The Illinois House impeachment committee could wrap up its work in early January, depending in part on how far it can probe into federal corruption charges against Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The Illinois House impeachment committee could wrap up its work in early January, depending in part on how far it can probe into federal corruption charges against Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The committee, established last week, met for about three hours Monday, taking testimony on pay-to-play politics and the difficulty federal investigators have in getting permission to wire tap.
But the panel recessed for a week without getting a response from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald about whether it can delve into the governor’s alleged criminal activity without jeopardizing the ongoing federal investigation.
Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, doesn’t expect the committee to get the prosecutor’s permission, which could bring a quick end to the legislators’ work.
“It’s safe to say that we’re in the homestretch right now,” Fritchey said. “Barring an unexpected response from the U.S. attorney, I think that we are looking at a couple of days of hearings left, tops.”
Committee chair Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the panel could be ready by the first week in January to prepare a report for the full House that may or may not recommend impeachment.
“We are not prepared to drag our feet,” Currie said. “I think there is a sense we should move expeditiously, but deliberatively, in order to get the job done.”
The committee won’t meet again until Monday, when Blagojevich attorney Ed Genson hopes to call witnesses in support of the governor. Genson said Monday he has nine people in mind to call. He would not identify them, saying he doesn’t know how many of them will be willing or able to speak to the committee next week.
Currie said the committee wants to screen Genson’s witnesses before they can testify.
“The issue is the relevance of the testimony to our work,” she said. “If (Genson) plans to trot forward a large number of character witnesses — who say Rod Blagojevich is and always has been an upstanding chap — that’s not relevant to our work. We’re not talking about if he is a nice guy.”
Genson said the evidence presented to the impeachment committee so far is weak.
“I don’t think the evidence in this case should call for impeachment,” he said. “On the other hand, this is a political process. I understand there’s a good segment of the public and a good segment of the political world that isn’t happy about the situation in Illinois.”
Genson added that the committee should not be swayed by opinion polls, because the state’s reputation isn’t going to be helped “by giving in to the lynch mob, so to speak.”
Currie said she hasn’t made up her mind, but the evidence presented so far shows “the governor and his people have clearly skirted the rules.”
That includes testimony that Blagojevich expanded health-care programs in defiance of the General Assembly, and testimony Monday from the Procurement Policy Board that the administration has stymied the board’s responsibility to oversee state leases and other contracts. Board executive director Matt Brown characterized the administration’s actions as trying to sidestep or simply ignore the board.
Cynthia Canary, head of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, testified about pay-to-play politics in which contributors to Blagojevich’s campaign fund received state contracts or appointments to state boards and commissions.
Currie, though, said Canary’s testimony did not document a quid pro quo in which Blagojevich specifically traded contracts and appointments for contributions.
While testimony from the policy board and Canary covered familiar ground, John Scully offered new information to the impeachment committee. Scully, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, testified about the difficulty investigators have in obtaining permission to gather information through wire taps.
The criminal complaint filed against Blagojevich relies heavily on information obtained through electronic eavesdropping. Genson has gone so far as to call the taps illegal and said evidence obtained by them is worthless.
Scully outlined the multiple hurdles investigators must clear, both with superiors in Chicago and in Washington, D.C., before they can install wire taps.
“I think the idea that these are a dime a dozen. My sense was Mr. Scully pretty well laid that to rest,” Currie said.
The Illinois Constitution does not spell out what constitutes an impeachable offense.
“Individual lawmakers are going to make up their own minds about what is required in order to meet the cause for removal from office,” Currie said. “Some people might find the appearance of impropriety might be enough. Others may think that may not be enough at this point.”

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.

Impeachment Watch

What happened Monday:
The House special committee investigating impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich met for about three hours. It discussed how authorization is given for the federal wiretaps that caught Blagojevich allegedly plotting several criminal activities. And it went over questions raised of the connections between campaign donations and state leases and contracts under this administration.

Quote of the Day:
“I am here to protect Rod Blagojevich. I’m here to protect his position, I’m here to protect his place as governor, I’m here to protect him personally.”
Blagojevich lawyer Ed Genson to reporters after Monday’s hearing.

What happens today:
Nothing, because the committee went home until next Monday to wait for an answer on cooperation by the U.S. attorney’s office investigating Blagojevich and to give Blagojevich’s lawyer more time to prepare his arguments.

Follow along:
The committee reconvenes next Monday, Dec. 29, at 11 a.m. in Room 114 of the Capitol building. Audio and video of the proceedings can be found at the General Assembly’s Web site,

Going home breakout

A week after promising to work every day but holiday times, the House special committee investigating the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich decided Monday to go home for a week.
The committee is still waiting to hear from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office on what cooperation it will provide in the legislative probe. Lawmakers don’t expect Fitzgerald, who is pursuing serious criminal corruption allegations against the governor, to be of much help — which would shorten their remaining workload.
Also, Blagojevich lawyer Ed Genson asked the committee for a week to prepare his arguments, including calling in witnesses. Both Democrat and Republican committee members dismissed possible complaints about dragging their feet by taking more time off.
“It is equally important for this process to be fair as it is quick. I don’t think anybody would rather have a shorter hearing at the expense of fair treatment to all interested parties,” said Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago.