Thu, 29 Jan 2009 17:17:33 +0000 – By Lis WiehlFormer Federal Prosecutor/FOX News Legal Analyst
"Is the governor present?" inquired state Supreme Court chief justice-Thomas Fitzgerald. As the silence echoed off the walls of a packed Illinois Senate chamber, Governor Rod Blagojevich was pleading his innocence. But Blagojevich wasn't pleading his innocence to fellow Democrats and Illinois Senators in the forum most would have expected when Illinois commenced its first ever impeachment trial of a governor. No, Blagojevich was in a television studio, 800 miles east.
[caption id="attachment_6362" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich meets the press on January 26 (AP)"][/caption]
The infamous Illinois governor charged with attempting to sell President Obama's Senate seat, using his power to pressure campaign contributions and defy legislative decisions was found crusading before a national audience. His message to the American public: the impeachment proceedings were "kangaroo-like." Please.
To be perfectly clear, Blagojevich does, in fact, deserve a fair trial. Contrary to his belief--he's getting exactly what he deserves.Blagojevich claims the entire impeachment proceeding is "unfair." Specifically, he contends that the rules governing the proceedings preclude him from calling witnesses or introducing evidence in his defense, and that the articles of impeachment drafted by the Illinois House have automatically been admitted as evidence, without him being able to challenge them.
To be perfectly clear, Blagojevich does, in fact, deserve a fair trial. Contrary to his belief--he's getting exactly what he deserves.
First, in accordance with the Illinois Constitution, rules were duly prepared for the impeachment trial and modeled after the Clinton impeachment rules. I don't doubt you recall that Clinton's trial ended with an acquittal. Perhaps most remarkably, during the drafting process, Blagojevich and his lawyers had the opportunity to attend public hearings and object to the rules yet failed to avail themselves of such avenues.
And second, with respect to Blagojevich's specific complaints, the articles of impeachment, transcripts and reports compiled by the House are not being admitted as evidence against Blagojevich, but merely being submitted to the Senate for their review of the House's findings. In any event, Blagojevich retains the ability throughout the course of trial and presentation of evidence to raise objections to such findings through his own witnesses and cross-examination of witnesses. Moreover, Blagojevich possessed the right to request the Illinois senate to subpoena witnesses. I use the past tense here because, well, Blagojevich missed both deadlines. And while the U.S. attorney's office did restrict certain people from being subpoenaed to testify, these respective witnesses were never precluded from testifying voluntarily and Blagojevich was never barred from admitting transcripts or television interviews.
But does justice and fairness also afford Blagojevich the due process protections afforded to defendants and litigants in respective criminal and civil trials? Absolutely not. Let's not forget that this is an impeachment proceeding--the type of proceeding used to determine whether Blagojevich is fit to continue to lead the people of the state of Illinois or if he has abused his power to the point where he should no longer serve. He's neither facing a criminal stigma nor the imposition of a fine. Rather, he's confronted by the forfeiture of Illinois' highest elected office for purportedly betraying his citizens' trust.
Believe me -- Blagojevich will have his day in a criminal court in the near future. It is there that he will be able to avail himself of all the protections afforded to him by the U.S. Constitution and Federal Rules of Evidence. Indeed, given Blagojevich's boycott of the impeachment proceedings and public relations blitz scheme, it might be safe to conclude that Blagojevich is much more concerned about his date with federal justice than he is retaining his residence at the Illinois Executive Mansion in Springfield.