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'Blago show' goes on in Illinois

By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Washington

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich at his home in Chicago (29/01/2009)
Mr Blagojevich said he would continue the fight to clear his name

Even in disgrace Rod Blagojevich does not, apparently, know the meaning of embarrassment.

Moments after the Illinois state senate voted unanimously to remove him from office he was back in front of the cameras, defiantly protesting his innocence.

The curtain may have come down on his political career, but what has been dubbed the "Blago show" goes on.

The former governor has already provided an unwelcome spectacle for the Democratic Party and the new president.

Federal prosecutors appear to have damning evidence - FBI wiretapped telephone conversations involving the former governor, while still in office.

In those conversations it is alleged the governor was seeking cash for favours. It is called "pay to play".

In one conversation, it is claimed that Mr Blagojevich was heard trying to sell Barack Obama's vacant senate seat to the highest bidder.

He reportedly said: "It's a... valuable thing. You just don't give it away for nothing."

Media campaign

At this point, most politicians would have resigned to spend more time with their family. But not Rod Blagojevich.

CHARGES AGAINST BLAGOJEVICH
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

He held press conferences protesting his innocence. He claimed a conspiracy and quoted poetry in his defence - a favourite was Rudyard Kipling's "If".

He played the underdog, the outsider, comparing himself to Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

While the calls for his resignation rose to a crescendo, he carried on as if nothing was wrong.

He provided his party, and Barack Obama, with another headache as he went ahead and filled the president's vacant senate seat - the same one he was accused of trying to sell.

His choice for the post - Roland Burris - eventually did get the seat.

And while the Illinois State Senate sharpened its axe, Mr Blagojevich toured the TV studios, still pleading his innocence.

He boycotted the beginning of his trial, preferring instead to take his case to the court of public opinion.

Only on the final day did he defend himself in front of the state senate. He gave a 45-minute speech, a strange mixture of pleading and defiance.

It was to no avail.

Every single senator present voted "yea" to his impeachment. More than that, they voted that he should never hold public office again.

'Cloud lifted'

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich appears on CNN's Larry King Live (26/01/2009)
Mr Blagojevich had mounted a media campaign to defend himself
Through the hearing, the senators had variously described their governor as "cynical", "crass", "corrupt", "inept", "a liar" and "a hypocrite".

Public humiliation. But not for Mr Blagojevich.

Moments later he was ready for his encore at his home now surrounded by cameras.

He expressed his disappointment and repeated his claim that it was all a stitch up. He proudly reeled off his achievements in office.

He said he was looking forward to his appearance in court to clear his name.

He will have that day in court when he faces criminal charges of corruption.

For now, Democrats and Mr Obama are breathing a sigh of relief.

President Obama issued a statement saying that the impeachment ended a "painful episode for Illinois".

A "cloud had been lifted," he added.

But who knows what Rod Blagojevich will say when he appears in court?

Remember that close aids of the president had conversations with the former governor about filling the vacant senate seat.

The "Blago Show" is not quite over yet. And there is still the potential for more embarrassment.



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SEE ALSO
The Windy City buffeted by sleaze
09 Jan 09 |  Magazine
Illinois governor guilty of abuse
30 Jan 09 |  Americas
Blagojevich 'did nothing wrong'
29 Jan 09 |  Americas
Oprah 'considered for Obama seat'
26 Jan 09 |  Americas
Blagojevich to fight impeachment
10 Jan 09 |  Special Reports

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