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Ill. Senate starts trial without Blagojevich

Governor hits talk-show circuit

Rod Blagojevich spoke during an interview with Barbara Walters yesterday on ''The View,'' as the Illinois Senate opened its impeachment trial with a vacant chair reserved for the governor. Rod Blagojevich spoke during an interview with Barbara Walters yesterday on ''The View,'' as the Illinois Senate opened its impeachment trial with a vacant chair reserved for the governor. (Heidi Gutman/ ABC via Associated Press)
By Christopher Wills
Associated Press / January 27, 2009
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Governor Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial opened yesterday with a vacant chair reserved for the governor, who boycotted the proceedings and spent the day on the TV talk-show circuit in New York, complaining he is being railroaded.

"The fix is in," Blagojevich declared on ABC's "Good Morning America."

As the Illinois Senate assembled for the first impeachment trial of a US governor in more than 20 years, David Ellis, the House-appointed prosecutor, told the chamber that he will show that Blagojevich "repeatedly and utterly abused the powers and privileges of his office."

In one of his first orders of business, Ellis won approval from the Senate to summon as a witness an FBI agent who oversaw the profanity-laden wiretaps that led to Blagojevich's arrest on corruption charges last month.

With Blagojevich refusing to present a defense, Illinois senators could vote within days on whether to oust the 52-year-old Democrat on a variety of charges.

In live appearances yesterday on "Good Morning America" and "The View," Blagojevich said some of his most inflammatory remarks from the wiretaps had been taken out of context. But when pressed, he would not elaborate, and he insisted he had done nothing illegal.

"I'm here in New York because I can't get a fair hearing in Illinois," Blagojevich said between TV appearances.

NBC's "Today" aired a taped interview with Blagojevich. He was also scheduled to appear on "Larry King Live" and ABC's "Nightline" last night, and on CBS's "The Early Show" today.

In one of the most surprising interviews of the day, Blagojevich said he briefly considered naming Oprah Winfrey to the Senate.

Winfrey said she would have turned him down.

The impeachment trial opened with the presiding judge, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald, telling senators: "This is a solemn and serious business we're about to engage in."

When Fitzgerald asked whether the governor was present, there was a long silence. The seats set aside for Blagojevich and his lawyer were vacant.

Fitzgerald ordered the proceedings to continue as if Blagojevich had entered a plea of not guilty.

In his TV appearances, and in interviews over the past few days, the governor portrayed himself as the victim of a miscarriage of justice. He has likened himself to the hero of a Frank Capra movie and a Wild West cowboy in the hands of a lynch mob. He said he took solace from thinking of Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi.

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