Illinois Panel to Explore Ouster of Blagojevich

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is calling for a special election to replace the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been accused of trying to sell the seat for personal gain. Video by AP
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CHICAGO, Dec. 15 -- Illinois lawmakers will take the first steps toward the potential removal of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) on Tuesday, when a bipartisan impeachment committee meets to seek evidence of official misconduct.

House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D) said the "committee of inquiry," created by a 113 to 0 vote six days after Blagojevich's arrest on corruption charges, intends to work quickly, mindful that state government is virtually paralyzed and that President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat is empty.

As legislators met in a one-day special session to consider the governor's fate and navigate the suddenly complex task of filling Obama's seat -- a decision the divided Democrats postponed until January -- Blagojevich maintained his public silence.

On another front, Obama delayed the release of a review of his team's political contacts with the Blagojevich administration. He said the review confirmed that his staff had done nothing inappropriate and that the corruption case had "nothing to do with my office."

Obama said he delayed the release at the request of U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, whose investigators are hurrying to interview witnesses in the Blagojevich case. Fitzgerald confirmed the request for a delay.

"I would ask for your patience because I do not want to interfere with an ongoing investigation," Obama said. "But there is nothing in the review that was presented to me that in any way contradicted my earlier statements."

There have been no suggestions that anyone on Obama's staff acted unethically. Indeed, in secret recordings, Blagojevich lamented that the Obama team was offering only "appreciation," not favors. But a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the fallout from the scandal in his home state could hurt Obama.

Only 51 percent of Americans told pollsters that they believed Obama had said enough on the Blagojevich matter. Thirty-four percent said he had not done enough and 14 percent were unsure, according to the poll.

As the Republican National Committee tries to tie Obama to Blagojevich, two-thirds of Democrats said Obama had sufficiently addressed his team's discussions with Blagojevich, as did 51 percent of independents. Fifty-one percent of Republicans said he had not.

Overall, 76 percent of the 1,003 respondents said they approve of the way Obama is handling the presidential transition. That is up from 67 percent in late November.

In Illinois, Madigan's decision to create a 21-member impeachment committee -- 12 Democrats and nine Republicans -- signaled that lawmakers do not intend to wait for Blagojevich to resign as the state faces a billion-dollar budget crisis and pressure to name a successor to Obama.

Yet it remained unclear what evidence would be available to the committee or how long the inquiry and a potential Senate trial could take, should the committee recommend impeachment and lawmakers pursue his removal.

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