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Effort to oust Blagojevich is on the fast track

Roland Burris will be invited to testify before the Illinois state House impeachment panel Wednesday about his Senate appointment.

January 03, 2009|Ray Long and John Chase

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is speeding up the effort to eject Democratic Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich from office, telling lawmakers to be prepared to vote on the governor's impeachment as soon as next week.

Leaders in Springfield and Washington are pursuing the same goal: denying a U.S. Senate seat to former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris, Blagojevich's choice to fill the seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama. The governor faces federal corruption charges, including that he tried to sell Obama's Senate seat.

Even as Senate leaders try to delay Burris' seating, state lawmakers are accelerating the pace of impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich with the idea that the succeeding governor, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, could appoint a senator too. That would allow the Senate to decide which appointee to seat.

To try to counteract those tactics, Burris asked the Illinois Supreme Court on Friday to act swiftly on his request to clear his path to the Senate. Blagojevich appointed Burris this week, but Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has refused to co-sign the petition. Senate leaders could use that as an argument to refuse to seat Burris on Tuesday. If the Senate refuses to seat him, Burris' attorney said, he will sue to force them to do so.

Burris also will be invited to testify before the state House impeachment panel Wednesday about his Senate appointment. House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, the Chicago Democrat who chairs the committee, said the panel hopes Burris will respond to the invitation, but if not, she and Madigan are "prepared to go along" with a request from Republican Rep. Jim Durkin to subpoena him.

Even so, Currie said, she "cannot imagine" that Blagojevich would have extended an improper offer to Burris after the governor had been arrested. Nor, she said, would Burris have accepted one.

Madigan's letter to all House members warned them to be prepared to work straight through next weekend. Impeachment panel members were ordered to return to Springfield on Sunday to start reviewing language for what eventually will be the committee's recommendation on whether the governor should be removed from office.

"It's their process, and they can set their own rules and timetable," Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said of Madigan's efforts.

The impeachment panel is awaiting the results of a Monday federal court hearing at which U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald will ask a federal judge for permission to allow covert recordings into the impeachment process. The recordings are focused on allegations that Blagojevich tried to cut a deal to sign horse-racing legislation in exchange for contributions.

The panel probably would wait only two or three days for the judge to release the recordings, said Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat and a member of the impeachment panel.

A new General Assembly is sworn in Jan. 14, and Sen. John Cullerton, the Democrat who will assume the Senate presidency, said that if the state House impeaches Blagojevich, his Senate trial will begin immediately. "You can't have a black cloud of an impeachment trial hanging over the legislative session," Cullerton said.

A two-thirds vote would be required to convict Blagojevich, removing him from office.

Meanwhile, Burris' attorney, Tim Wright, sent a letter Friday to Senate Democratic leaders, saying: "I encourage you and your Senate colleagues to grant the people of the state of Illinois the full representation afforded them under the U.S. Constitution."

If the Senate won't seat Burris, Wright said, he will go to federal court in Washington to try to force them to do so.

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rlong@tribune.com

jchase@tribune.com

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