I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Illinois politics. I’ve been following the Rod Blagojevich saga as an outsider looking in, from a legal perspective. One things seems clear to me, as we approach the impeachment trial: Rod Blagojevich is very good at making others look bad.
When Illinois Lisa Madigan ran into the Illinois Supreme Court with the novel theory that Blagojevich was “unable” to function as Governor due to a “disability,” Madigan put her own credibility on the line. The lawsuit was a stretch, at best. The Illinois Supreme Court denied Magidan’s request for an emergency injunction and refused to permit Madigan to file a formal complaint, all without even requiring Blagojevich to file a response, and without any explanation why the request was denied. I don’t know Madigan’s political future, but she looked amateurish and incompetent to this outsider. Only Blagojevich came out of the injunction case looking good, as he went about the business of being Governor.
Then Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to Barack Obama’s open Senate seat. Harry Reid, with Dick Durbin in tow, proclaimed that Burris never, ever, would be seated. Two days ago, Roland Burris was sworn in as the junior Senator from Illinois. In the process leading up to the swearing in, Reid and Durbin looked like blow-hard bluffers who used petty and unsubstantiated claims of paperwork deficiencies to save their egos at risk of a constitutional crisis. Burris, who did nothing wrong, got his Senate seat, but hardly in the sort of triumph of which he probably had dreamt a thousand times. Jesse White was vindicated by the Illinois Supreme Court, but almost everyone must wonder why he didn’t just perform the purely clerical function of co-signing the Certificate of Appointment, and save everyone the trouble. Only Blagojevich came out of the seating fiasco looking good.
The Illinois House held impeachment hearings which were a joke. Yes, they got the job done, but in so doing didn’t hold anything approaching a meaningful hearing. Blagojevich was not given the right to call witnesses pertinent to criminal accusations, or to subpoena documents regarding those accusations. The House committee relied heavily on the criminal complaint affidavit which Blagojevich was not allowed to challenge, even though the document has no evidentiary value in the real world since it merely is the equivalent of a prosecutor’s closing statement loaded with selective evidence, hearsay, innuendo, rank conclusions, and argument. The non-criminal aspects of the impeachment articles sound like the whining of bully legislators who demand absolute power, and who see a Governor as the opposition. To this outsider watching the hearings, the House members looked like scared sheep being shuttled to a foregone result by the unseen hand of Michael Madigan. The House got their man, but none of them should be proud of the way they did it, and none of them looked good doing it.
Now we move to the impeachment trial. Blagojevich is refusing to participate as of this writing, on the ground that the trial is fundamentally unfair. While I certainly don’t predict a Blagojevich victory, and just the opposite seems certain, somehow I suspect Blagojevich will be the only one coming out of the trial looking good.
The Senate rules are not as biased as what took place in the House, but the trial is not stacking up to be fair. One signal was the absurdly fast track. Bill Clinton was not impeached and tried in such a shotgun fashion, and the U.S. Senate was roughly evenly divided between political parties guaranteeing fair consideration. Here, at least from what Illinois bloggers write, it is a done deal and the evidence really doesn’t matter. The best signal to that effect was that the Senate rules accept the record in the House (including the criminal complaint) in evidence, and required Blagojevich to file his response to the impeachment articles on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. Talk about substance and symbolism merging into one.
I’m not sure that the “I won’t play on your field” strategy is the best one for Blagojevich. If I were defending him, I would do everything in my power to make the Senate put forth the actual evidence in the criminal complaint (which they can’t do because Patrick Fitzgerald won’t let them), let me subpoena it, or not move forward on those counts. As to the other allegations, Blagojevich seemed on the right track in his press conference, with the ill and disabled at his side, as to why he did what he did. Maybe it’s all B.S., but it sounded good to this outsider and Blagojevich could make for some uncomfortable trial days by calling House members and Senators as witnesses on these public policy issues. Whether the trial ends up being a hanging, or a real trial, the Senate will not look good.
I have this sneaking suspicion that at the end of the impeachment process, two things will be clear: Blagojevich won’t be Governor, and the legislature won’t have any credibility.