It's No Time for Grandstanding

During his press conference announcing the criminal complaint against Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made a point of saying that Mr. Blagojevich was still the governor of the State of Illinois and that he would remain that way until the appropriate authorities took action to remove him. Mr. Fitzgerald made it clear that it is not within the US Attorney's powers to remove a sitting governor. However, Fitzgerald made the statements in such a way so as to indicate that he believed action must be taken to get Blagojevich out of office.
For the first time in a very long time, the Illinois House of Representatives acted responsibly by forming a special committee to make a recommendation to the full House as to whether or not to impeach the Governor. Correctly, this committee has been holding hearings and affording the Governor due process of law. Had the House decided to set up a "kangaroo court", it would have had a long lasting and detrimental impact on the state. As part of the committee's inquiry, it has called witnesses and reviewed documents. The committee then made the perfectly reasonable request to Mr. Fitzgerald to cooperate with the committee's investigation. They asked to see some of his evidence and for the names of some of his witnesses. This was perfectly reasonable request considering the committee's solemn task and the fact that the US Attorney's office has far superior investigative resources than a special committee of the Illinois House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, we now find out that Mr. Fitzgerald has refused to cooperate with the impeachment committee. He claims that such cooperation could compromise his criminal case. That may very well be true. However, after he basically goaded with the Illinois General Assembly into taking action to remove the Governor from office (because he lacked that authority), he now refuses to assist the designated committee.

Mr. Fitzgerald's actions raise several questions. First, is it more important to (a) imprison the Governor at some point in the future (maybe a year or two down the road), or (b) remove him from office as soon as possible so as to stop, as Mr. Fitzgerald called it, the Governor's "crime spree"? If the Governor is, in fact, on a crime spree, it is imperative that his ability to continue be stopped as soon as possible, using whatever legal means are available. It would seem to me that impeachment in the Illinois House of Representatives, followed by a conviction in the Illinois Senate, would be a much faster means of ending the Governor's ability to continue on his "crime spree" than would a criminal trial where the Governor is afforded all of the due process rights of any criminal defendant. Remember, during an impeachment trial, while due process is important, the defendant's liberty is not at stake and, therefore, the same level of due process is not required.

Second, since Mr. Fitzgerald was trying to prod the Illinois General Assembly to act to remove the Governor, why has he now decided not to assist them? I really don't know the answer to this, but if I were forced to speculate, I can only assume it is grandstanding on his part. By refusing to aide the impeachment committee, Mr. Fitzgerald is increasing his importance in this matter. He alone stands as the savior of the people of the State of Illinois. Once again, just like in the Scooter Libby case, Pat Fitzgerald will be the man in the white hat to save the common folk against Public Enemy Number One. This means plenty more great headlines for the Elliott Ness of the 21st century.

I am very close with several current and former Assistant US Attorneys for the Northern District of Illinois. Without exception, they all think very highly of Mr. Fitzgerald and the work that he does. That was why during the Scooter Libby affair, I gave Pat Fitzgerald the benefit of doubt and assumed that he really was motivated by a sense of justice. However, his decision not to assist the impeachment committee has forced me to re-examine that. So in the meantime, because of Mr. Fitzgerald's decision to file a criminal complaint, Illinois has a governor who cannot govern, a legislature that is completely preoccupied with the removal of a governor who cannot govern and a vacant US Senate seat that cannot be filled because of a governor who cannot govern. All the while, the people of Illinois sit and wait for their elected officials to address the issues that really have an effect on their lives. If Mr. Fitzgerald were standing up for the people of Illinois, he would make sure that Gov. Blagojevich was removed from office with all deliberate speed - and that is through the impeachment process.

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