January 29, 2009 / 12:33 AM / 10 years ago

Illinois Governor Blagojevich convicted, ousted

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich presents his closing argument in front of the Illinois Senate during his impeachment trial at the state capitol in Springfield, January 29, 2009. REUTERS/Frank Polich

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was convicted of impeachment charges and removed from office on Thursday, eight weeks after he was arrested on charges of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

The Illinois Senate, acting as a jury, voted 59-0 to oust the two-term Democrat immediately. The decision came after Blagojevich made a passionate 11th-hour plea to the body, begging the senators to reconsider.

“How can you throw a governor out of office who is clamoring and begging and pleading with you to give him a chance to bring witnesses in to prove his innocence?” he said.

“Let me make my case,” he continued. “Let me show you that I’m innocent and that I didn’t do anything wrong. ... A crime has not been proven here.”

It was the only defense he mounted during the four-day trial. He skipped the chance to make a formal defense during the proceedings because, he said, the rules restricted him from calling the witnesses he needed or playing in full the federal government wiretapped conversations that led to charges involving Obama’s Senate seat.

Before Blagojevich spoke, David Ellis, acting as prosecutor for the state House of Representatives that impeached the governor on 13 charges earlier this month, said he was guilty of widespread abuse of power, including those involving the Senate seat.

“The governor’s own words demonstrated, time and time again, that he saw his ability to appoint a U.S. senator as a golden goose, as a bargaining chip to be leveraged for his own personal and political well-being,” he said.

As the proceedings unfolded, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn was waiting in the wings to be sworn in, already expressing concern about the state’s budget ills about which he says he has been told all too little and a 7.6 percent unemployment rate that is above the national average.

Blagojevich has not been indicted on criminal charges.

Editing by Peter Cooney

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