An Illinois legislative committee unanimously recommended Thursday that Rod Blagojevich be impeached as the governor for abusing his power, mismanaging the state government and committing possible criminal acts.
The Illinois house of representatives could vote as early as Friday on whether to make Blagojevich the first governor impeached in the long, sordid history of Illinois politics. Impeachment in the house would trigger a state senate trial to decide whether the second-term Democrat should be removed from office.
Many on the 21-member special house committee called it a sad day for Illinois, but Representative Bill Black disagreed.
"I think this is a good, glad, happy day for Illinois because it points out that nobody is above the law," said Black, a Republican. "There have been egregious abuses, if half of what we read is true."
Hours after the panel's recommendation, Blagojevich's office blasted the impeachment proceedings as "flawed" and "biased," while saying the vote was "not a surprise."
It also predicted he'll be impeached by the full house, saying the outcome will be different "when the case moves to the senate."
No chance Blagojevich will resign before vote
Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing. Spokesman Lucio Guerrero didn't immediately comment on the impeachment recommendation, but said there was no chance the governor would resign before the full house decision. Blagojevich's attorneys left the hearing before the committee vote.
"The citizens of this state must have confidence that their governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own," the committee report said. "It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so."
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to profit from his power to name president-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate.
He later appointed Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat, and Burris testified Thursday that he did not make a deal with the governor to win the plum position. His testimony under oath was one of the key requirements Senate Democrats set out for Burris as a condition to accept his appointment.
"I can before this committee state that there was nothing … legal, personal, or political exchanged for my appointment to this seat," Burris told the Illinois house committee, hours before the panel recommended Blagojevich be impeached.
Blagojevich didn't testify
While the governor maintains his innocence, the report calling for his impeachment notes he did not appear before the committee to explain himself.
"The committee is entitled to balance his complete silence against sworn testimony from a federal agent," it says.
The committee's report recounts the federal charges, relying on a sworn affidavit from an FBI agent describing tape-recorded conversations in which Blagojevich discussed using the seat to land a job for himself or his wife. The governor also is quoted on the need to hide any evidence of a trade-off.
"The committee believes that this information is sufficiently credible to demonstrate an abuse of office of the highest magnitude," the report says.
It also lays out allegations separate from the criminal charges — that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, and that he spent millions of dollars on a foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn't needed and couldn't be brought into the country.