Politics

Prosecutor Seeks Release of Taped Calls of Blagojevich

Patrick Fitzgerald moved Monday to release wiretapped conversations of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, after expressing concern that the release of testimony sought by the governor's attorney would interfere with his investigation of an alleged pay-to-play scheme.

Blagojevich has been accused by Fitzgerald of trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat, among other offenses. 

Fitzgerald filed paperwork Monday to release the conversations, as the House committee moved ahead with hearings examining grounds for impeachment against the governor. 

Fitzgerald says disclosing four calls won't interfere with the ongoing criminal inquiry. The prosecutor asked a judge for permission to disclose a limited number of the intercepted conversations in a redacted form. 

Fitzgerald made the move after last week requesting that the Illinois House panel investigating impeachment of Blagojevich refrain from interviewing individuals connected to the investigation, saying it would compromise the probe.

The latest move could help state lawmakers build their case for impeachment, after some officials expressed concern that they were not able to access evidence prosecutors were using to build their legal case against the governor. 

The governor's attorney, Ed Genson, on Monday urged the House panel investigating the governor to vote against impeachment, declaring that the threshold for such action has not been met.  

Genson said federal wiretaps may have caught the governor making some "unfortunate" remarks but they don't show him taking illegal actions.  

Genson said there's no evidence the governor ever took illegal action to auction off a U.S. Senate seat or pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire its editorial writers. He said the conversations amount to "unfortunate talk, talk that shouldn't have been made perhaps. But not actions."  

Genson appealed to the committee after the panel denied his request to subpoena two top aides to Obama. The governor's attorney continued to complain about the manner in which the hearing was being conducted, accusing the committee of denying his client due process.  

"It does not do the state of Illinois any credit to conduct a hearing that in fact denies due process to Rod Blagojevich," Genson said. 

State lawmakers have said the rules and standards for impeachment proceedings are not as strict as those for a trial. 

But Genson complained that the panel was admitting as evidence un-sworn statements, news articles and uncertified transcripts, which he said amounts to "hearsay." 

"I understand this is not a trial. I understand this is not a courtroom, but the fact of the matter is due process is due process," he said. 

"We're fighting shadows here," Genson said. 

Genson was also planning to submit the internal report released last week by Obama's transition team detailing contact between Obama aides and the office of the Illinois governor. 

Obama aides said the report showed no inappropriate discussions with the governor regarding the filling of Obama's Senate seat. Genson says the document supports the governor's claims that he did nothing wrong. 

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, who chairs the committee, said Sunday that Genson's request to submit the report would probably be approved. But she expressed skepticism that the report would prove the governor's innocence. 

"Maybe in this particular instance someone didn't run a stop sign, but it doesn't say they didn't run a different stop sign," she said. 

The House panel rejected Genson's subpoena request after Fitzgerald said the testimony would interfere with his investigation. Genson wanted incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to testify. 

Blagojevich continues to hold on to office, defending his innocence and rejecting suggestions that he should resign. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, however, said Sunday that the governor will be out of office by President Lincoln's bicentennial birthday celebration on Feb. 12. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.