A key panel unanimously recommended Thursday that Gov. Rod Blagojevich be impeached for abusing his power, mismanaging Illinois government and committing possible criminal acts.
The House could vote as early as Friday on whether to make Blagojevich the first governor impeached in the long, sordid history of Illinois politics. Impeachment in the House would trigger a Senate trial to decide whether the second-term Democrat should be removed from office.
Many on the 21-member special committee called it a sad day for Illinois, but Rep. Bill Black disagreed.
"I think this is a good, glad, happy day for Illinois because it points out that nobody is above the law," said Black, a Republican. "There have been egregious abuses if half of what we read is true."
Blagojevich denies wrongdoing
Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing. Spokesman Lucio Guerrero didn't immediately comment on the impeachment recommendation, but said there was no chance the governor would resign before the full House decision. Blagojevich's attorneys left the hearing before the committee vote.
"The citizens of this state must have confidence that their governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own," the committee report said. "It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so."
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to profit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate.
He later appointed Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat, and Burris testified Thursday that he did not make a deal with the governor to win the plum position.
"There was nothing .... legal, personal, or political exchanged for my appointment to this seat," Burris testified under oath.
Burris declined to answer questions about whether he would have gone to federal authorities if he'd been offered such a deal. He also declined to say whether Blagojevich should resign or be impeached, saying he has no control over those issues.
Governor does not appear
While the governor maintains his innocence, the report notes he did not appear before the committee to explain himself. "The committee is entitled to balance his complete silence against sworn testimony from a federal agent," it says.
The committee's report recounts the federal charges, relying on a sworn affidavit from an FBI agent describing tape-recorded conversations in which Blagojevich discussed using the seat to land a job for himself or his wife. The governor also is quoted on the need to hide any evidence of a trade-off.
"The committee believes that this information is sufficiently credible to demonstrate an abuse of office of the highest magnitude," the report says.
It also lays out allegations separate from the criminal charges — that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, that he spent millions of dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn't needed and couldn't be brought into the country.
Little chance for transcripts
The committee finished its work as chances grew dimmer that lawmakers would get transcripts of Blagojevich's secretly recorded conversations.
Court hearings on the release of the transcripts could run into early February, U.S. District Chief Judge James F. Holderman said Thursday.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich's defense attorneys urged Holderman to throw U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and all of his assistants off the case, charging in a motion that Fitzgerald violated rules about pretrial publicity at a Dec. 9 news conference announcing the charges.
Federal prosecutors immediately retorted that the effort was "meritless."