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Illinois governor skips impeachment trial

world Updated: Jan 27, 2009 01:26 IST

AFP
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The corruption-tainted governor accused of trying to auction off President Barack Obama's senate seat for personal gain skipped his impeachment trial Monday and instead flew to New York for a slew of national media appearances.

A defiant Rod Blagojevich, who is expected to be ousted from office as early as this week, said Monday he is boycotting a "kangaroo court" intent on "hanging" him without a fair trial.

Blagojevich insisted he has done "nothing wrong" and said his December 9 arrest amid what prosecutors called a "political corruption crime spree" was a complete surprise which he has compared to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Then I thought about (Nelson) Mandela, Dr. (Martin Luther) King, (Mahatma) Gandhi and tried to put some perspective in all of this," Blagojevich told NBC's Today Show.

Blagojevich said expletive-filled transcripts of FBI wiretaps in which he plots to swap his right to appoint Obama's replacement for a cabinet post or high-paying job for himself or his wife do not tell "the whole story."

"I think the whole story will tell a story of a governor who is on the side of the people, who takes on powerful interests, expresses frustration and uses some language that, frankly, had I known somebody was listening, I wouldn't use," he said.

Obama, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, so far has managed to emerge essentially unsullied by the scandal which shone a national spotlight on the culture of corruption in Illinois.

Five of the past nine Illinois governors have been indicted or arrested for fraud or bribery and Blagojevich's predecessor, Republican George Ryan, is serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for fraud and racketeering.

Blagojevich is the first Illinois governor to be impeached.

Dozens of lower-level politicians and bureaucrats have also been rounded up by federal prosecutors in recent years, but Obama's foes have failed to tie him to the scandals.

"The charge that he's contaminated by the corruption in the state won't stick to him because he hasn't been involved in it," said Kenneth Janda, an emeritus professor of political science at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Obama, who was born in Hawaii and moved to Chicago to work as a lawyer and community organizer, managed to advance in state politics without much help from Democratic "machine" politics.

And he has stayed incredibly distant from Blagojevich, who has been surrounded by allegations of corruption since shortly after his 2002 election. Obama, who was sharp in his condemnation and called on Blagojevich to resign, said an internal review found no "inappropriate" contacts with the governor's office.

However, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was criticized for discussing his picks for the seat with Blagojevich.

The FBI transcripts show that Obama's representatives apparently were not willing to offer anything but "appreciation" should the seat go to one of their picks, much to the foul-mouth frustration of the governor.

Emanuel has subsequently said the governor did not ask for anything inappropriate in their conversations about the seat.

Blagojevich has used the senate's refusal to allow him to call Emanuel as a witness as proof that he is not being given the opportunity to defend himself.

"Blagojevich would like nothing more than to somehow involve Obama in his case, but he's grasping and I don't think he's getting any traction," Janda told AFP.

The senate has prohibited the calling of witnesses whom prosecutors said could interfere with the criminal investigation.

Legislators will, however, get to hear four of the FBI recordings which prosecutors say detail Blagojevich's attempt to solicit campaign contributions in exchange for supporting a bill that would benefit racetracks.

The article of impeachment also include a number of charges not laid out in the 78-page criminal complaint, including widespread hiring abuses, acting without legislative approval to expand health care, wasting state money on useless flu vaccines to get good publicity and refusing to release information to the public.