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Will Blagojevich try any last-minute mischief?

With Gov. Rod Blagojevich entering what could be his final hours in office, some politicians are watching closely to see whether he spends state money, issues executive orders or grants pardons.
/ Source: The Associated Press

With Gov. Rod Blagojevich entering what could be his final hours in office, some politicians are watching closely to see whether he attempts some last-minute mischief by spending state money, issuing executive orders or granting pardons.

"I try never to be surprised anymore by anything he does," said Republican former Gov. Jim Edgar.

The Illinois Senate could vote as early as Thursday on whether to remove the governor by impeachment on charges that include trying to sell Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat for campaign cash or a plum job for himself.

On Wednesday, Blagojevich surprised lawmakers by asking to make a closing statement Thursday at his Illinois Senate trial. Until now, the governor has refused to participate, complaining he was being railroaded.

Still using powers of his office
Until Blagojevich is removed, he retains all the powers of his office, and he has not been shy about wielding them, even after his Dec. 9 arrest on federal corruption charges.

Just weeks after the arrest, Blagojevich picked former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris for the Senate seat, brazenly defying politicians in Illinois and Washington who warned that any such choice would be tainted. After much hand-wringing, the Senate decided to seat Burris.

For his final act, the governor can still spend previously approved state money, issue executive orders, even pardon state prisoners.

However, Blagojevich's pardon powers do not extend to members of his inner circle who have already been charged or convicted in the continuing federal investigation of political corruption in Illinois. The governor can intervene in state cases only.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said that anything Blagojevich does will be well within his rights as governor, but that he doesn't plan anything "grandiose."

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, a fellow Democrat who would become governor immediately upon Blagojevich's removal, is prepared to take a close look at any last-minute maneuvering by Blagojevich.

"He would have to take a long, hard look at anything done at the last moment and frankly he would hope the governor would not do anything along those lines," said Quinn spokesman Bob Reed.

As the new governor, Quinn could easily repeal executive orders, but pardons and commutations would be irreversible, according to the state attorney general's office.

Details of transition unclear
Illinois has never removed a governor by impeachment before. Even with the removal vote fast approaching, Illinois officials still haven't worked out the details of a government transition, including what to do with any belongings left behind in the governor's mansion and whether Blagojevich will be allowed to keep a security detail.

If Blagojevich is convicted and refuses to leave, Quinn would have the authority to seek a court order to have him evicted or even order state police to forcibly remove him.

Blagojevich would stop receiving his $177,000-a-year salary upon a Senate conviction, with his final check prorated to the day of his removal. It will be up to the state pension board to decide if he can keep his pension, but there is no rush to act because the 52-year-old Blagojevich isn't eligible to start collecting retirement benefits for another three years.

Also up in the air is what would happen Blagojevich's state security detail.

Traditionally, governors extend protection to their predecessor for a year, according to Republican former Gov. Jim Thompson. But it's "strictly a custom, not a right."

Quinn's office would not talk about what security Blagojevich might be given if he leaves office.