Blagojevich Lawyer Implores Panel

From News Services
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Dec. 29 -- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attorney said Monday that a vague array of charges and evidence do not merit removing the governor from office, and he urged a committee in the state House not to recommend impeachment.

Lawyer Ed Genson complained bitterly that lawmakers were considering snippets of tape-recorded conversations that are quoted in a criminal complaint against the Democratic governor. He said no one knows the full context of those remarks or whether they are quoted accurately. "We are fighting shadows, and that's not right," Genson said.

Monday's hearing was the first time Genson has comprehensively responded to the impeachment charges. Blagojevich was arrested by the FBI on Dec. 9 on a variety of corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from naming President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.

The governor denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to fight both impeachment and the criminal charges.

It was clear from the lawmakers' questions that they had little sympathy for Blagojevich or for Genson's arguments.

At one point, Genson grew so frustrated that he pleaded for help.

"Isn't anyone here going to stand up for the governor, or is it going to be one [critic] after the other?" he asked. "This is the impartial panel?"

In Chicago, prosecutors agreed to provide the committee with tape recordings in which investigators say Blagojevich is heard talking about exchanging state funding and contracts for campaign contributions. U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said he will ask a judge next week for permission to turn over redacted versions of four intercepted conversations.

Genson said he had not seen Fitzgerald's request and did not know whether he would support the release of the recordings.

Genson told the committee that the quotes from the federal complaint reveal talk but no action. They include the governor talking, sometimes using foul language, about how to benefit from appointing a senator, withholding state money from a children's hospital unless he got a political donation, and pressuring the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial writers.

"It's just talk. That's what it is. Unfortunate talk, talk that shouldn't have been made, perhaps. But not actions," Genson said.

The committee has also reviewed misconduct allegations including claims that Blagojevich unconstitutionally defied legislative decisions, spent money without proper authority and impeded audits of his administration's activities.

If Blagojevich is impeached, the state Senate will hold a trial to decide whether he is thrown out of office.

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