Rich Miller, editor of Capitol Fax Blog, the insider publication of record on Illinois politics and government, disagrees with National Journal's Jonathan Rauch on whether Gov. Rod Blagojevich was treated fairly by the Illinois legislature.
Here's the nub of Rauch's argument:
The governor, protesting that the rules are stacked and the outcome is preordained, boycotts most of the trial, giving only a closing statement. His accusers characterize his boycott as suggestive of guilt -- even though the governor's removal is indeed, for all intents and purposes, a foregone conclusion. After all, the political establishment has made no secret of its desire to unseat him.
In a particularly cheeky bit of bootstrapping, the Senate prosecutor cites that very same political establishment's calls for the governor's resignation as grounds for convicting. "When every constitutional officer -- when the president of the United States! -- is calling for him to resign," says the prosecutor, in his final remarks, "does that not speak to the harm inflicted on this state, the stain on this state, from what the governor has done?" Well, no. But it does say something about the desire of the president and Illinois's politicians to get rid of him.
And so it comes to pass: On the basis of six minutes of wiretapped conversation -- six minutes out of what the Chicago Tribune reported were "thousands of hours of recordings made of the governor and his allies" -- the governor is convicted by the Senate and turned out of office. Everyone exhales. Illinois and the country turn the page.
Rauch's premise is that Rod Blagojevich's "railroading" will come back to haunt Illinois. He's flat-out wrong on several points.
* First and foremost, he seems to completely misunderstand Rod Blagojevich. Rauch asks what the hurry was to oust Blagojevich from office. Since Blagojevich was under "minute" surveillance, he wrote, why worry that the governor would do anything else illegal?
That's easy. Just look at the record. Blagojevich knew very well that he was under intense investigation when he allegedly did all those things contained in the federal criminal complaint. There was an active grand jury, his friends had been indicted, and he knew the FBI was crawling all over him and that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had placed a big target on his head.
But the criminal complaint was only one aspect of the impeachment article. The rest of the charges were based on Blagojevich's repeated willful and malicious attempts at nullifying or sidestepping the General Assembly's legitimate constitutional authority. And then he even refused to back away from his behavior during his closing argument to the Senate. He had to go.
Plus, government completely collapsed after Blagojevich's arrest. He could no longer govern. He had to go. The sooner the better.
And, finally, as stated many times during the impeachment process, the object of the General Assembly's move was to protect the citizenry from this guy. So, again, he had to go.
* Rauch obviously has no clue what went on in Springfield during the impeachment. He writes...
On the basis of six minutes of wiretapped conversation -- six minutes out of what the Chicago Tribune reported were "thousands of hours of recordings made of the governor and his allies" -- the governor is convicted by the Senate and turned out of office.
Um, no. Those recordings were only a small part of the total package. You'd think he would've checked that one.
* Rauch also writes...
And the political class was too cavalier about nullifying an election.
Too cavalier? They stood by for six years while the guy broke one state law after another, then finally acted after he was arrested by the FBI and they were too cavalier? Quite a few people in this state believe they didn't act quickly enough.
* Rauch's conclusion...
Whatever his wrongs, Blagojevich was right about this: The rules that removed him are not sufficiently distinguishable from a railroading, and they are wide open to abuse. We may find out, before long, that the door he was just shoved through swings both ways.
The Illinois trial rules were almost identical to the US Senate's impeachment rules for Bill Clinton's trial. Clinton was not convicted.
Also, unlike Nixon, Clinton and Reagan during Iran/Contra, this was a Democrat-on-Democrat process. There will be no partisan blowback like there was in DC. Who's gonna retaliate? Blagojevich's friends and allies? He has no friends and allies