direct knowledge of the accusations against Blagojevich. Eight witnesses are lawmakers who will simply recap the conclusions of a House committee that investigated Blagojevich and recommended his impeachment.

Ellis did not return calls Thursday seeking comment on the governor's remarks or his request to call lawmakers to testify.

One of the proposed witnesses, Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield, said Ellis didn't want to do anything that might interfere with the criminal case, so he wasn't calling anyone involved in those allegations. Instead, House members will discuss the evidence outlined in a criminal complaint against Blagojevich -- primarily snippets from conversations recorded by federal wiretaps.

But Blagojevich is being impeached for actions that have nothing to do with the federal charges. He is accused, for instance, of wasting tax dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew would never be allowed into the United States, and of illegally expanding a health program that lawmakers had voted down.

Hannig said he didn't know why Ellis, the legal counsel to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, chose not to call Blagojevich aides with direct knowledge of those decisions.

Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said he worries that having lawmakers testify might politicize the impeachment process.

Righter said he had expected the trial to include testimony from people directly involved in some of the charges against Blagojevich. He also said the trial rules were designed to minimize politics, but appointing a Madigan aide as prosecutor and calling lawmakers as witnesses amounts to "a step backwards."

Righter said other senators shared his concerns but that he had heard no discussion of trying to keep the House members from testifying.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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