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Ill. governor makes brief courthouse appearance

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[December 13, 2008]  CHICAGO (AP) -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich finished his workweek in a federal courthouse, attending to duties in his newfound role of criminal defendant as the attorney general asked the state's highest court to have the scandal-ridden governor stripped of his powers.

The trip to the courthouse capped a tumultuous week for the governor, who rebuffed calls to resign and faced the growing threat that lawmakers could launch impeachment proceedings as early as Monday. He visited a department that supervises criminal defendants and prepares reports about them to help the court on issues such as bail.

RestaurantBlagojevich showed no sign of backing down from his critics, even signing a bill that extends insurance coverage for autistic kids in what represented a clear sign that he's still in charge. As he left his office Friday, Blagojevich refused to answer questions from reporters, saying only, "I'll have a lot to say at the appropriate time."

Prosecutors have accused Blagojevich of a litany of corruption allegations, including putting President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat up for sale, strong-arming the owners of the Chicago Cubs and threatening to withhold millions of dollars from a children's hospital.

As the turmoil deepened, the state hurtled toward an extraordinary constitutional showdown. Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the Supreme Court to declare Blagojevich unfit to serve, declaring that "the state government is paralyzed."

Illinois Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor wouldn't comment on when the court might act on Madigan's motion, saying only that it "will be properly considered."


It was believed to be the first time in state history that such an action was taken. The attorney general is applying a rule that was intended to cover cases in which a governor is incapacitated for health reasons.

The Democrat is "unable to serve as governor due to disability and should not rightfully continue to hold that office," according to the motion. "His ability to provide effective leadership has been eliminated, and the state government is paralyzed."

The attorney general, also a Democrat, asked the court to strip the governor of his duties until possible impeachment proceedings and his criminal case run their course. If he does not step down and is not impeached or convicted, Blagojevich could go to the court and ask to be reinstated.

The scandal also began affecting state government. Illinois has billions of dollars in unpaid bills, including payments to Medicaid patients, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes and schools, and the state has approved $1.4 billion in short-term borrowing to keep cash flowing. But before the borrowing takes effect, Madigan said she has to certify that there is not any legal proceeding threatening the ability of the governor to hold his office.

In light of Friday's filing by her office, Madigan said she can't sign that.

"We will not be able to move forward on it until we have a different governor," Comptroller Dan Hynes said.

The state's inability to pay the bills has "a horrible ripple effect," the comptroller said. He said that pharmacies that count on state reimbursements could shut down, and suppliers could stop delivering food to Illinois prisons or letting state troopers buy gasoline. Businesses waiting for the state to pay its bills could lay off workers or simply go bankrupt, Hynes said.

"If our backlog gets worse, people are going to stop providing services," he said.

Blagojevich began the day praying with several ministers in his home before heading to his office, telling them he is innocent and will be vindicated "when you hear each chapter completely written," according to one of the pastors.

The Rev. Ira Acree said Blagojevich would not discuss details of the allegations against him. He said the governor discussed trying to get a legal and political consultation team in place, but feels as if everything is closing in on him and that he's not getting "any space or chance to sort anything out."

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Spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the governor has concerned himself with business and bills that are time sensitive, like Friday's autism measure. "He wants to show that he's still the governor and still has the authority and responsibility to sign into law important pieces of legislation," Guerrero said.

The fallout over the scandal resumed Friday as John Harris, the governor's chief of staff, resigned. He was arrested with his boss on corruption charges. Harris attorney Jim Sotos said his client resigned "because it was the right thing to do, and that's all I'm going to say."

The taint of the scandal followed Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. for a third straight day. A report in the Chicago Tribune said businessmen with ties to the governor and the congressmen discussed raising $1 million for Blagojevich to get him to appoint Jackson to Obama's seat.

Jackson flatly denied any wrongdoing. "It is unfortunate that every appearance the governor makes and meeting he has taints everyone in attendance," Jackson said.

In Washington, people who have been briefed on the Illinois governor corruption investigation said Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is not a target of the probe.

Emanuel has refused to answer questions about whether he's the "president-elect adviser" referred to in the criminal complaint that accuses Blagojevich of putting Obama's Senate seat up for sale. The complaint does not say that Blagojevich ever spoke to the unidentified Obama adviser about the Senate seat.


Blagojevich faced a growing threat of impeachment when lawmakers gather Monday in Springfield. Because that process could take several weeks, Madigan said she felt compelled to go to the Supreme Court to deal with the Blagojevich matter in quicker fashion.

The decision to go to the state's highest court was not welcomed by everyone. Democratic Rep. Jack Franks said it would set "a dangerous precedent" for the court to remove a governor as proposed by Madigan, who is a likely candidate for governor in 2010.

Franks, a fierce Blagojevich critic, said that kind of decision should be left to the General Assembly.

"That's our job, and we should be doing it," he said.


Associated Press writer Christopher Wills reported from Springfield.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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