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Blagojevich Attorney Challenges Impeachment Panel

Ed Genson

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's lawyer on Wednesday openly challenged the authority and actions of the state legislative committee that is reviewing grounds for the governor's impeachment.

Ed Genson, who is defending Blagojevich against charges that he tried to sell off President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat and engaged in other "pay-to-play" schemes, complained before the panel of Illinois lawmakers that he could not find the "basis for impeachment" in state documents. 

He also requested the removal of certain panel members who he felt were biased; that the committee grant him subpoena power; and that the committee adjourn to give his team "appropriate time" to prepare. 

Proceedings got underway in the state capital one day after the Illinois House panel met briefly and then adjourned so that Genson could attend. 

Genson complained that he had not received a list of witnesses or any tapes of wiretapped conversations involving Blagojevich. He said the introduction of any such evidence at this point would be illegal. 

"I don't know if they're going to give him a fair shake," Genson said at a press conference later in the day. 

The committee's chairwoman, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, rebuffed each of Genson's objections, arguing that the state-convened panel is not subject to the same rules as a courtroom.  

She said Genson, a well-known trial attorney, would not have subpoena power. "I don't think that we can wait around and put this off for another six months or another year," Currie said.

David Ellis, chief legal counsel to House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the committee would begin by reviewing only the criminal complaint against Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris. 

Currie earlier said she was awaiting a response from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald about whether the panel will be allowed to hear testimony from certain witnesses without compromising the federal corruption case against Blagojevich. She said she has no idea when Fitzgerald will reply. 

The impeachment committee will recommend to the full Illinois House whether to move forward with impeachment. 

Genson also asked the panel to appoint and pay for lawyers to represent the governor in the matter. He said Attorney General Lisa Madigan has a conflict of interest and can't do it.

 A third legal proceeding against Blagojevich filed by Madigan asking the state Supreme Court to declare him unfit to serve was dismissed Wednesday.

The governor came out of his Chicago home Wednesday morning and took off for a jog -- but not before telling reporters that he's anxious to discuss his case. 

"I can't wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys and, most importantly, the people of Illinois. That's who I'm dying to talk to," he said. "There's a time and place for everything. That day will soon be here and you might know more about that today, maybe no later than tomorrow." 

When asked if he would join his lawyer at the state Capitol Wednesday, Blagojevich said he was "in good hands" with Genson being there. Asked about when he might talk, the governor was glib: "Hang loose. To quote Elvis, 'hang loose.' Now can I get a run in, do you think?" 

The Illinois Senate adjourned Tuesday without considering a plan to fill Obama's U.S. Senate seat through a special election. Republicans accused the Democratic majority of trying to hold on to the seat by denying the public a general election. 

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs, said members must not be swayed by their personal feelings about the governor. 

"It's important that all of us put those attitudes, those prejudices aside. We should not prejudge at this moment," Durkin said. 

The House committee will weigh allegations against Blagojevich that go beyond the criminal complaint filed in Federal Court last week.

Lawmakers have long accused the Chicago Democrat of abusing his power by spending money without legislative approval, defying legislative orders and denying lawmakers information they should receive. 

It wasn't clear how many witnesses would be called to testify before the committee. But at least one name became public: Terry Mutchler, formerly an expert on public information disputes for the Illinois attorney general. She planned to testify Thursday about "dozens of incidents" in which Blagojevich's aides withheld records that should have been public. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.