The Illinois House committee investigating Gov. Rod Blagojevich released a draft report Thursday saying the panel believes the Democratic governor has abused his power and recommending the full chamber vote on impeachment. (PDF available here).
"The citizens of this state must have confidence that their governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own," the report reads. "It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so."
The panel could vote to accept the report when it resumes work Thursday afternoon, which would set up a full House impeachment vote on Friday. No Illinois governor has ever been impeached.
The draft does not include a formal article of impeachment laying out the charges against Blagojevich, which could be written separately. But it says there is cause to believe Blagojevich engaged in pay-to-play politics.
"The recorded words of both the Governor and other parties to these conversation reveal that the Governor and others were aware that the plans they were discussing were, at the very least, clearly improper, and quite probably illegal," the report reads. "The committee has heard a great deal of evidence relating to various instances where the governor's inappropriate actions constitute abuse of power."
Blagojevich's office had no immediate comment but has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
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.
While the impeachment panel has reviewed prosecutors' complaint, it also has reviewed allegations Blagojevich improperly expanded state programs, spent tax money without authorization and circumvented hiring laws for political purposes.
The draft report's was released as the impeachment panel prepared to hear afternoon testimony from Senate-appointee Roland Burris on why he accepted a position offered by the disgraced governor and whether he promised Blagojevich anything in return.
Blagojevich's Dec. 30 appointment of Burris created a furor, coming just three weeks after the governor's arrest.
Burris Could Well Be Seated
Burris returned Wednesday from an encouraging two-day visit to Washington, D.C., yet without being able to take the oath of office with the newest members of the 111th Congress.
"I would like to specifically ask, under oath, if there was any quid pro quo for the appointment," said Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican member of the committee.
Lawmakers also plan to ask Burris about contributions to the governor's campaign, how Blagojevich's wife got a job with a group affiliated with Burris' business partner and why the governor's criminal lawyer approached Burris about the Senate instead of a staff member.
The panel also is awaiting a federal court ruling Thursday on whether it will get to hear some of the secretly recorded conversations federal prosecutors made of Blagojevich allegedly scheming to trade government action for campaign contributions.
In Washington, D.C., U.S. Senate leaders have said they would be open to recognizing Burris' appointment after he deals with lingering legal obstacles.
They're also waiting for a decision from the Illinois Supreme Court on whether Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White must sign off on Blagojevich's appointment of Burris. Senate rules appear to bar seating anyone whose appointment isn't properly signed by state officials.
When Burris showed up at the Capitol to be sworn in Tuesday, he was turned away in the rain. But on Wednesday, he was invited in to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois. Photographers snapped pictures of the three, Burris in the middle, smiling and chatting.
Later, Reid and Durbin reported that they thought highly of Burris and they were merely waiting for procedural matters to be resolved before he could be seated.
"We don't have a problem with him as an individual," Reid said.
Burris, 71, said he should be able to join the Senate "very shortly."
Burris denies any improper conduct to land his appointment, but Senate leaders hoped Burris would be asked under oath Thursday whether he promised Blagojevich anything in exchange -- sort of political insurance in case other news came out after his seating in the Senate.
If Burris offers that insurance and the Illinois Supreme Court requires the secretary of state to sign his appointment, then the Senate will almost certainly hold a vote on whether to seat Burris, Reid said.
The impeachment committee's Democratic chairwoman, state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, played down the importance of Burris' appearance, saying people must "have a screw loose" to think Blagojevich offered improper deals after being arrested.
But Republican Rep. Jim Durkin said the appointment raises serious questions. He called the role of the governor's criminal attorney, Samuel Adam Jr., "another level of bizarre."
"Mr. Burris owes an explanation to the millions of people in the state," Durkin said.
Obama said Wednesday that the decision on whether to allow Burris to join the Senate is a decision for Senate leaders. The president-elect said he knew Burris, liked him and would be happy to work with him if he is seated.