Ill. gov. asks to speak at Senate trial

Thursday, January 29, 2009
Illinois Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, top center, and other senators gather around Sen. James DeLeo, D-Chicago, bottom left, during Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial on the Senate floor at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Wednesday he wants to make a statement, but not answer any questions, at the impeachment trial he once said is so biased he wouldn't dignify it by taking part.

A buzz swept through the Senate chambers when President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, revealed the governor's surprise request.

"It's my understanding that the governor wishes to file an appearance to give a closing argument, not to testify or to submit himself to cross-examination," Cullerton told the trial. "Just to give a closing argument."

The prosecution rested its case Wednesday, the third day of the trial. Senators are expected to vote today on whether to remove Blagojevich for abuse of power.

A conviction is all but certain. Blagojevich presented no defense, and the House voted 117-1 to impeach him. The lone "no" vote came from his sister-in-law.

Despite the slim odds Blagojevich faces, one senator scoffed at the idea of the governor using the statement to announce his resignation.

"I think he wants to be heard," said Sen. James DeLeo, D-Chicago.

A Blagojevich spokesman agreed. "I don't think he's going down there to resign, I think he's going down to make his appeal to the senators," Lucio Guerrero said.

Blagojevich repeatedly has said he won't resign. But he also said he wouldn't take part in the trial.

While the Senate has considered accusations Blagojevich is corrupt, the governor appeared on one news show after another to proclaim his innocence and declare the trial rigged against him.

"It's a kangaroo court," Blagojevich said Tuesday on Fox News Channel. "My lawyers and I believe that to be part of a process like that is to dignify a fraudulent impeachment process that sets a dangerous precedent for governors in Illinois and governors across America."

But Wednesday afternoon, Blagojevich's acting chief of staff contacted Cullerton's chief of staff to ask that the governor be allowed to make a statement before the trial concludes.

The impeachment prosecutor called his last witness Wednesday and is scheduled to make his closing arguments Thursday morning. Blagojevich could be ousted from office by afternoon.

By making his own closing statement instead of testifying under oath, Blagojevich avoids taking questions from senators and the impeachment prosecutor.

Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, called it "cowardly, but consistent with the way he has governed."

Cullerton, joined by the Senate's top Republican, recommended Blagojevich's unusual request be granted Thursday. He said the governor would be given 90 minutes to make a closing statement -- in effect, acting as his own attorney.

Ironically, Blagojevich often has talked about how badly he did in law school, joking that he barely knew where the law library was.

The two-term governor has denied any wrongdoing since being arrested last month on a variety of corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.

No other Illinois governor has been impeached, let alone convicted in a Senate trial.

If Blagojevich is convicted, he will be removed from office and replaced by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat.

Earlier Wednesday, Cullerton challenged Blagojevich to show up and explain himself and objected to the governor's tour of national media. Blagojevich keeps saying the wiretapped conversations released when he was arrested on federal corruption charges are being taken out of context.

"If he wants to come down here instead of hiding out in New York and having Larry King asking questions instead of the senators, I think he's making a mistake," Cullerton said. "He should come here and answer the questions and provide the context he claims that these statements are being taken out of."

The case against Blagojevich, presented by House-appointed prosecutor David Ellis, included audio of secretly recorded conversations in which the governor appears to discuss demanding a campaign contribution in exchange for signing legislation. Senators also heard from an FBI agent who vouched for the accuracy of eye-popping Blagojevich quotes that were included in the criminal complaint against him.

And on Wednesday, senators heard testimony that Blagojevich and his aides agreed to pay $2.6 million for doses of flu vaccine that they knew couldn't be brought into the country. Auditor General William Holland also testified to a long list of management irregularities under Blagojevich -- such as giving a lucrative contract to a company that didn't officially exist.

Associated Press writers Deanna Bellandi in Chicago and Andrea Zelinski in Springfield contributed to this report.

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