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Blagojevich Ousted From Office, Stocks Fall Sharply

January 29, 2009 at 6:20 PM EST
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: The State Senate of Illinois removed Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office today. The vote was unanimous: 59-0. It came weeks after his arrest last month on federal corruption charges.

Ray Suarez narrates our report.

RAY SUAREZ: Gov. Blagojevich appeared at his impeachment trial today for the first time, for a closing statement. He denied abusing power and trying to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate, just as he’d rejected similar federal charges.

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, D-Ill.: I didn’t resign then, and I’m not resigning now, because I have done nothing wrong. And all I ask of you is to give me a chance to show you that I have done nothing wrong. Let me bring those witnesses in. I cannot possibly admit to something I didn’t do.

RAY SUAREZ: The second-term Democrat said repeatedly the trial’s outcome was a foregone conclusion, but he challenged the senators to prove their case.

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH: But how can you throw a governor out of office on a criminal complaint and you haven’t been able to show or prove any criminal activity? How can you throw a governor, elected twice by the people, out of office, when the rules don’t even require that you prove up elements of criminal allegations?

RAY SUAREZ: Blagojevich dismissed his wiretapped conversations that appeared to link political acts to campaign money. He said there was nothing illegal in anything he said.

But the chief prosecutor, David Ellis, played some of those recordings as part of his own closing argument.

DAVID ELLIS, Impeachment prosecutor: Our case was not built on what other people did after the governor directed them to do things, whether they succeeded or not. Maybe they did; maybe they didn’t. Our point was on his words, his secretly recorded words.

And who in the world was more qualified to testify about the governor’s words than the governor himself? But where was he? He could have put himself under oath.

He does not have a constitutional right to be governor. That’s what the governor doesn’t understand. Being governor is not a right; it is a privilege. And he has forfeited that privilege. He has abused the power of his office. He has traded for personal gain time and time again.

RAY SUAREZ: Blagojevich took no questions today, but in their deliberations, senators made their feelings clear.

BILL HAINE, D, state senator: The pattern of abuse is based upon an arrogant assumption of power. His argument in the well of the Senate was not evidence.

STATE SENATOR: He’s inept. He’s corrupt. He’s cost the state millions of dollars. The state government is paralyzed. We need to move Illinois forward.

RAY SUAREZ: As the state charts its future course, Blagojevich still faces a federal criminal trial.

JIM LEHRER: Shortly after the state Senate voted early this evening, Lieutenant Gov. Patrick Quinn was sworn in as the state’s new governor.

Wall Street hit the skids today. Stocks gave up all of yesterday’s gains and then some on the latest economic data and job losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 226 points to close at 8,149. The Nasdaq fell 50 points to close at 1,507.

A California judge today approved forcing unpaid furloughs for state employees. The judge said the state’s fiscal emergency made it “reasonable and necessary.” California faces a budget gap of $42 billion. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has ordered state workers to take two unpaid days a month, starting next week.

Economic distress touched off mass strikes across France today. Transportation was hobbled; schools and banks closed; mail went undelivered. Eight national unions took part in the protests against the government’s handling of the crisis.

In Paris, large crowds gathered at the site where the French Revolution began. The head of the largest union challenged French President Sarkozy to do more for ordinary workers.

BERNARD THIBAULT, CGT Union (through translator): We cannot agree to work within a system, a system that actually creates more and more unemployment and low salaries. It’s not about restarting the economic machine on the same basis than before, because, if we do that, we won’t get ourselves out of the economic crisis.

JIM LEHRER: President Sarkozy said, in a statement, the people’s concerns were “legitimate” and he agreed to hold meetings with union leaders next month.

More than a million U.S. homes and businesses spent another day in the dark after a crippling ice storm. Utility crews across nine states labored nonstop to restore electricity. Downed trees and power lines littered the landscape.

Overnight, President Obama declared disasters in Kentucky and Arkansas, the two hardest-hit states. In addition to the damage, the storm was blamed for at least 25 deaths.

An expansion of federal health insurance for children neared approval in the Senate today. The program known as SCHIP would grow by $31 billion over four-and-a-half years, fueled by higher taxes on cigarettes. Democrats said the extra funding would cover another 4 million uninsured children. The House will take up that bill next week.

Iraq today barred Blackwater Worldwide from operating in the country. The company provided security for U.S. diplomats. An Iraqi government statement cited “improper conduct and excessive use of force” by the private U.S. guards. Five Blackwater employees face criminal charges in the U.S. in the killings of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.