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Q&A: The Blagojevich scandal

Rod Blagojevich
Mr Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing

Scandal-hit Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has been removed from office by a vote in the state Senate after being convicted of abusing his powers.

Mr Blagojevich, who denies any wrongdoing, was banned from holding public office in Illinois for life, and still faces criminal charges.

He has been accused of attempting to "sell" Barack Obama's seat in the US Senate. He eventually appointed Illinois' former attorney-general, Roland Burris, to take up the seat.

How was he ousted?

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a suit with the state's supreme court to have the governor declared unfit to serve but her action was rejected by the court.

After an investigative panel of Illinois state representatives recommended his impeachment, the state House of Representatives impeached him on 14 January.

On 29 January, in what was effectively a trial, the Senate convicted him in a 59-0 vote of abuse of office and ousted him.

He was replaced by Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat and the state's lieutenant governor.

What has Mr Blagojevich been accused of?

He was arrested on 9 December after a lengthy investigation by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and charged with

  • attempting to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions
  • attempting to use state funds for the private purpose of inducing the Tribune Company to fire Chicago Tribune editorial board members critical of him
  • attempting to obtain personal financial benefits for himself in return for his appointment of a US senator

Mr Fitzgerald accused the governor of doling out government contracts and grants in return for campaign contributions, or - in the case of the Tribune company - favourable newspaper coverage.

As well as announcing the charges, Mr Fitzgerald also released transcripts of intercepted phone conversations conducted by Mr Blagojevich.

The accusations triggered a fierce reaction from Mr Blagojevich's political colleagues and many called on him to resign, including then President-elect Obama.

How do the reasons given for the impeachment of Mr Blagojevich differ from the criminal charges against him?

Although the articles of impeachment do include the US Senate seat and Tribune Company allegations, they add 11 more

  • signing legislation related to the diversion of casino gambling revenues to the horse racing industry in exchange for campaign contributions;
  • awarding a state tollway contract and the expansion of a tollway project in exchange for campaign contributions;
  • releasing paediatric care reimbursements to Illinois doctors and hospitals in exchange for campaign contributions;
  • making an appointment to a position with the Illinois Finance Authority in exchange for campaign contributions;
  • awarding state contracts in exchange for campaign contributions;
  • awarding state permits and authorisations in exchange for campaign contributions;
  • refusing to recognise the authority of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to suspend or prohibit rules, an utter disregard of the doctrine of separation of powers, and a violation of the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act;
  • impropriety in his procurement of flu vaccines
  • impropriety in his handling of the I-SaveRx Program
  • impropriety in his handling of the Agency Efficiency Initiatives
  • violating state and federal law regarding the hiring and firing of state employees

What happens to Mr Blagojevich next?

Federal prosecutors are expected to bring a corruption indictment against him by April, after which a trial date will be set.

Has the man Mr Blagojevich appointed to fill the Senate vacancy been allowed to take his seat?

Yes, but not without a fight.

Senate Democrats initially pledged to block Mr Burris, or anyone else appointed by Mr Blagojevich, citing Article I, Section 5 of the US Constitution, which provides that "each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own members".

But on 6 January, the first day that the new Congress was due to sit, Mr Burris attempted to enter the Senate chamber.

He was denied entry by Capitol officials, who said he was "not in possession of the necessary credentials" because his appointment had not been signed off by the Illinois Secretary of State.

But after meeting with Senate leaders, and later swearing under oath that he had not offered Mr Blagojevich anything in return for the seat, the leadership relented and Mr Burris was duly sworn in as the junior senator for Illinois.

What links the major players in the affair?

Mr Blagojevich has been a key figure in Illinois politics for many years and has consequently had dealings with other Illinois politicians, including Mr Obama and his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

In 2002, Mr Obama (then an Illinois state senator) supported Roland Burris in the primary that determined which Democrat would run for the state governorship.

When Mr Burris failed to win the nomination, Mr Obama endorsed the winner - Mr Blagojevich.

He and Mr Emanuel went on to act as informal strategists on Mr Blagojevich's campaign.

Mr Blagojevich returned the favour in 2004, endorsing Mr Obama in his Senate election battle (although he had not backed him in the primary).

Mr Obama also endorsed Mr Blagojevich in his 2006 re-election bid.

As for Mr Burris, he has donated a total of $4,500 to Mr Blagojevich's campaign fund over the years, with his most recent donation coming in June 2008, according to state records.

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SEE ALSO
Obama rejects Senate replacement
31 Dec 08 |  Americas
Accused governor to fight charges
20 Dec 08 |  Americas
Washington diary: Chicago tales
10 Dec 08 |  World News America
Profile: Rod Blagojevich
29 Jan 09 |  Americas
State profile: Illinois
29 Jan 09 |  Americas

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