Page last updated at 19:40 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Blagojevich 'did nothing wrong'

Blagojevich : 'There is no evidence'

The scandal-hit governor of the US state of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has told his impeachment trial that he has "done nothing wrong".

He appeared before the Illinois state senate where he is charged with trying to sell the seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president.

He said there was no evidence to prove a crime, and said it would set a "dangerous precedent" to oust him.

Mr Blagojevich was arrested in December and faces a criminal trial over bribes.

Mr Blagojevich had earlier said he would not take any part in the impeachment trial, and his request to appear surprised senators.

If I thought I had done something wrong I would have resigned in December
Rod Blagojevich

He told them on Thursday: "There is no evidence that shows there was any wrongdoing by me as governor."

He expressed annoyance that he was not able to bring his own witnesses.

He said President Barack Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was one witness he would have liked to question, but rules prevented him from doing so.

He appealed to senators to consider his position: "Think if you were innocent and rushed out of office."

"A crime has not been proven. How can you throw a governor out of office with incomplete evidence?" he said.

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

Since Mr Blagojevich was arrested last month, he has persistently denied the charges against him and has refused to resign.

There is no trial date set in the criminal case.

"If I thought I had done something wrong I would have resigned in December," he told senators.

"I didn't resign then and I'm not resigning now because I have done nothing wrong."

He says he is the victim of a political vendetta.

If he is found guilty of abusing his power he will be forced from office. Senators are expected to vote later on Thursday.

Impeachment prosecutor David Ellis, in his rebuttal, emphasised that Mr Blagojevich had refused to appear under oath to answer questions, opting instead to make a closing speech.

In his closing remarks, Mr Ellis said: "The evidence showed that throughout his tenure as governor, the governor has abused the power of his office and put his own interest above the interest of the people."

The impeachment motion was passed by 114 votes to one in the House of Representatives on 9 January, although only 60 votes were needed.

The impeachment follows an investigation by a 21-member committee of Illinois legislators, which looked at testimony from FBI agents who wiretapped phone calls to and from the governor's office about who should fill President Obama's seat.

It is alleged the conversations show that Mr Blagojevich was trying to use the seat to get himself or his wife a job.

The panel said the evidence showed Mr Blagojevich was not fit to be governor, and voted unanimously to proceed to an impeachment vote.

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