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Illinois Lawmakers Will Hear Blagojevich Tapes

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — For weeks, residents of Illinois have read snippets of what their governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, is supposed to have said on his telephone — profanity-laced remarks about how the opportunity to choose a senator to replace President Obama was “golden,” and how he saw himself as a sports agent peddling an athlete around town.

But on Tuesday, for the first time, a small handful of the phone calls are expected to be played aloud in public here as part of Mr. Blagojevich’s impeachment trial in the state capital. Finally, lawmakers say, everyone will hear the governor’s voice, hear his tones, hear, they say, what he really meant.

The decision to play recordings of phone calls intercepted by federal agents followed intense negotiations with federal prosecutors in Chicago, who are pursuing a separate criminal corruption case against Mr. Blagojevich even as the impeachment trial goes on.

Still, the calls will disappoint some. Just four among thousands of intercepted calls will be heard, and the subject of President Obama’s former Senate seat, which Mr. Blagojevich is accused of trying to sell, is not even expected to come up. The calls prosecutors agreed to allow lawmakers to hear focus instead on legislation to send more casino revenues to the horse racing industry and, according to the prosecutors, Mr. Blagojevich’s efforts to get campaign money from horse racing interests in exchange for signing the bill last month.

Almost since Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest on Dec. 9, federal prosecutors and state lawmakers have found their efforts colliding with one another. For the most part, lawmakers have deferred to the criminal prosecutors, agreeing, for instance, not to call certain witnesses before the impeachment trial at the request of Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for Chicago.

Mr. Blagojevich, who is ignoring his impeachment trial and spent Monday in New York on seemingly every television talk show he could find, complains often about this. He says the agreement with Mr. Fitzgerald makes it impossible for him to call his own witnesses and get a fair hearing. Mr. Blagojevich was scheduled to appear on 11 more shows on Tuesday, missing, it seemed, no host, no channel, no viewer.

On Monday, he managed, with his television blitz, to upstage the opening of his impeachment trial, the first ever of a governor in Illinois. On program after program, he proclaimed his innocence, blamed politics for his problems, and denounced the impeachment as unfair.

“When the whole story comes out, you’ll see that the effort was to work to have a senator who can best represent Illinois and one that can help us create jobs and provide health care,” Mr. Blagojevich told Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America.”

Mr. Blagojevich, 52 and in his second term, has clearly given up whatever hopes he had of persuading the State Senate not to remove him, legal and political analysts said, and was looking ahead to tell his own story to potential jurors in federal court.

In the Capitol, in the absence of the subject of their inquiry, senators pressed on soberly. Some said their task was grim but necessary, because state business has slowed to a halt in the wake of Mr. Blagojevich’s troubles.

In an opening statement, a House prosecutor said Mr. Blagojevich had tried to trade the United States Senate seat formerly held by President Obama for a lucrative job or cash; to secure campaign money in return for state contracts and jobs; and to ignore laws and state legislators in enacting policies on prescription drugs, health care and flu vaccines.

“At a time when Illinois was celebrating one of its own, this chamber’s own, to the highest office in the land, the governor was finding a way to try to personally benefit,” said David Ellis, the House prosecutor. Phone calls intercepted by the federal authorities with the governor’s own words, Mr. Ellis promised, will show that he “put his office up for sale.”

The trial had been expected to last at least a week and a half. But with Mr. Blagojevich’s decision to skip the proceedings, some said it could end more swiftly. If at least 40 of the state’s 59 senators (37 Democrats and 22 Republicans) vote to remove Mr. Blagojevich, he would be immediately replaced by Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor.

Like Mr. Blagojevich, Mr. Quinn is a Democrat. So are the top statewide elected officials and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Still, relations have been tense since Mr. Blagojevich took office six years ago. Many here have long complained that Mr. Blagojevich was isolated, secretive and unwilling to collaborate, and since his arrest, some here have described him as an increasingly odd figure.

“Oh, man, it’s getting bizarre,” State Representative Jack D. Franks, a Democrat, said of Mr. Blagojevich’s television appearances on Monday, in which he revealed that he had considered appointing Oprah Winfrey to the Senate, apologized for using foul language and quoted Rudyard Kipling.

“This guy is creating an alternate reality for himself, and all of what he’s saying can be used against him in the criminal case,” Mr. Franks said. “If he really wants to make his case, he should come to Springfield and do that.”

In his television interviews on Monday, Mr. Blagojevich, who has denied wrongdoing, mocked the legislature’s impeachment process, suggesting that lawmakers really wanted to remove him because they want to raise taxes.

He said the impeachment procedure (a “kangaroo court,” in the words of his lawyers) barred him from calling witnesses he would want to bring in, like Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff; Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president; Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., who was once considered a candidate to fill Mr. Obama’s seat; and a long list of senators and governors.

In fact, Mr. Blagojevich could request some witnesses, but the Senate’s rules bar calling any witnesses who might create a problem for the federal criminal case.

Frustrated lawmakers here dismissed the governor’s criticisms. Though Illinois law gives little guidance on the matter, the impeachment trial rules were modeled largely on those used in the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton.

“Besides, an impeachment process is not a criminal trial,” Mr. Franks said. “It’s not a civil trial. It’s a question of whether he can continue to lead or not.”

LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/us/po ... tml?ref=us