CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, charged with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama, said on Friday he will not take part in an impeachment trial that could remove him from office.
Blagojevich, who has defied calls for him to resign, said the trial scheduled to start on Monday in the state Senate “is a trampling of the Constitution” because he was barred from an unrestricted calling of witnesses involved in the criminal case against him.
The two-term Democrat was impeached on January 9 by the Illinois House of Representatives for wide-ranging abuse of power. Without a defense, the trial may last less than a week. No one in the Senate, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 37 to 22, has expressed support for him.
If convicted by the Senate, he would be removed from office, with no recourse in the courts, legal experts said.
”It’s a scary thing if they get away with doing this,“ Blagojevich told a news conference. ”If a legislature will take away from the people their elected governor, who they elected twice, without giving that governor a chance to challenge the evidence and call witnesses, that’s a fundamental violation of the Constitution.
“Under these rules, I‘m not even getting a fair trial. They’re just hanging me,” he said. “If you can remove me from office like this, then you tell me what governor is going to challenge the legislature?”
Blagojevich again denied wrongdoing in the criminal case, in which prosecutors said he was captured on wiretaps talking about trading official acts, including naming Obama’s successor in the U.S. Senate, for campaign contributions and jobs.
A federal judge on Friday agreed to release to the state legislature four FBI tape recordings in which Blagojevich was overheard discussing trading his signature on a bill for a campaign contribution, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
Blagojevich has since named Roland Burris to replace Obama, and Senate Democrats seated him after initially saying they would not because of the taint of the charges.
‘THEATER OF THE ABSURD’
In addition to the pending criminal case that was summarized in an FBI affidavit, the state Senate will consider charges the governor frequently bypassed them to hire political allies and fund programs such as health insurance for children and the importation of prescription drugs and flu vaccine.
Blagojevich said lawmakers and others wanted him out of the way to enact tax increases, which he has opposed.
The governor said the impeachment rules prevented him from calling witnesses to refute the charges. Among those he wants to call are White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Emanuel and Jackson Jr. have said they talked with the governor about the Senate seat but never discussed compensation.
Blagojevich asked for changes in the impeachment rules and urged editorial boards at papers including the Chicago Tribune to advocate on his behalf.
He has been charged with conspiring to get a Tribune editorial writer fired.
Republican State Sen. Matt Murphy told reporters that Blagojevich was creating “a little bit more of the theater of the absurd.”
Murphy, who helped draft the rules, said the ones that Blagojevich challenged were fair, having been borrowed from former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, in which Clinton was acquitted.
Blagojevich has already been cut off from national intelligence briefings. In Washington the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted to prevent him from touching any of the $50 billion Illinois is expected to receive from the proposed economic stimulus package.
Additional reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Xavier Briand