CHICAGO - A special Illinois House committee will convene today to begin reviewing the possible impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who so far has refused to step down despite widespread calls from local, state, and national leaders following his arrest last week on federal corruption charges.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, yesterday announced the formation of the Special Investigative Committee to conduct an inquiry into whether the governor's alleged misconduct warrants impeachment, and to establish standards for the possible impeachment.
"We've reviewed grounds for impeachment for about a year. We never came to a judgment that impeachment was appropriate until the events of six days ago," Madigan said at a news conference. The House later approved a resolution establishing the committee.
The governor's press office did not return calls to comment.
Separately, state finance officials at press time were hopeful that there would not be a second delay in the planned competitive sale today of $1.4 billion of general obligation cash-flow certificates due to the corruption scandal. Late yesterday, Office of Management and Budget officials were still in final discussions with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office over her ability to sign off on the deal, but were hopeful the issues had been resolved, sources said.
The state late last Wednesday postponed the scheduled Dec. 10 sale to today. The attorney general said last week "it may be very difficult if not impossible to move forward on short-term borrowing."
She is required to sign off on the final debt sale documentation and to sign a certification that the office is not aware of any proceeding or threatened litigation challenging the authority of the governor to hold his office. Sources working on the deal have said they believe she could sign the certification or another state constitutional officer may also be able to do so in order to allow the deal to proceed.
Federal prosecutors announced the criminal corruption charges last Tuesday. The federal case accuses the governor of seeking to personally benefit from his power to fill President-elect Barack Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate. It also accuses him of using state financing assistance to the Tribune Co. as leverage to try to eliminate his critics on the Chicago Tribune's editorial board and other pay-to-play schemes involving state legislation and aid in an effort to raise $2.5 million for his campaign coffers.
Michael Madigan's move Monday came as the House and Senate convened to consider a resolution that would strip the governor of his power to appoint Obama's replacement and to set a special election. It also followed Lisa Madigan's filing last Friday of a motion with the state's high court to temporarily remove Blagojevich from office or strip him of most of his authority on grounds he is unfit to govern.
Lisa Madigan is the daughter of Michael Madigan. The two officials' actions are separate and even if the state court grant's the attorney general's request, impeachment proceedings would still be needed to remove the governor permanently if he does not resign.
Michael Madigan - whose relationship with the Democratic governor has long been strained and over the last year has escalated into an open feud - said the committee would work through the holidays to compile a report on its findings.
The timeline for the possible impeachment by the House remains unclear because Madigan said it was not known whether Blagojevich or a representative would appear at the hearings or challenge testimony. The committee will be chaired by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, and will include 12 senior Democrats and nine Republicans. If the House votes for impeachment, the Senate would hold the trial.
The impeachment of a governor is unprecedented in Illinois, although the committee process was launched in recent years as officials considered the impeachment of a Supreme Court justice. The Illinois constitution includes provisions for impeaching state officials, but does not set any terms for such action.
Madigan earlier this year had circulated guidelines for the impeachment process following the conviction of former Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin Rezko on pay-to-play charges that he traded state contracts and jobs for his personal benefit and for Blagojevich campaign contributions.