Illinois Governor kicked out of office

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The Independent US

The governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has been convicted of abuse of power in an impeachment trial at which he was accused of trying to sell President Barack Obama's empty Senate seat to the highest bidder.

Mr Blagojevich, a former Democratic ally of Mr Obama, is the first US Governor to be removed from office in 21 years. The spectacle has heaped shame on Chicago, which has long been a byword for political corruption.

Spectators packed the gallery all day to witness the first removal from office of a sitting Governor in the state's history. The Illinois state senators voted 59-0 to permanently remove him from office after a four-day trial and two hours of deliberation. The proceedings followed Mr Blagojevich's arrest by federal agents on charges that he was trying to auction Mr Obama's seat as part of a "pay to play" scheme to enrich himself.

In his usual brazen style, Mr Blagojevich was at home in Chicago when the impeachment vote was tallied. When he had arrived at his house, he had changed and gone for a jog in the icy streets.

Over the past week, he has taken part in a blizzard of television interviews, deploying his bottomless charm and Elvis-like bouffant hairdo in a vain attempt to salvage his reputation. He finally showed up at the Illinois senate trial yesterday and threw himself at the mercy of his colleagues.

The senate prosecutor, David Ellis, summed up the case against the Governor, declaring that "the pattern of abuse of power is unmistakable", and that Mr Blagojevich should be removed from office. He said that, throughout his tenure as Governor, Mr Blagojevich had abused power and "put his own interests above the interests of the people." "Which interests?" Mr Ellis asked, quoting Mr Blagojevich's words from secret FBI tape recordings. "Legal. Personal. Political."

Pleading his innocence in the colourful manner for which he is known, Mr Blagojevich said: "You haven't proved a crime and you can't because it hasn't happened. How can you throw a Governor out of office with incomplete or insufficient evidence?"

He defended his actions and criticised the proceedings as "a rush to judgment and an evisceration of the presumption of innocence". "There was never a conversation where I intended to break any law," Mr Blagojevich said. "I'm appealing to you and your sense of fairness. How can you throw a Governor out of office on a criminal complaint and you haven't been able to show or to prove any criminal activity?"

Evidence that the prosecution contends was an illegal attempt to squeeze a bribe from a horse racing executive, Mr Blagojevich said, amounted to "things all of us in politics do to run campaigns and win elections". He asked the politicians to put themselves in his position. He suggested that he was just a hard-working, pragmatic Governor trying to help the people of his state. Sometimes that meant skirting the rules set by the legislature, but he denied criminal wrongdoing as he begged for his job. "I'm appealing to your sense of fairness," he said. "I did a lot of things that were mostly right." He apologised for the theatrics surrounding the case and urged the lawmakers to "let us continue to do good things for the people".

But the federal wiretaps on which he was caught allegedly trying to sell the new President's senate seat to the highest bidder were impossible to brush aside by a legislature that is no stranger to deal-making. The embarrassing recordings include Mr Blagojevich threatening to withhold money from a children's hospital if he did not receive money from its executives.

The senators have banned Mr Blagojevich from seeking elective office in Illinois again. The state's lieutenant-governor, Pat Quinn, who has not spoken with the embattled Governor for the past 17 months, immediately took over and was due to be sworn in by the end of the day.

Illinois governors have a long history of going to prison for corruption, but Mr Blagojevich is the first in the state's history to have been impeached. If convicted of corruption on federal charges, he will be the fourth Governor of Illinois to go to prison in the past 45 years.

After the impeachment trial, Christine Radogno, the Republican leader of the Illinois senate, said: "I'm immune to his speech-giving. We've seen those tricks before. He's a performer." She added: "He's very good at that – perhaps he can get a job in the arts."