Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the Federal prosecutor who led the case against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, said the politician's actions had been so disgraceful that they "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave," (New York Times, December 9, 2008).
What happened in the case that opened and closed in less than two months—and took the career of a self-proclaimed reformer and "people's politician?"
Rod Blagojevich, the 40th governor of Illinois, was first elected in 2002 and then re-elected in 2006. Members of his staff faced allegations of corruption (particularly in hiring practices), and on December 9, 2008, Mr. Blagojevich was arrested on charges of political fraud—including allegations of attempting to sell the vacated senate seat left by President Barack Obama.
Additionally, the FBI had tapes of Blagojevich negotiating and conspiring with certain members of his staff about the next political moves for himself and even his wife. Other wiretaps had Blagojevich discussing approval of state legislation in exchange for funding towards his campaign.
Following the arrest, senators called for Blagojevich's resignation or impeachment. Blagojevich maintained his innocence, but to no avail. On January 9, the Illinois House of Representatives voted 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich. The incoming representatives reaffirmed that decision with a 117-1 vote on January 14.
Blagojevich chose not to participate in the impeachment proceedings, and instead went on a national media tour. He questioned the fairness of the trial on a variety of TV shows, from The View with Barbara Walters to The Late Show with David Letterman
In his interview on CBS's The Early Show, Blagojevich touted the lack of incriminating evidence on the FBI's wiretaps: "Unlike Richard Nixon, who was dealing with issues of tapes, who didn't want his tapes heard, I want mine heard. I'd like the full story to be told," (New York Times, January 27 2009).
As the impeachment trial began on January 27, Federal prosecutors played some of the recordings to a stunned courtroom. One of the tapes played had Blagojevich discussing a campaign contribution in exchange for a political process or legislation approval (Associated Press, January 27, 2009). Though he did not participate during any other part of the trial, Blagojevich did ask to give a closing statement, and in so doing avoided having to be sworn in and answering prosecutors' questions.
The closing statement did nothing to sway the Illinois Senators. On January 29, Blagojevich was removed from office "on an article of impeachment for an alleged pattern of abuse of power," (Washington Post, January 31, 2009)—the first Governor to be impeached in Illinois history (New York Times, 2009). Furthermore, he is barred from taking any public office positions in Illinois, essentially a "political death penalty" (Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2009).
Unfortunately for Mr. Blagojevich, he now faces a criminal case based on Federal prosecutors' charges of corruption while in office.
Illinois Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, who has spent 27 years in public office, replaced Mr. Blagojevich as the state's Governor. "We are going to fumigate state government from top to bottom to make sure there's no corruption," Mr. Quinn was quoted as saying the day after Mr. Blagojevich was removed from office (Washington Post, January 31, 2009).
"Illinois Governor Charged in Scheme to Sell Obama's Seat" by Monica Davey and Jack Healy. New York Times, December 9, 2008.
"Illinois House Impeaches Governor" by Susan Saulny. New York Times, January 9, 2009.
"Blagojevich Speaks at Impeachment Trial, in Wiretaps Only" by Monica Davey. New York Times, January 27, 2009.
"FBI tapes played at Ill. gov's impeachment trial" by Christopher Wills. Associated Press, January 27, 2009.
Editorial: "Mr. Misdeeds Exits the Statehouse". New York Times, January 29, 2009.
"Illinois Senate votes to oust Governor Blagojevich". Associated Press, January 29, 2009.
"Lieutenant Governor will replace Blagojevich". CNN, January 29, 2009.
"Blagojevich is removed from office" by Ray Long and Rick Pearson. LA Times, January 30, 2009.
"Impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been removed from office" by Ray Long and Rick Pearson. Chicago Tribune, January 30, 2009.
Editorial: "The Fumigation State". Washington Post, January 31, 2009.