There is an hourlong break in the impeachment trial of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as state senators caucus after hearing closing statements today. I think House prosecutor David Ellis made a strong case for impeachment and delivered a passionate rebuttal of the governor’s weak defense.
In his closing statement, Ellis outlined a pattern of abuse of power by the governor. He said that 31 recorded conversations reveal that Blagojevich wanted to sell President Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat. He said there are 15 recorded conversations between Blagojevich and his then-chief of staff, John Harris, discussing the governor’s desire to have Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired. He said the FBI wiretap recordings indicate that Blagojevich wanted to raise $2.5 million in shady contributions before a new ethics law took effect. Ellis mentioned three specific Blagojevich pay-to-play schemes: attempts to get $50,000 from a hospital executive in exchange for authorization of $8 million in pediatric care reimbursement funds, $500,000 from a highway contractor in connection to a $1.8 million tollway project, and campaign contributions from a racetrack owner in exchange for signing a bill favorable to the horse-racing industry. Ellis said there are 60 recorded conversations that captured the horse-racing bill scheme being set into motion.
Ellis also reminded senators of the federal testimonies of Ali Ata, who said he got a plum state job thanks to two contributions he made to the Blagojevich campaign, and Joseph Cari, who said Blagojevich told him he intended to use his political clout to get contributions. Ellis also described the ways Blagojevich broke the law by illegally expanding family health care and awarding money to a nonexistent company, which seems suspiciously like a money-laundering scheme.
As for Blagojevich, he finally appeared at his impeachment trial to make a closing statement in his defense, but he really didn’t say anything different from what he already said in numerous television interviews. He claimed there is no evidence proving he broke the law, which is a lie. Blagojevich said he “did a lot of things that were mostly right” and “always, the means were legal, and in most cases, the ends were moral.” Yet he presented no evidence to back up those claims and he refused to submit to cross-examination as a witness to his own actions.
In his rebuttal, Ellis said Blagojevich told Barbara Walters more on “The View” than he did to senators at his impeachment trial. Ellis noted that Blagojevich didn’t provide any explanations for the alleged schemes to sell a U.S. Senate seat and get Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired. Those subjects will be addressed further in the criminal case against Blagojevich, but the impeachment trial takes into account Blagojevich’s ability to govern, not specifically whether he is a criminal.
The media circus surrounding Blagojevich and his alleged actions caused the federal government to revoke his Homeland Security clearance and block his access to funds from the $800 billion stimulus bill being considered by Congress. The state’s bond rating also was negatively affected by Blagojevich’s actions, resulting in higher interest rates for Illinois. Ellis referred to this all collectively as “the stain on this state from what the governor has done.”
The trial is set to resume at 2:15 p.m. CST. At that time each of the 59 state senators will get the opportunity to speak about the proceedings for as long as five minutes. Then the impeachment vote will be taken and, presumably, Blagojevich’s tenure as Illinois governor will officially be over.