Page last updated at 20:13 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Illinois impeachment trial opens

Rod Blagojevich
Rod Blagojevich is refusing to take part in the trial

The impeachment trial of US Governor Rod Blagojevich over charges that he tried to "sell" Barack Obama's Senate seat has begun in Illinois.

The trial in Springfield will determine whether the state's chief executive will be forced out of office.

Mr Blagojevich - who is refusing to take part in the trial - has denied doing anything wrong.

The Illinois House of Representatives earlier this month voted to impeach him over the charges.

There's no chance whatsoever to have a fair hearing
Illinois Gov Rod Blagojevich

"This is a solemn and serious business," Illinois Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald told the state senators at the start of the trial.

Senators are considering charges that Gov Blagojevich, a second-term Democrat, tried to sell the US Senate seat vacated by President Obama, used his authority to pressure campaign contributors and defied legislative decisions.

Oprah Winfrey

In a series of televised interviews on Monday, Mr Blagojevich reiterated that he was innocent.

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

"You can conceivably bring in 15 angels and 20 saints, led by Mother Teresa, to come in and testify to my good character and my integrity and all the rest; it wouldn't matter," he told NBC's Today.

"There's no chance whatsoever to have a fair hearing," Mr Blagojevich said.

He also revealed that he had considered offering the vacated senate seat to talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

FBI testimony

Mr Blagojevich was arrested in December and charged with soliciting bribes.

In January, the Illinois House of Represenatives voted 114-1 to impeach him, although only 60 votes were needed for the motion to pass.

The move to impeach Mr Blagojevich follows an investigation by a 21-member committee of the Illinois House, 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.

Profile: Rod Blagojevich
10 Dec 08 |  Americas
Senate shift on Obama replacement
07 Jan 09 |  Americas
Q&A: The Blagojevich scandal
09 Jan 09 |  Americas

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