Senate leader says Blagojevich wants time at trial
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. Rod Blagojevich has asked to make a statement at the impeachment trial he has so far avoided, but still refuses to answer questions from the lawmakers who will decide whether to remove him from office, the Illinois Senate president announced Wednesday.
A buzz swept through the Senate chambers during the surprise announcement, which interrupted the third day of the unprecedented trial. The prosecution later rested its case against Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, among other corruption charges.
“It’s my understanding that the governor wishes to file an appearance to give a closing argument, not to testify or to submit himself to cross-examination,” Senate President John Cullerton said. “Just to give a closing argument.”
Closing arguments are expected Thursday, and the Senate could decide Blagojevich’s fate later that day.
The Democratic governor has refused to take part in the proceedings. Instead, he appeared on one news show after another to proclaim his innocence and declare the trial unconstitutional, saying he wouldn’t dignify it by participating.
Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said he didn’t know what the governor planned to say but that he decided to go to Springfield because he wants a chance to make his argument.
“I don’t think he’s going down there to resign; I think he’s going down to make his appeal to the senators,” Guerrero said.
Making a closing statement would be different from testifying, which would have allowed senators and the impeachment prosecutor to question Blagojevich.
Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, called the governor’s request “cowardly, but consistent with the way he has governed.”
The two-term governor has denied any wrongdoing since being arrested last month on a variety of corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing Obama’s Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.
Cullerton recommended Wednesday that senators agree to Blagojevich’s unusual request. He said the governor would be given 90 minutes to make a closing statement — in effect, acting as his own attorney. His recommendation was backed by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.
Cullerton said senators won’t make a formal decision on the request until after the governor arrives in Springfield on Thursday and formally files a motion to appear.
Earlier Wednesday, Cullerton challenged Blagojevich to show up and explain himself and objected to the governor’s tour of national media. Blagojevich has put up no defense at the trial, but says wiretapped conversations released when he was arrested on federal corruption charges are being taken out of context.
“If he wants to come down here instead of hiding out in New York and having Larry King asking questions instead of the senators, I think he’s making a mistake,” Cullerton said. “He should come here and answer the questions and provide the context he claims that these statements are being taken out of.”
Meanwhile, impeachment prosecutor David Ellis rested his case after saying he would call fewer witnesses than originally planned because much of the material was covered Tuesday by the testimony of an FBI agent.
Republicans objected, saying they wanted to hear from everyone possible, even if they’re just summarizing the conclusions of the Illinois House impeachment probe.
“I’ll sit here on Super Bowl Sunday, if I have to, to make sure the governor of the great state of Illinois gets a fair trial,” said Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale.
The senators weighing Blagojevich’s political fate listened Tuesday to the governor’s voice captured on a secret government wiretap and heard an FBI agent say the recordings caught one corrupt scheme after another.
Blagojevich, 52, doesn’t deny making the comments. But he says they were taken out of context and don’t amount to anything illegal.
No other Illinois governor has been impeached, let alone convicted in a Senate trial.
If Blagojevich is convicted, he will be removed from office and replaced by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat.