Illinois senators vote to oust Blagojevich

Illinois state senators voted to convict Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday afternoon at his impeachment trial and remove him from office.

'I've done absolutely nothing wrong,' defiant governor tells impeachment trial

Rod Blagojevich, at the podium in the centre, gives a closing statement at his impeachment trial at the Illinois State Capital building in Springfield, Ill., Thursday. ((Eric Y. Exit/Associated Press))

Illinois state senators voted unanimously to convict Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday afternoon at his impeachment trial and remove him from office.

The senators also voted unanimously to ban Blagojevich from ever holding office in Illinois.

Shortly after both 59-0 votes, Lt.-Gov. Patrick Quinn, another Democrat, was sworn in as the new governor.

The impeachment represents the end of a "painful episode for Illinois," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a written statement issued Thursday night.

"Now that cloud has lifted," he said. "I wish Gov. Quinn the best and pledge my full co-operation as he undertakes his new responsibilities."

Rod Blagojevich talks to media as he arrives at his Chicago home after being impeached on Thursday. ((Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press))

"I’m obviously saddened and disappointed but not at all surprised by what the state senate did today," Blagojevich told reporters and supporters gathered outside his home on Chicago's North Side. "It was something that I knew they would do a long time ago."

Blagojevich said he was grateful for his accomplishments during his time as governor and pledged to keep fighting to clear his name.

"I love the people of Illinois today, now more than I ever did before," he said.

The votes came hours after the embattled governor warned his impeachment would set a "dangerous and chilling precedent" for future governors.

In his lengthy and at times emotional address earlier in the day, Blagojevich asked the senators gathered at the state legislature in Springfield to allow him to call the witnesses he wanted to testify in his defence.

"I should be able to bring witnesses in to say that I didn't do the thing that I am accused of doing," Blagojevich told the senators.

"Let me show you that I am innocent and I didn't do anything wrong."

He said the four tapes secretly recorded by the FBI that were played for the senate trial "speak for themselves" and proved no criminal allegations, while the FBI agent who testified at the trial simply read out a criminal complaint against him.

Blagojevich did not present a defence before the four-day senate impeachment trial, arguing the rules restricted him from calling the witnesses he needed or playing wiretapped conversations in their entirety. He was allowed to call witnesses at the proceedings, unless they are expected to be called to testify at a later criminal trial.

During his speech, Blagojevich also defended his record in protecting health care for low-income families, trying to procure prescription drugs from Canada and raising the state's education budget without resorting to raising taxes.

"The means were legal, and in most cases, the ends were moral," he said.

The rules of the trial required a two-thirds majority — or 40 of 59 senators — to convict.

Blagojevich 'could have been here and he wasn't': prosecutor

Before the state senate's vote, the conviction of Blagojevich, 52, was seen as almost certain by observers and legislators.

He was arrested last month on a variety of federal corruption charges, including scheming to benefit from appointing President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate replacement and demanding campaign contributions in exchange for state services.

Illinois Lt.-Gov. Patrick Quinn, right, is sworn in as governor by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke, as Quinn's son, also named Patrick Quinn, looks on, Tuesday. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press) ((Jeff Roberson/Associated Press))

In his rebuttal following Blagojevich's address, impeachment prosecutor David Ellis said the governor could have been sworn in and answered questions, but instead showed up only to make a speech.

"He could have been here and he wasn't," Ellis told state senators.

He noted the governor at no point denied making the comments in the secretly recorded conversations, in which he appears to discuss using legislation to pressure someone into making a campaign donation.

Ellis also pointed out Blagojevich made no reference to the allegations surrounding Obama's vacant Senate seat, saying the governor "talked more about the evidence with Barbara Walters" than he did in front of the senators who sat in judgment of him on Thursday.

He added that the FBI agent who testified, unlike the governor, took an oath before the legislature under penalty of perjury to tell the truth.

Blagojevich has spent the past week appearing on television shows to plead his case that the proceedings are unfair and unconstitutional.

In the end, Blagojevich appointed former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris to the seat left vacant by Obama after he was elected U.S. president.

With files from the Associated Press