Impeachment trial begins for Illinois governor

January 27th, 2009 - 5:25 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 27 (DPA) The Illinois Senate Monday began the impeachment trial of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested last month for trying to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant US Senate seat.Blagojevich, 52, was impeached by the state’s House of Representatives earlier this month. The lower body of the Illinois state legislature voted overwhelmingly, by 114-1, to send the case to trial in the state Senate, where, if convicted, Blagojevich will be stripped of his power and removed from office.

“This is a solemn and serious business that we are about to engage in,” Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, who is presiding over the trial, said. “The record will reflect that the governor has failed to appear.”

Blagojevich is boycotting the trial, instead appearing on various US television channels this week to proclaim his innocence. In his absence, the governor is being treated as having pleaded not guilty.

Blagojevich was arrested outside his home Dec 9 on a wide array of corruption charges, including using his sole power to replace Obama in the US Senate to attempt to solicit bribes from potential candidates.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted in a federal court. He has consistently maintained his innocence and Sunday compared his arrest to those of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“I’m confident that at the end of the day I will be properly exonerated” in a court of law, he said earlier this month.

Obama resigned from the Senate after winning the presidential election and has joined other Democrats and Republicans in calling on Blagojevich to resign.

On Dec 30, Blagojevich named one of the state’s former top law enforcement officers, Roland Burris, to the Senate, ignoring threats from legislators to block any appointment he made.

Blagojevich’s top aide, John Harris, has also been charged in the scandal and faces up to 20 years in prison. Harris resigned as chief of staff days after the arrests.

The Justice Department also accused the two men of threatening to withhold state assistance for a media firm, the Tribune Co, unless it sacked editorial writers seen as unfriendly to the governor. They ere additionally charged with seeking campaign contributions in exchange for official actions in a “pay-to-play” scheme.

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