Monday, December 22, 2008

Impeachment: Day 4

Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s defense team gets a week to gather witnesses and put together a presentation to the House investigation committee, which met today for about four hours before adjourning for the week. The committee will return to work at 11 a.m. December 29.

One challenge for Edward Genson, the governor’s attorney, will be to produce witnesses that the committee deems relevant to its investigation. And that investigation is not whether the governor is a swell fella, said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, chair of the investigative committee. The mission is to determine whether Blagojevich has repeatedly abused his power or mismanaged the state.

“What we’re about is: Has he behaved in ways that have so seriously undercut the public trust and public confidence? Has he breached his responsibility to the citizens of Illinois?”

Committee members also face a challenge. They have to decide whether the information gathered so far demonstrates arrogance, incompetence, deliberate skirting of the process or invasion of the legislature’s authority, Currie said. If it is any one of those things, then the bigger question is: Is that an impeachable offense?

Genson has and will continue to argue that the information gathered so far is inadequate for impeachment. “There are no facts here. All we have are inferences.”

On the other hand, he said, “challenging the facts is a difficult matter because quite frankly, everybody who I perceive that’s involved is going to run under their beds and hide when I want to call them.”

As of Monday afternoon, he said he had nine people in mind he would like to invite to testify, but that could change. He wouldn’t mention names. He did say that he would submit a list of potential witnesses to Currie’s office Tuesday morning.

In the meantime, the committee is still waiting to hear from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office about the committee’s own witnesses it would like to invite. You can read names of those desired witnesses in a formal letter to Fitzgerald, asking him to determine whether the witnesses would interfere with his ongoing criminal investigation.

Not even committee members expect Fitzgerald to grant authority to interview everyone on the list. Genson was even more blunt: “The chances of them complying with your or my subpoena is nil.”

More evidence or inference?
Day four of the impeachment investigation involved gathering evidence from public documents and legislative agencies that say they struggle to work with the Blagojevich administration. The testimony, again, produced nothing new but did further the committee’s inquiry into abuse of power and political misuse of office.

  • The Procurement Policy Board, which oversees state property leases, added similar testimony to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules from last week: It’s difficult to get timely information or to get results when asked to adjust the administration’s plans. “This board is being ignored,” said Ed Bedore, Procurement Policy Board member. Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat on the investigative committee, said the trick is to determine whether the board’s experiences demonstrate gross incompetence or corrupt motivations.
  • The Procurement Policy Board also started looking into whether property owners who have contracts with the state also have contributed to the governor’s political campaign. It’s not a formal policy to check, said Matt Brown, executive director of the agency, but he did say they did not check campaign contributions before the governor took office in 2003. One property manager donated $50,000 to the governor’s campaign.
  • Further campaign contribution details were offered by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform’s executive director, Cindi Canary, whose testimony cited news accounts and state records that show a list of state contractors who donated $25,000 contributions to the governor’s campaign. But there so far is no proof whether those campaign contributions lead to state contracts or vice versa. “Definitely the dots have not been connected,” Currie said. “I anticipate this is exactly the kind of thing that they have been looking for in the ongoing investigation of the Blagojevich administration.”
  • John Scully, former assistant U.S. attorney, verified the extensive review process for federal investigators who request authority to plant wiretaps and bugs as part of criminal investigations. He described at least seven layers of bureaucracy and a standard that must be met, including probable cause that a certain person committed a certain crime using a certain phone or room and that there is no other way to get that type of information. His testimony counteracted arguments by the governor’s attorney, who maintains that the wiretapped information cited in the criminal complaint against Blagojevich shouldn’t be used as evidence because it’s incomplete and, he said, illegal.

Quote of the day
Rep. Suzanne Bassi, a Republican member on the committee, likened pay-to-play politics to pornography: “You know it when you see it.”

See documents involved in the investigation here.

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