By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 2008; A11
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Dec. 18 -- The Illinois House impeachment committee questioned witnesses Thursday about allegations that Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) had trampled over the state's system of checks and balances by making policy end runs around lawmakers, expanding the testimony against him beyond the charges in the criminal complaint unveiled Dec. 9.
Among the allegations was that the governor had abused his power to push through controversial programs to expand health care and access to foreign-made prescription drugs for the poor and middle class, initiatives he has touted.
"Some people calling for impeachment have relied on issues just like this" even before the criminal complaint, said the committee chairman, Barbara Flynn Currie (D). "There's no question the criminal complaint spurred the Illinois House into action. But it may be if you have enough examples like these, you have grounds to impeach."
Blagojevich expanded the state's subsidized family health-care system in 2007 after the move was prohibited by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan panel of legislators charged with reviewing rules proposed by the administration. Blagojevich invoked his power to make "emergency rules" free from committee oversight to expand coverage, even as opponents argued that the state lacked the money for the expansion.
"How many lives were saved because of his policies to go forward and give health care?" asked Samuel Adam Jr., assistant to Edward Genson, Blagojevich's lead attorney. "That is our only question."
Currie responded: "The question is not whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. The question is: Were procedures followed?"
The committee also heard charges that in 2004, Blagojevich pushed a plan to import outdated flu vaccine from a British wholesaler without federal approval, in the face of a possible national shortage. A 2006 audit found that the governor continued to advocate the purchase even when it became apparent that the vaccine could not be legally delivered. The vaccine was eventually donated to Pakistan, and the provider sued the state for $2.6 million for not paying up.
Other witnesses cited a $1 million grant Blagojevich approved to help rebuild a family-run private school after the historic church where it was housed burned down in 2006. After spending much of the grant money, the school has still not opened, and the governor's office initiated action this fall to get the money back.
The state attorney general's office sent a letter Thursday denying Genson's request that he be appointed and paid by the state to represent Blagojevich. The letter quoted a 1996 Illinois Supreme Court decision saying that "no official of public government should be encouraged to engage in criminal acts by the assurance that he will be able to pass defense costs on to the taxpayers of the community he was elected to serve."