After an impeachment trial that lasted only four days, the Illinois Senate overwhelmingly voted to remove Governor Rod Blagojevich. He is accused, among other things, of trying to sell President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn is now the Governor of Illinois.
As he stood before lawmakers late Thursday morning, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich knew it was his last chance to save his job by convincing state lawmakers he is innocent of charges that he abused his power as Governor.
"How can you throw a governor out of office who is clamoring and begging and pleading with you to give him a chance to bring witnesses in, to prove his innocence, to do more than just ask for a presumption of innocence," he said.
In the end, his appeal was not enough to convince lawmakers to keep him in office. The Illinois Senate unanimously voted 59-0 to remove him as governor, and passed legislation to prevent him from seeking office in the future.
He is the first Illinois governor to face impeachment, and his removal is unprecedented in state history.
Blagojevich was arrested December 9 on federal corruption charges that he tried to sell the Senate seat vacated by then Senator Barack Obama when he became U.S. President. Mr. Obama is not a part of the investigation.
Blagojevich is also charged with soliciting campaign contributions in return for state services and pressuring management at the Chicago Tribune newspaper to remove members of its editorial board critical of Blagojevich. In return, Blagojevich would support the release state funds to help the sale of the Tribune-owned Wrigley Field Baseball Park.
After unheeded calls by lawmakers and President Obama for Blagojevich's resignation, the Illinois House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to impeach the governor.
Until his remarks before the Illinois Senate on Thursday, Blagojevich had refused to appear at the trial. He cited an inability to call witnesses - one of the rules of the impeachment process - as his primary reason for boycotting the proceedings, which he called biased and unconstitutional.
But in a last minute turnaround, he asked for the opportunity to appear in the hopes he could appeal to lawmakers' "sense of fairness".
"You haven't been able to show wrongdoing in this trial, and [you] denied me the right to be able to bring in a whole bunch of witnesses who will show you I didn't do anything wrong and, in fact, did most things right," he said.
Lawmakers were unable to question Blagojevich during his statement, which was not given under oath.
It is something impeachment prosecutor David Ellis emphasized in his own closing arguments, which came after several days of testimony that included recorded conversations between Blagojevich and lobbyists trying to influence state legislation.
"That is unrefuted testimony - different conversations where the governor is trading, using his official power as some kind of a chit for personal gain, unrefuted by this governor. He comes in, says, 'There is no evidence,' and gets off the stage," he said.
As he made his final remarks to the assembled lawmakers, Blagojevich warned that a conviction in his case would set a dangerous precedent.
"To remove a governor, like this, sets a dangerous and chilling precedent for the future. Impeachments are very rare and they are designed to be that way. They're supposed to be used only in extreme cases. That's why there have been very few impeachments in American history. That's why I stand before you in a very unique and lonely place," he said.
After voting to remove Blagojevich from office, State Senator John Cullerton spoke with reporters. He indicated that the Governors refusal to participate in the trial sealed his fate.
"There was not one shred of evidence offered to rebut the prosecutions comments. It's the first time I'm sure in history at an impeachment trial the one accused was a no show. It was a big mistake," he said.
Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn took the oath of office soon after the vote to remove Blagojevich was entered into the legislative record.
Quinn is now the 41st governor of the state of Illinois.
"In this moment, our hearts are hurt, and understand we have a duty and mission to restore faith of the people of Illinois and the integrity of our government. and to make sure that all of our elected officials have the confidence of the voters. I think this is our highest calling," he said.
Federal prosectors are expected to bring an official indictment against Blagojevich by April. His trial date would be set at that time.