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Blagojevich panel may end without FBI tapes

Members of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment panel say they will move forward despite the possibility that they might not get to hear federal wiretaps of the governor's conversations.
Illinois Governor Quinn
Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn says Illinois has become an "international laughing stock."Paul Beaty / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Members of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment panel say they will move forward despite the possibility that they might not get to hear federal wiretaps of the governor's conversations with aides and others.

"These tapes are relevant evidence, we'd like to have them," David Ellis, a lawyer for the impeachment panel, said Monday. But he said the panel could wrap up its work as early as this week and "we have already gathered a large volume of evidence."

Blagojevich, 52, a two-term Democrat, is charged along with former chief of staff John Harris with a scheme to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama's election as president.

Blagojevich is also charged with illegally plotting to use his power as governor to squeeze roadbuilders, a harness racing executive and the head of a children's hospital among others for hefty campaign contributions.

The FBI made extensive recordings of Blagojevich talking privately. Excerpts of the tapes, included in an affidavit attached to the complaint, are full of expletives and aliases.

Prosecutors have offered to provide the impeachment panel with a few minutes of four tapes, but Blagojevich's chief defense counsel, Edward M. Genson, wants all of the tapes released.

"We are not going to ask that one tape, or two tapes, or three tapes or four tapes be offered," Genson told Chief Judge James F. Holderman of U.S. District Court on Monday. "We are going to ask that all of them be offered."

Genson declined to comment on his strategy after court. A spokesman for the government, Randall Samborn, also declined to comment on the direction of the case.

Meanwhile, a federal judge on Monday gave prosecutors an additional three months to obtain a corruption indictment against Blagojevich, saying the complexity of the case against him makes it "unreasonable" to expect the indictment sooner.

Members of the impeachment panel seemed unfazed by the possibility that any release of the tapes could come too late for them.

Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said that if the tapes come too late they can always go to the Illinois Senate, which would take up impeachment if it is first approved by the House.

"I don't think the committee should wait," said minority spokesman Jim Durkin, R-Westchester. The panel had "amassed a significant amount of information to make an informed decision," he said.

Committee member Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, has said the tapes are not crucial to the committee and it has collected enough evidence to make an informed decision.

"It is important that we get the tapes if we can get them in an expeditious way," Lang said. "If we cannot get them in an expeditious way, the committee I think is prepared to move forward."

Roland Burris, the man appointed by Blagojevich to fill the seat left vacant by Obama, arrived in Washington prepared to fight to be seated, despite pledges from Senate Democrats not to confirm anyone appointed by Blagojevich.

In a related development, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, saying that Illinois has become an "international laughing stock," said he'll create an advisory panel to recommend ways to root out and thwart corrupt officials.

Quinn said he'll appoint former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to lead the panel. Collins prosecuted the case that sent former Gov. George Ryan to prison for corruption.