Illinois moves to oust governor
Illinois' attorney general moved to oust embattled governor Rod Blagojevich on Friday amid charges he tried to sell president-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Blagojevich has refused to resign over the sordid allegations of kickbacks and chicanery exposed in FBI wire-taps and Illinois lawmakers are expected to begin impeachment proceedings on Monday in a hastily called special session.
Chief of staff John Harris, who was also charged with fraud and solicitation of bribery Tuesday in what prosecutors called a "political corruption crime spree," tendered his resignation on Friday morning.
Blagojevich, who has declined to comment publicly on the charges, issued a press release saying he was "pleased" to sign a bill providing insurance coverage to parents of children with autism into law.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the state cannot wait for lawmakers to act on an impeachment -- a process which could take weeks or months -- because "state government is paralyzed by a governor who is incapable of governing."
So her office asked the state supreme court to impose a restraining order stripping Blagojevich of the bulk of his powers while considering her request to have him temporarily replaced by the state's lieutenant governor.
"In light of his arrest in the filing of the criminal complaint, Governor Blagojevich can no longer fulfill his official duties with any legitimacy," Madigan said, adding that her actions "will not eliminate the need for impeachment and trial."
The criminal complaint includes allegations that Blagojevich demanded hefty campaign contributions before he would sign legislation into law and pressured the owners of the Chicago Tribune to fire editors who were critical of his administration in exchange for helping the now-bankrupt company secure much-needed financing.
"Let me also be clear that my pleadings are not, they are not, about whether the governor's conduct should result in his criminal conviction," Madigan said at a press conference.
"This case is about whether the governor has the ability to legitimately and effectively carry out his duties and exercise his authority as governor."
Madigan acknowledged that it is an "extraordinary request" and that "the court may be reluctant to take up this matter," which is why she asked for a temporary rather than permanent removal from office.
While the Illinois state supreme court has the right to determine whether a governor has the ability to serve, the rules are "bare boned," Madigan said.
The court could move forward to "immediately" remove the governor but it could also deny the request, she added.
State lawmakers are expected to table legislation next week calling for a special election to fill Obama's senate seat and top senate Democrats have vowed to try to block anyone appointed by Blagojevich.
Obama has said is "absolutely certain" his transition team did not engage in deal-making with the corruption-tainted Illinois governor over the seat and vowed to disclose a review of any contacts with Blagojevich.
Transcripts released by federal prosecutors showed that Obama's office had recommended a name -- reportedly his long-time friend and now incoming White House adviser Valerie Jarrett -- to take over the Senate seat.
But the affidavit said that Obama's staff were offering nothing more than "appreciation" to Blagojevich -- much to the foul-mouthed frustration of the governor, who wanted a cabinet post at the least.
However, the renewed focus on the culture of corruption in his home state is an unwelcome distraction for Obama as he prepares to take office on January 20.
Former Illinois governor George Ryan, who is currently serving a six and a half year jail sentence for corruption, was to issue a public apology for his actions later Friday.
The Blagojevich scandal is expected to lessen the chances that President George W. Bush will pardon Ryan, a Republican, for steering state contracts to political insiders and helping to cover up bribes paid in exchange for truck driver licenses.