Ill. Senate begins trial as governor hits TV shows

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to reporters after making an appearance on the television program “The View” on Monday in New York. Mary Altaffer, The Associated Press

By Christopher Wills

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment trial opened Monday with a vacant chair reserved for the governor, who boycotted the proceedings and instead spent the day on the TV talk-show circuit in New York, saying he is being railroaded.

“The fix is in,” Blagojevich declared on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

As the Illinois Senate assembled for the first impeachment trial of a U.S. governor in more than 20 years, David Ellis, the House-appointed prosecutor, told the chamber he will show that Blagojevich “repeatedly and utterly abused the powers and privileges of his office.”

This trial could have immediate consequences on the Champaign-Urbana community, said state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-52.

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    “I think it’s important, however this case turns out, we get focused on our state finances quickly,” Frerichs said. “If we’re unable to pay our bills there are going to be very negative consequences for the University of Illinois.”

    In one of his first orders of business, Ellis won approval from the Senate to summon as a witness an FBI agent who oversaw the profanity-laden wiretaps that led to Blagojevich’s arrest on corruption charges last month.

    With Blagojevich refusing to present a defense, Illinois senators could vote within days on whether to oust the 52-year-old Democrat on a variety of charges, including allegations he tried to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama for a Cabinet position, a high paying job for himself or his wife or money to bankroll his future campaigns.

    State senators maintained the trial will be fair, despite Blagojevich’s attacks on the process.

    “I’m going to be very fair with him, we do know each other,” said state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-53. “But also I’m going to do what’s right when I hear the evidence and make a decision after that.”

    Blagojevich never denied the remarks federal prosecutors attribute to him, but insisted they had been taken out of context and that he had done nothing illegal.

    “We all took an oath to do justice according to the law. I know that everyone is taking the matter seriously and that no one will stand in the way of justice,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Republican.

    Pressed on what context would justify using Obama’s Senate seat to land a job for himself, Blagojevich said he didn’t try to make an illegal trade.

    “If you do an exchange of one for the other, that’s wrong,” he told ABC’s “Nightline,” according to a transcript of Monday night’s show. “But if you have discussions about the future and down the road and what you might want to do once you’re no longer governor in a few years, what’s wrong with that? Those are natural discussions people have. … Those are legitimate, honest discussions.”

    Blagojevich also appeared on “The View,” talked to Geraldo Rivera of Fox News Channel, appeared in a taped interview on NBC’s “Today” and in person on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” He was scheduled to appear on CBS’ “The Early Show” on Tuesday.

    “I’m here in New York because I can’t get a fair hearing in Illinois,” Blagojevich said between TV appearances.

    Daily Illini reporter Matt Mershon in Springfield and Associated Press writers Sara Kugler in New York, Deanna Bellandi in Chicago and Andrea Zelinski in Springfield contributed to this report.