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Guilty or innocent, Blagojevich's impeachment trial is a sham

Impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose trial before the Illinois Senate began a few hours ago, is exactly right. He is being railroaded. The impeachment process, as it's being carried out, is a travesty of due process, and I am shocked that there hasn't been an outcry that obvious fact.

Blagjoevich's guilt or innocence isn't the issue. Guilty or innocent, his trial is a sham, just as he maintains. Quite honestly, he is absolutely right to boycott a trial in which he is being denied the opportunity to confront his accusers or defend himself against their charges.

I have absolutely no brief for Blagojevich. None whatsoever. Such evidence as is accessible to the public portrays him as a grotesquely corrupt politician in a state which (as much as it pains me to say this, since I was born and raised there) has, along with Louisiana, probably the most corrupt history of any in the nation. But the fact remains that the kangaroo court being conducted in the Illinois Senate is proceeding under rules which deny him the opportunity to summon any witness in his defense who might be called upon to testify in his criminal trial.

That the managers for the prosecution in the Illinois Senate are operating under the same restriction is neither here nor there. The standards of evidence required for conviction are not the same as in a criminal proceeding; senators' presumption of Blagojevich's guilt on charges which have been splashed all over the national media for weeks is by no means precluded. In essence, the case for the prosecution has already been made in the media, and the net effect of barring testimony by witnesses on either side who may be called upon to testify on the criminal trial is simply to prevent Blagojevich from presenting evidence that these well-publicized charges may be false.

CNN correspondents have been pointing all day that Blago's claim that he is not being allowed to call witnesses in his own defense is false, since only those who may be called to testify in his criminal trial are precluded from testifying in his impeachment trial. This argument is so transparently silly that it astounds me that anyone with an ounce of intelligence could entertain it even for a moment; as a practical matter, it relies on a distinction utterly without a practical difference. The impeachment charges Blagojevich is facing right now are so inextricably tied up in the criminal charges he'll be tried on later that to deny him the right to call witnesses at his impeachment trial that he'll have to call later in his criminal trial amounts to preventing him from mounting an effective defense before the Senate at all. Essentially the argument is that Blago can summon any witness he wants, just as long as his or her testimony doesn't relate to the charges he's facing!

Again, I have no brief for Blagojevich. Other than my reverence for tthe principle of the presumption of innocence, I have no particular basis for thinking that he's not guilty as charged.
Certainly as a former Illinoisan who still considers Illinois to be my home state, I'm as embarassed by his antics as anybody.

But only the fact that his impeachment trial is not a criminal prosecution can be legitimately summoned as an answer to Blagojevich's claim that his right to due process under the Sixth Amendment is being utterly trashed by the process taking place in Springfield right now. To remove a governor- any governor, even the most corrupt- from office through a process which denies him the opportunity to mount an effective defense is an even greater stain on the honor of the state of Illinois than anything of which either Blagojevich or any of his demonstrably corrupt predecessors may have been guilty.

Even guilty people deserve a fair trial- and more than that, a trial that is seen to be fair. And the trial being carried out right now in the Illinois Senate is simply not such a trial. As much as an embarassment as Rod Blagojevich may be to the state of Illinois, the impeachment travesty should not go forward unless Blagojevich is able to summon the same witnesses before the Senate he'll be calling upon in mounting his criminal defense.


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