SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois lawmakers took the first step Monday toward removing Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office by launching an impeachment probe, as the disgraced Democrat hired a bulldog defense attorney known for taking cases to trial.
Amid the developments, President-elect Barack Obama announced that a review by his own lawyer shows he had no direct contact with the governor about the appointment of a replacement for his Senate seat, and transition aides “did nothing inappropriate.”
Controversy has swirled around the president-elect and his incoming White House chief of staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, following Blagojevich’s arrest last week on charges he schemed to trade Obama’s Senate seat for personal gain.
Obama, fielding questions at a news conference, sidestepped when asked whether Emanuel had spoken with aides to the governor. He said the results of the investigation by his incoming White House counsel, Gregory Craig, would be released “in due course.”
Blagojevich’s political isolation intensified Monday evening, with the Illinois House voting 113-0 to create a bipartisan committee that will study the allegations against Blagojevich and recommend whether he should be impeached.
“We ought to move as quickly as possible to correct our problems and to get ourselves on a track where we can do what we’re supposed to do for the people of Illinois,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat and former co-chairman of Blagojevich’s re-election campaign who has become one of the governor’s fiercest critics.
At the Capitol, Madigan canceled plans to consider a special election to fill Obama’s vacant seat, saying Democrats are split over the best way to fill the vacancy.
Republicans harshly criticized the decision, which leaves the power to appoint a senator in Blagojevich’s hands.
A Blagojevich spokesman said Monday the governor has not ruled out signing a bill to hold a special election to fill the seat. That was the first hint the embattled governor may loosen his grip on the position. Still, he continued his hold on the office, signing 11 bills, including one referenced on wiretaps in the criminal complaint against him.
Blagojevich was arrested last Tuesday after being under federal investigation for three years. He is also accused of shaking down businesses seeking state deals and scheming to get Chicago Tribune editorial writers fired.
Chicago attorney Ed Genson, a street-smart lawyer known for beguiling jurors with his plainspoken style, confirmed he would represent Blagojevich. He has said he would handle both the criminal and possible impeachment cases against the governor.
Madigan said the impeachment committee’s review will include the criminal charges against Blagojevich as well as a long list of other possible wrongdoing during his six years in office: abuse of power, taking action without legal authority, ignoring state laws and defying lawful requests for information from the General Assembly.