By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 24, 2009
CHICAGO, Jan. 23 -- After vowing to "fight, fight, fight" to keep his job, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) declared Friday that he will boycott his Senate impeachment trial, due to start next week.
Blagojevich, facing 13 articles that allege abuse of power, told reporters that he will not defend himself or even send his lawyers, because he cannot call witnesses.
"Under these rules, I'm not getting a fair trial," he said. "They're just hanging me."
Legislators said the governor had the right to ask the Senate to subpoena witnesses on his behalf, but he missed a Wednesday deadline to file such requests. He also missed a deadline to ask that the articles of impeachment be dismissed.
Blagojevich's lead attorney, prominent defense lawyer Edward Genson, announced Friday evening that he is withdrawing from the governor's criminal defense team, hinting that his client did not follow his advice. The announcement came shortly after a federal district court judge ruled that the state legislature can hear four tapes of the governor's wire-tapped phone calls. As Blagojevich, who is also awaiting trial on federal corruption charges that could send him to prison, embarked on a round of media appearances, Illinois politicians showed their weariness.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley offered a choice word: "I said 'cuckoo' once, and I'll say it again. Cuckoo."
State Rep. Julie Hamos (D), a member of the House impeachment committee, said: "What he's resorting to now are stunts. He's obviously using this as a totally different strategy, and I don't think it's going to work."
The Senate is due to hear evidence against the two-term governor beginning next week. Political leaders in Springfield are predicting a vote to remove him within two weeks. If that happens, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) will become governor.
Saying he is the victim of "gross" constitutional violations, Blagojevich said Friday that he is being denied the right to call witnesses, including several figures who are connected to the criminal case against him.
Although he has refused to address the most serious evidence against him since his Dec. 9 arrest by the FBI, Blagojevich stressed "how eager I am to go to Springfield and confront the charges being brought against me."
He repeatedly mentioned his desire to summon President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D). Each makes an appearance in the impeachment case; none has been accused of wrongdoing.
"If they can do this to a governor," Blagojevich said, "they can do this to any citizen in Illinois."
He called on editorial boards to champion his cause, naming the influential Chicago Tribune. Federal prosecutors charged Blagojevich with fraud after he allegedly tried to leverage state funding for Wrigley Field renovations to force the firing of a Tribune editorial writer.
Blagojevich returned to populist ground Friday, saying the motivation behind the impeachment is a desire to raise taxes. "If I'm removed from office," he said, "there's a whopping huge tax increase coming on the people of Illinois before summer."
He compared himself to a cowboy sentenced to hang for stealing a horse, but who is not allowed to call as witnesses the other six cowboys with whom he was roping steer.
"Throughout his career, Governor Blagojevich has consistently tried to reinvent himself to whatever image he thought would be in his best advantage," said state Rep. John Fritchey (D), a longtime adversary from Chicago. "No one in this process is fooled, other than maybe the governor himself."