Friday, January 02, 2009

Impeachment accelerating in 2009 - UPDATED

The impeachment process aimed at Gov. Rod Blagojevich is accelerating and could be considered by the full Illinois House as soon as next week. House Speaker Michael Madigan told his members to be prepared to be in session for seven consecutive days, starting January 7 and running into the inauguration of a new General Assembly January 14.

At the same time, a special committee in the Senate is meeting in Chicago next week to set procedures for an impeachment trial in that chamber. A full trial would start if a majority of House members voted in support of impeachment articles.

Things picked up after Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The empty seat has been at the forefront of international news following the release of a criminal complaint against the governor, who allegedly tried to reserve the appointment for someone who would “pay to play.”

The Illinois House committee is close to wrapping up its investigation of whether there’s cause for impeachment, said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, committee chair. She said the full House could receive recommendations as early as next week, but it’s not certain. So far, the investigation has focused on whether the governor has abused his executive powers and, to a lesser extent, the federal criminal allegations. The committee still has to decide how many articles of impeachment it would recommend, if impeachment is the majority consensus.

But there are a few loose ends that should be tied up before the committee makes a recommendation one way or the other, according to Rep. Jim Durkin, the Republican spokesperson for the committee. He said he wants to hear Burris testify about his discussions with the governor and his campaign contributions to the governor’s political fund.

“I don’t take anybody’s word at press conferences, anymore,” Durkin said, “particularly when it comes to something of this magnitude and the serious nature of the investigation. I think Mr. Burris owes to the people of the state of Illinois to sit down, swear under oath the circumstances of how this appointment occurred and to swear under oath that he completely has clean hands in this process.”

Meanwhile, Burris filed a lawsuit with the Illinois Supreme Court to challenge Secretary of State Jesse White’s authority to block his appointment.

One other loose end includes whether the House investigation committee will have access to recordings of certain conversations between Blagojevich and members of his inner circle about a gaming bill mentioned in the criminal complaint. A federal hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Even if the feds deny access to the recordings and even if Burris does not testify, Durkin said he thinks the investigative committee could soon make an “informed decision” on whether to recommend articles of impeachment for the full House to consider.

The longer the impeachment process takes, however, the more momentum could build for a special election to replace Obama in the U.S. Senate. Illinois Republicans have been calling for a special election for weeks, but House Democrats were split and did not advance a bill to allow an election. Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat, is now sponsoring a measure that is slated for consideration next week. I haven’t gotten a hold of Fritchey, yet, but Currie didn’t sound so positive about the general idea. “I haven’t seen any sign of that moving at this point.”

UPDATE: Just spoke with Fritchey. He said his bill, SB 761, right now is intended to clean up the ethics reforms that just took effect January 1. Some language needed to be clarified so that the state wouldn't miss out on federal highway funds. That means the legislation, as of today, is not about setting a special election to replace Obama. Things could always change.

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